Australia’s ever-expanding healthcare services sector is overdue for a clean energy overhaul. Using Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and renewables can boost productivity while downsizing carbon footprint.
FOCUS ON IMPACT: HEALTHCARE SERVICES
Healthcare is an industry laggard in Australia when it comes to action on energy, climate change and sustainability.
This makes no sense at all.
Especially when you consider the escalating impact of extreme heat, bushfires and poor air quality on people’s physical health.
People know their well-being is at stake as well as their comfort.
They are responding with a consumer boom in electric-powered home and workplace solutions for heating, cooling and air purification.
On top of physical impacts, however, there’s also the mounting mental health burden tied to climate change, particularly among younger people.
And there’s the prospect of diseases emerging in new forms and shifting their range as the climate changes.
Body of evidence
Don’t just take our word on the healthcare services sector in Australia lagging behind global best practice for clean energy action.
A recent research paper, submitted for publication in the Medical Journal of Australia, focuses on renewable energy use (or the lack of it) in Australian public hospitals.
It says: ‘Hospitals have large energy demands due to continuous operation, primarily from heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The demand is so large that public hospitals consume over half of public-sector energy in most Australian states and territories. Hospitals should therefore be key stakeholders in Australian state/territory decarbonisation efforts.’
Of course, healthcare is much more than public hospitals. Its private hospitals, day clinics, general medical practices, dental providers, aged care and more.
All of which provides a host of opportunities to save energy use, add and optimise renewables, cut emissions, and operate more efficiently, sustainably and profitably.
Participants in the sector also need to prepare for further ‘new energy’ transition developments, especially the rise of electric vehicles (EVs).
Readily-available, real-time and granular energy data is a key enabler for smart solutions that will help the healthcare sector to catch up overall.
Individual healthcare providers and groups can use energy data and smart tools to show and maintain leadership.
This is what the Australian Medical Association (AMA) reported two years ago: ‘The use of energy within health facilities is a major contributor to the direct emissions of the healthcare sector in Australia… there are clear opportunities to optimise energy use and to utilise renewable energy.’
The AMA highlights that in the United Kingdom, England’s National Health System (NHS) – the institutional hero of the Covid era – has had a Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) since 2008.
By 2017, the NHS had reduced carbon emissions by 18.5 percent, and water usage by 21 percent. The SDU is now spearheading a national roadmap for net zero emissions in the healthcare sector by 2040.
Not surprisingly, for years the AMA has been calling for the SDU model to be implemented nationally for the Australian healthcare sector as well, and they are far from alone in seeking more action down under.
A framework for action?
The Climate and Health Alliance, for example, is calling for a National Strategy for Climate, Health and Well-Being, for which it first released a framework in 2017.
Both the alliance and the AMA highlight research showing that the healthcare sector accounts for 7 percent of Australia’s total carbon emissions footprint. This compares with 4 percent in the UK and 10 percent in the US, where healthcare holds a much larger share of the total national economy.
Beyond obvious commercially-sensible opportunities to install rooftop solar at suitable healthcare facilities, and to purchase renewable energy through the green power marketplace, the AMA also highlights energy efficiency.
It says: ‘Simple interventions, like installing energy-efficient lighting and marginally reducing thermostat temperatures in winter, can have significant environmental benefits. Even without changing the source of power, energy efficiency programs have the ability to reduce energy use by more than 40 per cent.’
At Wattwatchers, we’ve been thinking about customised solutions for the healthcare sector using our hardware, software and data services capabilities.
Here are several of our ideas:
Making hay while the sun shines – using solar across multiple sites with smart technologies to optimise and report performance. It’s a strong starting point, and is where Wattwatchers technology is most frequently used to manage individual sites and whole fleets of sites.
The ‘Drill Down’ app – a tailored solution for dental practices, incorporating energy IoT and machine learning, that’s used to drive energy reductions and verify investments.
The ‘Heat and Health’ app – this mobile application notifies people and healthcare service managers in advance of extreme weather so they can take action to stay safe and deliver outstanding patient care. The application tracks site preparedness in real-time while using energy data to monitor critical assets and control costs, and it ‘learns’ as it goes.
The ‘Is Nanna OK?’ alerting system – a light-touch way to remotely chaperone the elderly to ensure they are safe and in control of their cost of living. This application learns Nanna’s (or Papa’s) schedule, and notifies family if there’s something unexpected, like Nanna didn’t boil her electric-powered kettle at the usual time.
Work-up your own ideas
Have you got ideas of your own that can help the healthcare sector?
For example, to reduce its negative climate impact. Or just getting smart with energy for the well-being of businesses, customers and the wider community.
For businesses, energy data isn’t only useful for energy management purposes. It also can help with financial and asset management, including cost allocation as well as saving, and predictive analytics for maintenance, fault detection and asset protection.