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A Fat-Trimming Solution for Energy Hog Hospitals A Fat-Trimming Solution for Energy Hog Hospitals

A Fat-Trimming Solution for Energy Hog Hospitals

by Katie Kent
February 22, 2013

Every day, doctors around the country depend on electricity to power life-saving equipment in their hospitals. Most of us don’t realize it, but the electricity in a hospital usually comes from their own on-site power plant—they are constantly producing their own power. In fact, the engineers in charge of these power plants always make more energy than they really need. This makes perfect sense when lives are on the line, but a lot of the energy ends up wasted.

What if you could find a way to stop producing wasted energy at large facilities like hospitals, but in a way that never compromised "keeping the (life-saving) lights on?" One of Greenstart’s startup companies is taking on this challenge, using clever technology and human-centered design. Root3 Technologies makes intelligent software that reduces energy produced at power plants in hospitals and similar buildings by 10 to 30 percent. That could make a big difference for the environmental impact of these big energy users.
 
It’s not just hospitals that have these on-site power plants, but colleges, manufacturing plants, airports, and military bases too. In total, there are roughly 24,000 of them in the United States. All together, they spend about $40 billion every year producing energy. Somewhere between $6 and $12 billion of that cost is wasted on making energy that never gets used, says Root3’s co-founder Allison Hannon.
 
Root3 software makes a forecast of how much energy the facility will need, so it can stop producing what it doesn't need. The company started out with a complex computer model developed at Stanford University. Greenstart helped them figure out how to make these programs useful (and user-friendly) for their real-life customers.
 
Our design studio worked closely with the co-founders of Root3 to deeply understand the needs of the engineers in charge of running the power plant. When Root3 came to Greenstart, their software looked like a giant dashboard displaying information on every piece of equipment under their control. The engineers would look at the dashboard, and go back to running the plant the way they had always done before. How could the data and software actually be useful to them in managing the plant?
 
The design team discovered that the best solution would allow the power plant controllers to see only the most important data and receive a suggested action from the software. In a story of radical simplification, the software now suggests to the users when to turn their equipment on, off, or down. The firehose of data, lights, and boxes on the screen became user-friendly tool for making decisions. Power plant managers become empowered to reduce energy production in an incredibly simple way.
 
Greenstart’s work with Root3 highlights the sweet spot of technology and human-centered design that solves a big real-world problem. The solution combines real-time data and information technology with a deep understanding of customer needs. This allows power plant managers at hospitals and other facilities to do their job better. The amount of energy wasted is greatly reduced, but the lights and important equipment always stay on.
 
This month, challenge a neighbor to GOOD's energy smackdown. Find a neighbor with a household of roughly the same square footage and see who can trim their power bill the most. Throughout February, we'll share ideas and resources for shrinking your household carbon footprint, so join the conversation at good.is/energy
 
Original power plant image via Shutterstock.
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