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October 28, 2010

Swedish’s Issaquah project taps into energy rebates

  • The project is following seven steps to qualify for the rebates.
    CDi Engineers


    The Puget Sound area is known for environmental innovations. Our local electric utilities, for instance, offer substantial rebates for using construction practices that conserve electricity, since this reduces the need for new energy generation facilities in the future. But figuring out ways to tap into the rebates can take ingenuity. Swedish Hospital’s recent experience illustrates several brilliant strategies for maxing out the process.

    When designing its new facility in Issaquah, Swedish Medical Center and developer Hammes set very ambitious goals. They specified that the new hospital’s overall “energy use intensity” would be less than 150 — a dramatic drop from the Northwest average of 263.

    Fortunately, its engineering consultant had previous experience with rebates, having saved previous hospital clients $3.1 million in the past several years. It recommended a seven-step process, which Swedish followed.

    Rendering provided by Studio 216 for CollinsWoerman [enlarge]
    When finished next year, the Swedish Issaquah campus will have a 175-bed hospital and five-story medical office building.

    1. Create a list

    The design team met with Puget Sound Energy to brainstorm potential energy-saving strategies. Due in part to previous collaborations between PSE and the designers, the effort was quick and painless. The result was a list of ideas including both low-hanging fruit and others that might take a ladder to reach.

    Easier targets included designing ductwork with low-static pressure, to save fan energy and provide future flexibility, and higher-efficiency air handlers. The harder-to-reach targets included a high-efficiency heating system and variable-volume air terminals.

    2. Conduct analysis

    The design team analyzed potential targets using an integrated delivery model. Potential targets were analyzed by pertinent participants, all the while ensuring patient safety and operational ease and longevity. A full-time engineering coordinator worked with stakeholders to ensure that strategies were implemented and incorporated effectively.

    3. Test assumptions

    The design team used sophisticated computer tools to model assumptions and test whether strategies could actually achieve projected savings. For instance, they used eQUEST energy modeling program to generate a virtual central plant and distribution systems to see how the hospital would work. The model also tested whether the choices made in step one made sense, worked well together, and provided both cost and operational benefits.

    4. Set the target

    Based on modeling information, PSE applied formulas to decide which upgrades or design changes it would help fund. Certain upgrades were rejected. For example, combined heat and power systems were not funded since it would not have a reasonable return-on-investment time horizon. Others were of keen interest to the utility. Rebates for a heat recovery system and variable-air-volume air terminals were considered. The design team, owner and PSE then met to decide which strategies to move forward with.

    5. Design and construct the facility

    Once all the big moves were figured out, the design team and contractor set out to build the facility. From a rebate point of view, this looked like business as usual although, as with the LEED process, the most crucial energy-saving strategies received especially close scrutiny and careful coordination.

    6. Commission the facility

    PSE and the owner need proof that the building will operate as in the energy model, so commissioning will take place as verification. The commissioning plan will be written in parallel with the construction documentation, and final tests will be run to make sure all systems are “talking to each other” and the project savings will be realized.

    7. Write the check

    PSE refunds the agreed-upon costs to the owner. Ah, the wonderful “cha-ching” that validates the whole process.

    There’s no reason why every large construction project in our region can’t take advantage of similar rebate opportunities, just like Swedish did. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look, how to apply, and planning very carefully — with the help of skilled consultants who know the ropes.

    For more information on the Issaquah campus of the Swedish Medical Center and its progress, visit http://www.swedishissaquah.org.

    Eric Anderson comes to CDi Engineers with a background in sustainable architecture and interior design. CDi Engineers is a national leader in mechanical engineering, with a focus on health care and institutional projects that have a strong sustainable component to them.

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