medical buildings

Power Play: Preparing Microgrid Resilience

PEER rating system helps healthcare facilities prepare for power-related issues.

By Maura Keller, Contributing Writer  

When it comes to the healthcare industry, reliability and resiliency are vital components of the energy infrastructure within medical center facilities, as power outages or interruptions can drastically affect critical care efforts, disrupt workflow and potentially cost lives.  

Thanks to the Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal (PEER) rating system, healthcare facilities such as the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center located at the Penn State College of Medicine have been able to evaluate a facility’s energy infrastructure and improve its performance, resulting in healthcare resilience for the thousands of patients they treat each year.  

According to Katherine Hammack, director of special projects at the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) in Washington D.C., in 2015 the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced the PEER rating system.   

“PEER was developed over several years, in collaboration with industry leaders and with the support of key partners such as S&C Electric and the Robert W. Galvin Foundation,” Hammack says.  

Modeled after the USGBC’s LEED green building rating system, PEER evaluates microgrids, power generation, transmission and distribution systems, focusing on efficiency, quality, reliability, resiliency and the environment. The rating system is a tool for building industry professionals looking to lower costs, minimize risks and improve building efficiency, as well as providing designers and power industry professionals best-in-class benchmarking standards. 

“PEER certification recognizes industry leaders for improving power grid efficiency, day-to-day reliability and overall resiliency – preparing for severe weather events like flooding and hurricanes,” Hammack says. “PEER provides a means to benchmark projects against industry best practices, to evaluate system performance and to increase reliability and resilience. As a result of the PEER certification, most projects identify areas for improved performance and develop a roadmap for future investments.” 

The certification program measures power system performance across six categories:  

  • Reliability and resiliency 
  • Energy efficiency and environment 
  • Operations, management and safety 
  • Grid services 
  • Regional priority 
  • Innovation and exemplary performance  

“The highly digitalized modern world demands a reliable grid that can power our everyday lives and ensure quality power to critical infrastructure and facilities. When power systems fail, lives are immediately interrupted and put at risk,” Hammack says. “Through access to sustainable, reliable, and affordable electricity, providers can directly improve the quality of life of those who interact with their system.” 

Continuous improvement 

PEER is a tool to measure microgrid or power system resilience from transformer to meter. It has been used to evaluate everything from small one- or two-building microgrids to an entire 180,000-meter municipal utility power grid and even a military base. Recently, the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, an expansive medical facility located in the heart of Hershey, Pennsylvania, evaluated its energy infrastructure to enhance its performance, while pursuing and achieving PEER v2 Platinum certification. 

Since 2010, the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center – the campus of which includes the Penn State College of Medicine – has been working to create a more sustainable power system. As a leading medical care facility offering lifesaving measures, Hershey Medical Center must have uninterrupted access to a fully functional power grid with backup systems in the event of a power outage.  

As one of the leading teaching and research hospitals in the country, the medical center has self-generated its own steam and chilled water through its on-campus central utility plant, from its inception in 1965.  

According to GBCI, historically, the medical center’s central utility plant has provided 100 percent of the campus heating and cooling loads using on-site dual fuel – natural gas and heating oil – steam boilers and electric chillers. In addition to the chillers, the facility maintains a 1.4-million-gallon chilled water storage tank, used for peak electrical demand reduction.  

Nearly 10 years ago, in 2014, leadership at the Hershey Medical Center identified that by generating electricity on campus, the entire facility would boast a more resilient, reliable and sustainable energy system that would generate electricity on campus. To achieve this vision required the construction of an 8-megawatt (MW) combined heat and power plant (CHP) with a heat recovery steam generator and steam turbine generator.  

Since coming online, this unit has provided 49 percent of the campus electrical load, substantially increased the fuel use efficiency from approximately 51 percent to approximately 75 percent, mitigated approximately 55,000 MWh of electrical supply and distribution losses, and reduced the facility’s carbon emissions related to the procurement of electricity by over 10 percent. Combined, the CHP has resulted in a System Energy Efficiency Coefficient Index of 83 percent, significantly higher than Pennsylvania’s overall index of 45 percent. 

Through the facility’s energy conservation program and participation in the PEER certification process, the Hershey Medical Center has reduced its energy consumption, which has further resulted in both reduced carbon output and financial savings. 

“Over the last 15 years we were able to implement a significant amount of energy conservation measures on campus. The financial results were evident, with a $6 million decrease in energy spend fiscal year 2009 compared to fiscal year 2024,” says Kevin Kanoff, campus energy engineer at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penn State College of Medicine, Department of Facilities. “We progressed from ‘low-hanging-fruit’ ECMs to an 8 MW combined heat and power unit. The facilities’ overall energy use decreased by approximately 25 percent (Btu/SF/degree day). When the PEER certification was brought to our attention, after evaluating it, we thought it was a good fit.” 

Specifically, the PEER certification process forced the Hershey Medical Center facilities team to look at the facility in a holistic way. The process of collecting the energy use data and compiling for the certification, indicated areas on campus to target for further energy use reduction. 

“The PEER certification process forced us to step back and consider the campus as a microgrid, and weigh renewable energy and sustainability possibilities,” Kanoff says. “The deep dive into the data was beneficial and helped us to understand our facility better. We were able to implement a second power generation unit which will help regarding the PEER evaluation index. The risk assessment component of the certification process was an area that was valuable. Additionally, the carbon calculation for the campus and the resultant carbon reduction that we were able to show was beneficial. Any time one steps back and looks at the whole campus from a different perspective, is valuable.” 

Kanoff emphasizes the holistic perspective that makes the PEER evaluation a vital component in helping entities take a step back from day-to-day operations and/or a project-based perspective. In addition, the improvements resulting from the PEER certification process and Hershey Medical Center’s overall efforts help reduce the environmental impact of the expansive facility. This, in turn, positively affects the health and well-being of the greater community in which the medical center resides.  

“There’s also an emphasis on resiliency, specifically considering many different aspects of resiliency,” Kanoff says. “The final certification report was, and is, very beneficial to bring to leadership’s attention.”  

After completing the PEER certification process, the Hershey Medical Center was awarded the Platinum PEER certification from GBCI, which is the highest possible award, signifying a commitment to energy efficiency and reliability. Out of 110 available points, Hershey Medical Center earned 85.  

According to GBCI, the PEER certification program was a natural fit with Hershey Medical Center’s staff’s energy goals and strategic planning. Specifically, it brought all the campus data together for comprehensive evaluation.  

“The third-party evaluation of the Hershey campus infrastructure and data, an integral part of the PEER Certification process was highly beneficial to the facilities operation team,” Hammack says. “It brought all the campus data together for comprehensive evaluation. The certification process helped facility staff see and understand their strengths and weaknesses and pointed to additional analysis and improvements that could be made to increase the campus’ reliability, resilience and sustainability.” 

Maura Keller is a freelance writer based in Plymouth, Minnesota.  

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  posted on 3/5/2024   Article Use Policy

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