Time to prepare for a new reality of energy disruption

Healthcare managers must be ready for the new reality of energy disruption, says Tim Wynn-Jones of Centrica Business Solutions.

Think back to TV images of vulnerable patients being evacuated from New York hospitals in the middle of the Storm Sandy blackout to understand how important it is to prepare for energy-related failure.

Energy resilience planning

The increasing likelihood of extreme weather events; growing strains on the congested National Grid; cybercrime and terrorism; and the risk of human error, all pose a greater threat than ever to energy reliability. Even the shortest one second power disruptions, which are becoming more common, can cause havoc in a hospital environment. That's why a comprehensive energy resilience plan must be a core element of overall risk strategy.

Are you prepared for energy disruption?

Latest research by Centrica Business Solutions identifies that organisations are unprepared for energy supply disruption. Although 88% of the senior managers interviewed recognise the reality of the grave threats to their energy supply, and eight out of ten have experienced at least one energy-related failure in the past year, only 18% said that they had an energy resilience strategy in place.
The 'peak of the 'storm' when critical processes are interrupted, or the lights go out, is not the time to think about a solution; it's the time to activate a well rehearsed contingency plan or sit back with assurance that your off-grid energy supply and storage solutions will automatically and seamlessly kick-in.

Every minute counts before you face the prospect of closing a ward, relocating vulnerable patients, cancelling appointments and operations, or even closing the hospital.

The threat to staff and patient safety, reputational damage and financial loss can all be averted by having a robust strategy to ensure energy continuity, whatever the circumstances you face.

What questions to ask

There is no place for complacency when it comes to ensuring a continuous energy supply. You must ask yourself some difficult questions to address any weak links and plan for every possible scenario. What if there's a voltage spike in your power supply, or a switchgear failure? What happens if there's a fire or flood in the plant room? What if your uninterrupted power supply isn't failsafe? Are all your people (estates/engineering/facilities/general/ward/department managers) fully aware of what to do in the event of an interruption at any time of day or night?

Many healthcare facilities will have permanent emergency generators, but how often are they tested and are they operating at peak efficiency? Is testing built into your reactive maintenance and servicing schedule? Is your equipment adequate to cover critical operations and can it react quickly enough and for long enough to prevent major disruption? Are you making full use of your off-grid assets?

Cost and carbon saving benefits

Improving energy resilience can also generate significant cost and carbon saving benefits, as illustrated by recent economic research by Centrica Business Solutions. This shows that if 50% of Trusts reduced grid reliance by using combined heat and power (CHP) technologies, in combination with smart energy management systems and other energy saving measures, NHS England could make an annual saving of over 20 per cent on the £0.5bn cost of its energy. This would also make a significant contribution to ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Open up a lucrative revenue stream

By configuring on-site generators, such as CHP, to operate independently of the grid, healthcare providers can not only increase resilience, but also participate in demand side response (DSR) schemes. In this way, they can earn an attractive revenue stream by using energy assets to help the grid balance supply and demand.

The use of battery storage technologies, which can provide energy in less than a second, can also improve energy resilience and efficiency, as well as contributing to DSR strategies.

Energy resilience in action

The benefits of improving energy reliability by utilising CHP are demonstrated by Birmingham Heartlands Hospital. The Trust partnered with Centrica Business Solutions to find a viable replacement for its ageing coal-fired boilers, which had served the hospital well for many years, but simply couldn’t perform to the standard of a modern generation system.

We installed a CHP system as part of a purpose built energy centre and connected it to the hospital's main heating and cooling systems. In addition to providing a reliable off-grid power and heating supply, the CHP minimised the use of electricity powered chillers during the summer and provided air conditioning to new areas of the hospital.

As well as the CHP work, we upgraded the hospital lighting with 1,800 high efficiency, low energy fittings. This energy infrastructure project has significant guaranteed energy cost savings, but it also cutting CO2 emissions by 5,600 tonnes per year, which equates to the carbon that would be offset by a 6,596 acre forest.

See how energy-related failures affected organisations last year and why yours needs Energy Resilience. Download The Resilience Report