Conservia has partnered with Verdia and Westpac to develop a solution package focused on how aged care facilities can get net zero energy and wellbeing for the folks. For the aged care industry, the package can cut energy bills by up to 80 per cent while improving resident comfort and staff productivity.

In many aged care facilities, staff need to constantly adjust individual thermostats for resident comfort. This is in conjunction with constantly opening doors and windows to manage heat in the rooms. To stop hot air coming into the building, facilities add ventilation into the roof to extract heat, although this results in increased energy usage. Facilities also use heavy blinds and curtains to block heat from windows, although this results in reduced light levels and views.

The question is, how aged care facilities can get net zero energy and achieve this in an efficient manner?

A more efficient and holistic approach to stop hot air coming into buildings is by combining a variety of cost-effective energy solutions. These include cool roofs, voltage optimisation, staff education, window films, BMS installation, submetering and solar PV. This combination could result in savings of up to 80 per cent a year on energy bills for a large site.

The Financing Package

By partnering with Verdia and Westpac, we can offer a financing option over four to seven years that can deliver immediate cashflow positive outcomes. The first financing fix for how aged care facilities can get net zero energy.

The package was developed following a series of site audits in Queensland and Northern NSW. 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.

The Long-Term Solution

Making the whole site work better by maintaining ideal temperature levels is the key to how aged care facilities can get net zero energy. This reduces inefficiencies for the staff, with less time wasted adjusting blinds and curtains, opening doors and windows and “fiddling with controls”.

Here are the top 7 measures for how to aged care facilities can get net zero energy:

1. Thermal paint – Using thermal paint on roofs could reduce roof temperatures by up to 40 degrees. The result of the paint is a major drop in heat load entering the building. This reduces pressure on the HVAC system, and also on any plant rooms located underneath the roof area. Using a cool roof solution also reduce the number of ceiling extractor fans a site requires.

2. 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. It reduces the heat entering a room and reduces UV levels in the room. This reduction lessens 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.

3. BMS – Almost everything can be automated and operate through a central Building Management System (BMS). This 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. Our audits have shown that air-conditioning contributed around 60 to 70 per cent of energy use. Laundry accounted for about 10 per cent, and lighting was also a substantial percentage.

Through incorporates a central BMS, sub-metering and critical system monitoring, data flow can be enabled. This allows problems within the distribution system to be identified quickly at the earliest stage, and warnings to be issued to the relevant technical personnel. By quickly identifying issues, this minimises call-outs when systems have reached the point of failure.

4. LEDs – For sites that do not have LED lighting, power surges caused by over-voltage supply would reduce the lifespan of lamps. This results in spending up to two full days a week of maintenance time replacing lamps. LEDs do not have a maintenance issue.

Medical equipment in the facilities can also be degraded due to over-voltage issues. HVACR failures can occur at any time due to power surges, resulting in high call out fees. This adds another cost to already high energy bills of up to $250,000 a year. These failures not only affect the facility but also stress on the residents. Imagine seeing people constantly coming and going adjusting thermostats and changing lightbulbs.

Research conducted by the University of Wollongong also shows fluctuations in temperature can have negative impacts on people with dementia, worsening their condition.

5. Behaviour change – An annual staff education and behaviour change element has also proved to be beneficial. Staff are incorporating advice about “basic housekeeping” into everyday routines. This includes opening windows and doors and the use of central control systems.

6. Solar – The final piece of the energy picture of how aged care facilities can get net zero energy is solar. The generally large roofs of aged care sites could become “powerhouses” by adding solar PV. Many could effectively become net zero or even net positive for energy. 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.

The average facility would find a 150kW system could meet 30 per cent of current energy needs. Should efficiency measures be implemented to reduce energy use up to 80 per cent, they would find themselves with virtually no energy costs. Battery storage also provides back-up generators in case of blackouts.

Contract clauses need attention

There is the potential for one obstacle to exist that is not within the control of the aged care providers. 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 potentially undermines the business case and finance case even for basic measures like an LED lighting upgrade.

This specifically targets aged care providers that have a large number of sites and are locked into multi-year power contracts. It is important for there to be conversations with the retailer asking them to waive that clause before proceeding.

Wrap Up

What may have once been considered a farfetched idea is now an achievable target. Asking how Aged Care Facilities can get Net Zero Energy is now a realistic question.

Taking a holistic approach to energy solutions has so much to offer when it comes to how aged care facilities can get net zero energy. With these measures in mind, you too could benefit and be well on the way to achieving net zero energy use.

You can find Conservia’s full discussion with the Fifth Estate here.

Energy Strategies for Modern Facilities

To achieve net zero energy, facilities need to have a solid energy strategy in place to set the foundation for growth and evolution.

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