Navigant Research Blog

For Hospitals, a Path to Resilience

— January 27, 2015

My colleague Madeline Bergner recently wrote about efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from hospitals and other healthcare facilities.  That effort is paralleled by a movement to make these spaces less vulnerable to natural disasters and other disruptions, as well.

In December, President Obama gathered healthcare leaders to announce a set of new recommendations for making the country’s healthcare facilities more climate resilient.  Hurricane Sandy caused over $3 billion in damage to healthcare facilities alone, triggering federal attention to the issue.  At the event, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a web-based Climate Resilience Toolkit as well as a best-practices guide, “Primary Protection: Enhancing Health Care Resilience for a Changing Climate.”

The guide describes a number of issues that have caused hospitals to lose power during recent disasters.  These include reliance on local infrastructure (namely local [municipal] steam generation), aging infrastructure, and a reliance on onsite diesel generators, which are often poorly maintained and rely on limited fuel supplies.

A Holistic View

The report also cites a challenge in the approach to backup power.  Backup systems are viewed as having no value during normal operations, and therefore “are less likely to attract adequate investment and maintenance from the private sector.”  By viewing backup power as emergency-only, the hospital is viewing power in binary terms; the big diesel generator is there when you need it, and takes up space (and money) when you don’t.

A more holistic view of energy use can lead to a more resilient facility.  The report cites a number of strategies, including the use of combined heat and power, energy efficiency, and passive survivability.  This last concept drives building design and functionality so that hospitals can still function without power.  With operable windows, passive heating and cooling, and naturally ventilated spaces, these levels of resiliency can be accomplished.

Generator Hospital

Navigant Research’s reports on Grid-Tied Energy Storage present a range of technologies that can aid in power management all the time, not just during a crisis.  By viewing grid connectivity as a continuum, facilities can mitigate the effects of disasters and make money by selling power into the grid.  The resilient healthcare facility of the future may not just be one that can survive a disaster but one that provides power to the community 365 days a year.

In upstate New York, the town of Potsdam just announced a microgrid project that will connect 12 facilities using 3 MW of combined heat and power, 2 MW of solar, 2 MW of storage, and 900 kW of hydro-electric generation.  The local hospital is a key stakeholder in this project, led by Clarkson University.  Other partners include General Electric (GE) Global Research and GE Energy Consulting, National Grid, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Innovative technology is not only being deployed for the entire hospital facility.  At the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas, Texas, flywheel manufacturer Vycon installed two 300 kW flywheel systems just to power the imaging facility.  The benefits of flywheels include high reliability, power density, and overall quality, as well as the quiet nature of backup power.  While the hospital has only suffered a few power outages in recent decades, the protection of the expensive equipment from power spikes and voltage drops is of great value.

 

The Energy Efficiency Way to Emissions Reductions

— January 15, 2015

The Obama administration has few levers to pull to shift the United States’ position on climate change, besides enforcing the Clean Air Act of 1970.  That legislation authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce regulations on power plants and associated pollutants.  The Clean Air Act put the onus on individual states to design programs to follow the EPA’s federal guidelines.  Last June, the EPA released its Clean Power Plan (CPP), with a new ambitious target: carbon emission reductions totaling 30% relative to 2005 emissions by 2030.  The proposed rule includes the following primary components:

  • Four building blocks that define the EPA’s Best Strategy for Emissions Reductions
  • State-by-state 2030 carbon emissions reduction targets and interim targets based on a 2012 base year
  • Numerous alternative emissions reduction strategies, including renewables, under-construction nuclear generation, and energy efficiency

Cost-Effective Efficiency

Not surprisingly, some legislators are arguing that the CPP is unconstitutional, functioning as a federalization of states’ activities via the EPA.  Some utilities are also not happy with the CPP, as they are going to have to be held to real climate goals.  Utilities that burn coal or other fossil fuels inefficiently will have to pay to upgrade their facilities or face stiff penalties.

In a recent white paper, Navigant reported that energy efficiency is a cost-effective way for states, utilities, and businesses to achieve the CPP targets, with considerably less investment than upgrading or building new power plants.  Of all the building blocks, energy efficiency is the only one that is not a form of generation.  From a cost perspective, energy efficiency is a highly competitive approach to offsetting supply requirements and reducing carbon emissions.   This approach can be used for both overall total load reductions, but also for peak shaving (i.e., reducing the carbon intensity of electricity demand at the times when the grid is dirtiest – usually in the afternoons).

The Challenges

The major challenge for using energy efficiency as a way to achieve policy goals lies in how and where it is implemented.  Utility energy efficiency programs are one approach, and are forecast to grow, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

Energy Efficiency Spending by Utilities

(Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

Many utility programs require 5 or 6 years to mature and develop savings streams that persist.   Developing efficiency programs today will allow the savings potential to grow prior to the start of the CPP requirements.

It’s not just up to the utilities.   By focusing on the bottom line – the financial savings – the business community can help states achieve their CPP goals, whether they realize it or not.  Navigant Research’s report, Energy Efficient Buildings: Global Outlook, found that the current energy efficient building market is generating over $300 billion annually and is expected to grow, in major part, because the software and hardware works, and saves end-users money.  If the EPA uses the green of a dollar to promote the CPP, it could help states reach its targets.

 

An Open Cuba Is Poised for a Green Future

— December 23, 2014

The news that the United States will extend normal diplomatic relations with Cuba can be viewed as the last act of the Cold War.  With the promise of cooperation on both sides, U.S. businesses will view the island nation as a new market for consumer and industrial goods as well as infrastructure spending.  Fortunately, Cuba has the potential to develop into an energy efficient country – if it can act deliberately.

Cuba opened its first 2.6 MW solar farm in 2013, with plans to develop six more, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Cuba also has plans to develop wind projects totaling 280 MW.  Today, 4.3% of its power comes from renewable resources.  Still, Cuba relies heavily on imported oil from a precarious source, Venezuela, which supplies two-thirds of Cuba’s petroleum. According to some reports, Venezuela was poised for oil price increases before the global drop.  Now Cuba may want to buy oil from other sources in the region at low prices, disincentivizing clean energy investment in the near term. At the same time, Cuba will have access to new low-carbon sources, following its own Article 81 in its Law 33, or general environmental policy, that encourages renewable resources that have minimal impact on the environment.

Building Boom

Cuba is also a member of the Organization of American States, which just announced support for the COP20 lowered emissions goals for all countries. With an awareness of climate change impacts and adaptation choices, it is bound to be torn between the cheap oil and development funds it now has access to and the regulations and low-carbon goals it supports.

Navigant Research’s report, Global Building Stock Database, forecast a flat growth rate for Cuba’s commercial and residential space, but that will surely change.  With more tourists and new commercial prospects flooding into the country, the demand for first-world quality residential and commercial space will rise.  The energy intensity of that space will likely be greater than the current building stock, resulting in an acceleration of energy demand.  There are a few strategies that can be employed that will help tamper the accelerated demand for power.

One landmark goal would be to make all new development net zero energy.  As described in Navigant Research’s report, Zero Energy Buildings, net zero implies that a building produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year.  A strong government like Cuba could initiate strict building codes, following similar goals instituted in  California, as there is a legacy of energy efficiency policy implementation in the country. In 2005, Castro called for a “revolución energética,” resulting in the replacement of all incandescent light bulbs to CFLs and the replacement of over 2.5 million refrigerators.  Given the available solar resource and some wind resource, new hotels and business districts can leave room for installing renewables. Again, there is a precedent here. Over 2,300 schools have been equipped with solar since 2001, and the energy revolution provided some financing for residential PV.  Building codes can also require the most efficient building possible.

Lovely Decay

A major challenge, however, will be in retrofitting the existing building stock.  Renowned for its decaying beauty, the frozen-in-time architecture of Havana is a challenge for energy efficiency retrofits.  Maintenance and upgrades have been minimal over the past half-century, and the island’s humidity and heat are intense.  It’s hard to envision the building envelope being retrofitted to a highly efficient level. However, the appliances within them could be ungraded easily as part of the revolución energética.

Cuba recently announced 246 projects , worth over $8 billion for technology and industrial jobs, focused on renewable energy development and manufacturing of air conditioners, for instance.  Cuba is now at a crossroads and has the potential to choose the green/clean path forward.

 

Using Applications to Empower Smart Cities

— December 9, 2014

In late November, the crowdsourced smartphone app Waze released a stunning visualization that showed the traffic flowing through New York City on a recent September day.  Resembling blood flow though a body, cars move through the arteries and veins of city streets and highways, slowed by both collisions and general congestion.  Waze collects data via smartphone owners that allow their location (and speed and direction) to be captured and aggregated, providing real-time information on traffic in a city.  When using Waze, drivers can be alerted to new incidents like accidents and police on the road, and the app can even suggest new routes for a faster ride.

Crowdsourcing apps like Waze, ridesharing apps like Ridejoy, and home control apps like Nest may also be a boon to some of the smart city initiatives being developed and planned worldwide.  Numerous cities in the world are adapting IT for their infrastructure and streamlining operations for their departments.  Navigant Research’s report Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Smart City Suppliers identifies the promising companies that have demonstrated advanced approaches and penetration in this sector.  Most smart city initiatives begin with public transportation and traffic monitoring, as they are critical services for citizens, and promote commerce as well.

Short on Cash

There’s a basic challenge for cities that want to pursue programs like these, though: limited municipal funding.  In the first world, or in a few examples in the developing world, cities have signed multimillion-dollar contracts, paying large IT and equipment companies for equipment and consulting services for smart city initiatives.  These large price tags limit the adoption of (large) smart city programs in the developing world and in smaller cities and towns.  Crowdsource apps could provide a solution.

If the data from crowdsourced apps like Waze could be shared with municipal agencies, data limitations would virtually disappear.  Instead of paying millions for a full service solution, a city could hire a cadre of data analysts to examine the trends in traffic, identify collision hot spots, and use the aggregated data for long-term traffic planning, supplanting expensive traffic studies.  One example of an interesting use of this kind of data is New York University’s (NYU’s) visualization of taxi rides in New York City.

Taxi Confidential

Using data from the Taxi and Limousine Commission, NYU researchers created a rich queryable database where taxi demand is revealed visually, and the impact of major disruptive events like Hurricanes Sandy and Irene on taxi rides can be understood (namely, that few taxis ventured into the power-less regions of lower Manhattan).  MIT has, in turn, developed an interactive website using the taxi data to demonstrate the value of ridesharing.   The academic insight has yet to be used for city policy, but as the analysis improves, such applications will surely follow.

Certainly, there are obstacles with this approach.  The first is privacy.  Aggregated urban mobility data can be anonymized.  Yet, the idea of governments gaining access to individual citizens’ whereabouts, regardless of the source of the data, may make a fair number of people uncomfortable.  Open questions prevail: Could mobility data be used for forensic purposes?  Since Waze is owned by Google, what other information could be associated and shared?  These questions and many others will have to be addressed through real deployment.  As has been seen through companies like Uber, which is now causing taxi medallion prices to fall, disruptive technologies can shake up the status quo.  City governments have not traditionally been the locus of innovation, but the smartphone in your pocket may change that in the near future.

 

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