Energy efficiency consultancy Conservia has partnered with Verdia and Westpac to develop a package for the aged care industry it says can cut energy bills by up to 80 per cent while improving resident comfort and staff productivity.
Conservia business development manager Reinhold Wieland said a combination of cool roofs, voltage optimisation, staff education, window films, BMS installation, submetering and solar PV could result in savings of up to 80 per cent a year on energy bills for a large site.
The consultancy is partnering with Verdia and Westpac for a financing option over four to seven years that can deliver immediate cashflow positive outcomes.
The package was developed following a series of site audits in Queensland and Northern NSW. The initial audit came about at the request of an aged care facilities director Mr Wieland had previously done business with. An infrared camera was used in conjunction with a smartphone app to assess the degree of thermal load entering the facility from the roof and windows.
Mr Wieland said he observed that staff were constantly needing to adjust individual thermostats for resident comfort, as well as constantly opening doors and windows to manage heat in the rooms.
“The number one thing is to stop hot air coming into the building,” he said.
Adding ventilation in the roof to extract heat was a “bandaid solution” that used energy, and using heavy blinds and curtains to block heat from windows was also a bandaid solution that reduced light levels and views, Mr Wieland said.
Using thermal paint on the roof, however, could reduce roof temperatures by up to 40 degrees, he said.
The consultancy is partnering with SkyCool Group to include this in the package.
In a retail centre project Mr Wieland previously worked on, the result of the paint was a major drop in heat load entering the building, he said. This reduces pressure on the HVAC system, and also on any plant rooms located underneath the roof area.
The retail centre project also used the paint on the air inlets for the building, precooling the air, and on cable trays and cable enclosures as heat can reduce their efficiency.
Sensors installed in the roof space and around the roof and data from the centre’s BMS system showed a consistent reduction in heat from the roof, Mr Wieland said.
Using a cool roof solution also reduce the number of ceiling extractor fans a site requires, he said.
“It is one of the first things to do.”
Reflective window film
The use of reflective window films is a solution that has multiple benefits, including a potential 30 per cent saving on HVAC operating costs, Mr Wieland said.
It not only reduces the heat entering a room, it also reduces UV levels in the room, which reduces the negative impact on carpets, furnishings and residents. At the same time, residents gain more natural light, and more views, while still having privacy. The facility can also reduce its expenses on blinds and curtains.
Me Wieland said that if the whole site works better and is cooler, inefficiencies for the staff are reduced as there is less time wasted adjusting blinds and curtains, opening doors and windows and “fiddling with controls”.
Almost everything can be automated and operate through a central BMS, he said.
That means staff can spend more time on the caring work that is their core task.
For the facilities, savings on energy can also mean the ability to hire more staff with the added room in the operating budget, he said.
His audits showed that airconditioning contributed around 60 to 70 per cent of energy use. Laundry accounted for about 10 per cent, and lighting was also a substantial percentage.
At some sites that do not have LED lighting, power surges caused by over-voltage supply were reducing the lifespan of lamps to the extent some are spending up to two full days a week of maintenance time replacing lamps.
“This is not an efficient way of running a business,” Mr Wieland said.
“LEDs don’t have a maintenance problem.”
Medical equipment in the facilities can also be degraded due to over-voltage issues, he said.
“At one site, the airconditioning cuts out on weekends because of power surges, so they have to call someone in out of hours.”
This adds another cost to already high energy bills of up to $250,000 a year.
This all adds to stress for the residents, Mr Wieland said, as there are constantly people coming and going adjusting thermostats and changing lightbulbs.
There has also been research conducted by University of Wollongong PhD student Frederico Tartarini that shows fluctuations in temperature can have negative impacts on people with dementia, worsening their condition, Mr Wieland said.
As part of its contract with aged care sites, he said an annual staff education and behaviour change element would also be included. This would incorporate advice about “basic housekeeping” in terms of opening windows and doors and also the use of central control systems.
Behaviour change on the part of staff is a very high priority, he said.
The final piece of the energy picture for these sites is solar. Mr Wieland said once all other measures were in place, the generally large roofs of aged care sites meant they could become “powerhouses” by adding solar PV.
Many could effectively become net zero or even net positive for energy, he said.
By adding battery banks as part of the solar package, facilities can also store their own electricity to use at the peak tariff time between 7am and 9am, when charges are up to three times what they are for off-peak.
He said the average facility would find a 150kW system could meet 30 per cent of current energy needs, and should efficiency measures be implemented to reduce energy use up to 80 per cent, they would find themselves with virtually no energy costs.
Many of these sites also do not have back-up generators in case of blackouts, Mr Wieland said, which was another reason why battery storage was a good solution.
The package also incorporates a central BMS, sub-metering and critical system monitoring. This data flow then enables problems within the distribution system to be identified quickly at the earliest stage, and warnings to be issued to the relevant technical personnel.
Mr Wieland said this minimised call-outs when systems have reached the point of failure, again making the industry more efficient.
“Technically it is all possible.”
Contract clauses need attention
One of the issues he found, however, that is not within the control of the aged care providers, was a clause in many contracts that enables the power provider to charge the facility the full pre-efficiency consumption charge if usage declines substantially.
This can be an obstacle for the facilities, he said, as it potentially undermines the business case and finance case even for basic measures like an LED lighting upgrade.
“A deep [energy] retrofit could cause a big problem,” Mr Wieland said.
Mr Wieland said other consultants have told him they have not yet seen this clause applied, however, for aged care providers that have a large number of sites and are therefore substantial customers locked into multi-year power contracts, it may yet happen.
He said it would be important for there to be conversations with the retailer asking them to waive that clause before proceeding.
In terms of finance options for the package, Mr Wieland said the sector was regarded as a good credit risk by financial institutions, as aged care is a “long term” business.