Novant Health is an integrated network of hospitals, outpatient centers and physician clinics that delivers a seamless and convenient health care experience to patients in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. The Novant Health network includes more than 1,500 physicians and more than 25,000 employees who serve more than four million patients annually.
Novant Health has a $17 million annual utility spend for its 13 acute care facilities. As good stewards of both the environment and health system funds, administrators had long done their due diligence trying to decrease energy costs — from specific lighting change-outs in hallways and parking structures to retrocommissioning.
About five years ago, plant engineering team members realized two things: they had achieved all the low-hanging fruit savings opportunities, and they were no longer seeing savings or reductions in their utility spend.
After an external assessment of its energy management program, the health system formulated an ambitious goal: to consume less energy year over year without any significant capital expenditures. “We wanted to reduce energy consumption by ensuring that our existing systems were operating at peak performance,” said Matt Stiene, PE, CHFM, senior director, plant engineering services.
Stiene spoke with more than 10 energy data analytics suppliers trying to find the right partner for his organization. By the time Novant Health’s chief medical officer recommended American Energy Assets (AEA), Stiene wasn’t sure that the right solution existed. But AEA changed his mind.
“The difference between AEA and the others was that AEA actually offered human interaction,” said Stiene. “We didn’t just receive a report and some alerts via email or text. We had actual conversations with an engineer about what was happening at our facilities, our goals and what we needed to do.”
AEA, with more than 25 years of health care energy conservation experience, stood out for another reason. “We’ve always been challenged to prove that energy savings projects actually save energy, because of rate changes, weather effects and things of that nature,” said Stiene. AEA’s savings analysis takes these factors into account “The way they capture and analyze savings is vitally important to our efforts, as well as the multiple methods they have to collect data,” said Stiene.
AEA’s OnTrack program offers superior pricing and a well-refined implementation process that works with a hospital’s existing systems, using its proprietary Ninja Box to gather trend data from the existing building automation system. This requires no additional capital expenditure by the health system. The Ninja Box then transmits the data to AEA’s secure servers.
“Finding a method to reduce costs that worked with our information technology component and the multiple systems we already had in place was key here,” said Stiene. “And even as technologically advanced as everything is becoming, there are still people turning wrenches to make this happen. So if you don’t have that personal connection between the people who are making the changes and those who are measuring the data, you’re wasting your time.”
Novant Health began working with AEA in July 2014 to optimize the health system’s building automation system — not only to save money through decreased energy consumption but also to improve sustainability and the community’s environmental health. To date, the health system saved more than $500,000 at the three implementation sites, and plans are underway to expand the program to the 10 remaining hospitals by the end of 2017. Stiene estimates saving another $650,000 to $850,000 with those rollouts.
“Conservatively we should save more than $1 million a year, and that’s a significant payback,” said Stiene. “And while it’s not 100 percent AEA-related, we spent about $1.4 million less on electricity and gas in 2016 than we did in 2015.”
During that time, the value of Novant Health’s relationship with AEA strengthened when AEA joined the Vizient Energy Solutions portfolio, a full suite of service offerings that members can access to significantly reduce energy costs and consumption while leveraging a greater purchasing volume to sustain long-term savings. In its role, Vizient Energy Solutions acts as a trusted adviser that works to understand each member’s goals. Vizient then matches them with the right solution — all while saving the member money.
“AEA initially performs a facility assessment to identify methods to become more efficient and save money through the reduction and use of commodity energy products, both gas and electricity, through best practice implementation and fault resolution within building automation systems,” said Will Gowan, senior director, Vizient Energy Solutions. “While we have a very robust portfolio to support our members who want to undergo capital improvements, we need options for members who aren’t ready to make that type of commitment — and AEA is the perfect fit.”
All involved stakeholders must establish expectations before efforts begin, according to Stiene. “The group must have candid conversations about expected savings and levels of commitment,” he said. “As a building owner, you should strive to be as efficient as possible — even if you have the most up-to-date or state-of-the-art systems. There is always room for improvement but you won’t be successful unless you act on the data and work plan provided by AEA and Vizient Energy Solutions.
“Then you have to be willing to stick with it,” Stiene continued. “You must attend monthly owner meetings and hold your people accountable.”
Only good things are ahead for this partnership. “I see it continuing forever, because I know the minute we stop watching this information we will start to lose ground,” said Stiene. As patient satisfaction continues to become an increasingly greater revenue driver, that’s something no health care organization can afford.
“Patient satisfaction is obviously a priority, and you have to make people comfortable,” said Stiene. “But if you’re not running buildings efficiently then you’re negatively contributing to their health with increased greenhouse gas emissions and an increased carbon footprint. A key part of this program is ensuring your buildings are functioning correctly and that you’re creating a sustainable environment for the future.”
Vizient Energy Solutions can help your organization identify opportunities to procure, manage, and monitor your energy usage.