The Value of Hospital Water Audits

Hospitals guzzle water.

hospital water auditsConsider this: a typical American uses about 150 gallons of water per day, the average German uses about 50 gallons per day, and the average African uses just 5 gallons, while United States hospitals utilize 570 gallons of water per staffed bed per day – almost quadruple the already tremendous amount utilized by the average American. In fact, hospitals account for 7% of the total commercial and institutional water usage in the United States. Admittedly, hospitals require a significant volume of water to support critical functions such as sterlization, sanitation, and heating and cooling, but there are certainly areas in which improvements can be made. Many areas of the United States are currently plagued by severe drought, depleted supply, and increased demand, as well as water and sewer rates that are rising far faster than the rate of inflation, and while many hospitals have been quick to address their energy usage and to implement energy-efficient practices, few have considered water efficiency. However, that is about to change.

Saving water not only protects our most precious resource, it also provides an attractive return on investment (ROI) for most hospitals. But reducing water usage in hospitals isn’t as simple as turning off the faucet — it requires careful research and consideration of a variety of factors including cost and ease of implementation, rate of return, and staff support. Hospital water audits can help healthcare facilities determine which operational and capital measures to implement and in what order, and can pinpoint the measures that will provide the largest ROI and most significant environmental impact while being the least disruptive to hospital operations.

blue showerOn average, implementing water efficiency measures decreases operational costs by 11% and water usage by 15%, and results in greater patient and staff satisfaction. Also, by installing water-efficient equipment, hospitals can take advantage of utility rebates and financial incentives that, when combined with operational savings, often result in equipment upgrades easily paying for themselves. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Larger hospitals can take their water efficiency even further by collecting rainwater and condensate and utilizing it for non-potable functions such as irrigation and toilet flushing, like this state-of-the-art New Orleans hospital has done.

For smaller facilities that simply don’t have the capital expenditure needed for large-scale capital improvements, even inexpensive upgrades such as low-flow showerheads, reduced gallon-per-flush kits, and flow-control valves on sinks can add up to big savings. For example, Tata & Howard completed a water audit for the MetroWest Medical Center (MWMC) in Framingham, Massachusetts and estimated that the facility could save almost $30,000 per year after investing just $5,000 per year over a six-year period. And as an added bonus, savings from low-cost upgrades enable hospitals to fund future water saving measures.

With water becoming scarcer and more expensive, hospitals need to look to conservation and efficiency in order to remain profitable. Water audits provide the information, prioritization, and justification needed to implement a successful conservation and efficiency program, and typically pay for themselves in a very short time period. Hospitals that design water conservation strategies today will find themselves ahead of the curve and enjoying significant savings well into the future.

Smart Grid Water Networks: Part of the Water Efficiency Arsenal

Water-Grid-FeatureThe impacts of global climate change have driven governments, businesses, and communities around the world to consider efficiency and conservation in all areas of our lives, rethink business plans, and reconsider the relationships between people and resources to create a more sustainable future.

Nowhere is this focus on sustainability clearer than in water utilities. Faced with an aging distribution infrastructure in need of overhauling, growing populations, and shrinking supply, utilities are struggling with developing innovative, yet cost effective, ways to maintain and improve already maxed out water systems.

Just as smart metering has shed light on our energy use, utilities, environmental groups, and governments are beginning to look to smart metering to help with water conservation.

What is Smart Networks and Metering? AMI vs. AMR

A smart water network – or smart grid for water – may be the next big thing as communities around the world come to terms with water scarcity and the need for water conservation.  The crux of the smart water network is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) technology. AMI can provide a remote and constant two-way communication link between utilities, meters and consumers via the usual communications technologies (broadband, fiber optic cable, wireless, etc.).

As a key component of a smart water network, smart water meters integrated with sensing technologies give water utilities advanced tools for more efficiently measuring water consumption and providing water customers with data to help them monitor their water usage and reduce costs.  Often known as “smart lite”, advanced meter reading (AMR) technology, one-way information gathering from customer to utility is seen as a cost effective approach to accurate billing and leakage. This solves the bulk of many water utility needs.

Benefits – Knowledge is Power

Smart metering increases the information available to the customer which helps them better understand and curb their water use.

Preliminary investigation indicates that customers with displays are more likely to use less water. However, installing monitors at each customer site may come with a price tag water utilities find difficult to afford. As a result, many elect less expensive ways to provide consumption details, such as Web sites or printouts enclosed with bills. Although surveys indicate that customers prefer the on-site display, web portals are another effective method to link concerned customers to information on how to lower consumption and/or bills.

Smart metering also delivers valuable data to utilities. For example, utilities can use the data collected to detect customer-premises leaks from their end. Utilities could also use the technology to identify possible leaks at commercial and industrial properties with round-the-clock water use.

More over, according to UN-Water, approximately 8% of the world’s energy production is used for pumping, treating and transporting water. Saved water means saved energy—a double benefit—and a better future for generations to come.

Smart water networks have evolved to the point where they can reliably produce the benefits described above, within very reasonable payback periods. While many jurisdictions are contemplating extreme measures – water rationing, desalinization plants, building canals hundreds of miles long – smart water networks can reclaim 20% to 40% of water that is typically lost to leaks and theft, according to

So What’s the Catch?

While there are increasing studies looking at the benefits and uses of smart metering, utilities are not overlooking the price tag that comes along with the technology.    Additionally, the jury is still out whether or not customers will embrace yet another judgement on their lifestyle.  In the early days of energy metering, some utilities paid big bucks to have local  energy use comparisons printed on customer bills.  The frowning face on high energy-use customers’ bills did very little to encourage conservation and win over utilities good intentions with the public.

There are still many challenges in network understanding and costs analysis that make smart water networks slow in development. Despite the many benefits, justifying the implementation of the technology to support smart metering will require cooperation and support from local and regional governments, communities, and above all, customers.

Careful planning and close scrutiny of all the costs associated with implementing a smart water network will allow utilities to plan for scaleable implementation of this technology.