Buildings worldwide are increasingly in need of renovations in order to decrease energy use. Even when buildings are retrofitted, often times they are not done to maximum efficiency. Healthcare buildings often use some of the highest levels of energy when compared to other public buildings, sometimes greater than 60% more. This is typically due to the stringent requirements to maintain optimal clinical environments for patients and healthcare workers. Heating, HVAC, lighting, and other electric appliances make up most of the buildings’ needs, so improvements in these areas would lead to significant improvements in energy efficiency. Researchers at the Slovak University of Technology and Technical University of Kosice therefore looked into ways they could feasibly decrease energy consumption for heating at little to no cost as well as suggest more general ways hospitals using steam can decrease steam and heat loss which could also be transferred to industrial and residential settings.
For their case study, the researchers used a hospital complex in Bratislava, Slovakia that served 700,000 people. Heating of the complex was done via municipal hot water and steam from natural gas boilers. The researchers focused on the gas-powered steam boilers for their recommendations to increase energy efficiency. The hospital had 3 boilers, of which only 1 could be run for long periods of time.
The researchers found that the steam system had several defects including steam loss due to problems with a deaerator delivery regulation system, boiler capacity higher than steam demand, poor or absent insulation for piping, steam leaks due to incorrect or dysfunctional steam traps, and steam venting. They estimated that if these problems were fixed with a working deaeration steam regulation system, insulation on pipes, and proper repairs, 50% of the natural gas consumption of the hospital could be saved. Additionally, these solutions have a short payback period and so are not very expensive in the long-run.
The researchers suggest that these identified problems are not unique to their studied hospital alone or to hospitals in general. They suggest that additional buildings that use steam systems also be investigated and improved in like manner in order to maximize efficiency and minimize energy cost. Doing so would be beneficial to both building management as well as consumers ultimately responsible for the overall cost. Ultimately, the researchers suggested possible simple improvement measures that can be broadly applied to buildings with steam systems.