Edgerton Hospital slashes costs with geothermal energy

Edgerton Hospital and Health Services, the state’s first hospital to use geothermal heating and cooling, has been able to slash monthly energy costs by tapping into the planet’s natural heat.

The Edgerton Hospital facility was built in 2011, replacing an older hospital in Rock County. The 60,000-square-foot space features emergency services, imaging, surgery, a skilled care facility and an area for physical therapy.

The new building’s ground-loop geothermal HVAC system controls the heating and cooling, and since it’s been in place, the cost savings from reducing natural gas use have already paid for the $850,000 system.

“Our monthly natural gas bill at the old hospital was $14,000 per month. Today, it is $450,” said Jim Schultz, Edgerton Hospital CEO. “In today’s volatile healthcare industry, that’s huge for a non-profit hospital. We can’t leave a penny on the table.”

Focus on Energy, a statewide energy efficiency program funded by Wisconsin utilities, provided a financial incentive to the hospital for the vertical bore system.

Some other features contributing to sustainability are exposure to natural light on the southern side of the building, natural ventilation, waste water recovery, Energy Star appliances in the kitchens and labs and more. Also, the hospital’s sustainability committee is looking into Focus on Energy incentives to improve the building’s lighting with LED bulbs, and exploring the idea of using wind or solar to offset the $15,000 monthly electric cost.

Edgerton Hospital is a smaller facility, with only 18 beds. That qualifies it for Critical Access designation, which is granted to some rural hospitals that have 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds and provide round-the-clock emergency services. According to a release, Edgerton Hospital was the first Critical Access hospital in the country to use geothermal energy for temperature management.

“No longer do we have to budget for fluctuations in natural gas prices, but the large geothermal heat exchange field and our eight water-to-water geothermal heat pumps provide a consistent heating and cooling source,” Schultz added. “We’ve had no problems with frost and tend to see our biggest savings occur during the hottest days of summer.”

He points to patient room windows that open and room-by-room temperature control as particularly important, as they allow for airborne bacteria inside the hospital to flow out while retaining control over the room’s feel.

Referring to the standard hospital set-up, he said “it’s kind of ironic that people are coming for health care and are breathing pollution on the way in.”

“A sensor in the ceiling maintains the room’s temperature,” Schultz said. “So it can be 80 degrees in one room and 60 degrees in the neighboring one, based on what the patient wants.”

–By Alex Moe