Energy Usage of Hospitals

Sophia Xiao
January 29, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Solar panels at Kaiser Permanente's Santa Clara Medical Center in Northern California are an example of the organization's investment in on-site solar generation to provide renewable energy to its facilities. Kaiser Permanente also purchases wholesale solar and wind energy from large-scale generation sites in California. (Courtesy of Kaiser Permanente)

Access to a reliable energy source is essential for improving living standards and developing economic growth. In addition, access to reliable healthcare is also essential to creating a community that people can thrive in. From a healthcare point of view, reliable, sustainable energy is critical for delivering and improving healthcare services. Data shows that major fuels (electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, and district heat) consumed by large hospitals totals around [1]

458 × 1012 BTU × 1055 Joules/BTU = 4.83 × 1017 Joules

For reference, hospitals account for less than 2% of all commercial buildings in the United States, but 4.83 × 1017 Joules is 5.5% of the total energy used by the commercial sector in 2007. [1] Comprehensively, 4.83 × 1017 Joules is only

4.83 × 1017 Joules / (1.10 × 1020 Joules) = 0.0044

or 0.44% of the total energy used by the US in 2007. [2] While this shows that the amount of energy used by hospitals is insignificant when compared to the total US energy budget, it is still large. For example, the total amount of energy used by the entire country of Ecuador 2007 was [2]

10.6 MTOE × 4.187 × 1016 Joules/MTOE = 4.44 × 1017 Joules

Even more interesting is that the total amount of energy used by hospitals in the US in 2007 makes up approximately 3.34% of the total energy consumption of the entire continent of Africa in the same year. [2] At the same time, the total population of the US in 2007 was less than a third of the population of the entire continent of Africa the same year. [3] This disparity is concerning because it demonstrates that there is an incredible imbalance of energy consumption around the world. Moreover, it suggests that it would be practically impossible to sustain hospitals in developing nations with much lower energy consumption or much more limited access to energy at the same level as hospitals in the U.S.. As a result, it is important to look at how hospitals in the U.S. are using this energy as a means of better understanding where energy usage can be cut down. After all, developing more sustainable techniques will not only cut costs for hospitals in the U.S., which already incur extremely high expenses, but it can also inform how these practices can be translated to nations that have a much more limited access to energy. Furthermore, the amount of energy available to us globally is finite, and the more energy the U.S. can conserve, even if it is just a fraction of our total consumption, the more energy is available to other nations, whose consumption of energy is much lower and need for energy is much higher.


Energy data today shows that hospitals in the U.S. spend an average of $1.67 on electricity and 48 cents on natural gas per square foot. In addition, typical hospitals use between 61 to 79% of their total energy on lighting, heating and hot water. [4] As a result, this makes these systems the best targets for energy saving strategies. In addition, hospitals consume more energy than other nonresidential buildings per square meter of floor space, partially because they are continuously operating. [5] Reportedly, the annual scope of energy consumption per square meter of floor space of hospitals and other clinics and health facilities ranges roughly between 230 and 330 kilowatt hours/square meter. [6]

As a result, it is important to consider different ways to manage these costs. After all, these high costs are detrimental to hospitals' ability to operate smoothly and efficiently. After all, the more energy these hospitals use, the more expensive their electricity bills become and the less they can spend on increasing personnel or purchasing necessary equipment. Some ways to reduce hospital energy consumption and environmental impact include conversion to water-saving taps, purchasing equipment with variable-speed electric motors, designing spaces to accentuate natural ventilation, and also supplementing their usual source of energy with an on-site power generator. Potential access to solar technology can also be a way for hospitals to reduce energy consumption (Fig. 1). [6] Because these specific strategies do require changes in the infrastructure, though, they do require an initial investment on the part of the hospital.

Other strategies that are lower cost reductions in energy expenditures include ensuring that electrical devices not in use are turned off. While this may seem straightforward, the sheer number of devices powered by hospitals are often overlooked, and those that are only used intermittently, like those in laboratories or offices, should employ sleep mode/be turned off when not in use. In addition, lights and air-handling units in areas unoccupied at night should be shut off. In addition, turning equipment that cannot be completely shut off down to minimum levels can also save energy.


Ultimately, understanding energy consumption of hospitals and other healthcare service institutions is important because they are large consumers of energy. Given the current cost of healthcare, it is particularly important that we understand where most of the energy costs are coming from for hospitals so we can better understand how to cut down on those costs. By doing so, we can not only work towards making healthcare more affordable for everyone, but we can also work towards creating a more sustainable society. After all, even though hospitals in the U.S. only use a small fraction of the country's total energy expenditure, they still use significantly more energy than entire countries do, and that is something to consider.

© Sophia Xiao. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] K. Gerwig, Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet (Oxford University Press, 2014).

[2] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2008," British Petroleum, June 2008.

[3] "2007 World Population Data Sheet," Population Reference Bureau, 2007.

[4] "Managing Energy Costs in Hospitals," National Grid, 2002.

[5] A. G. Gaglia et al., "Empirical Assessment of the Hellenic Non-Residential Building Stock, Energy Consumption, Emissions and Potential Energy Savings," Energy Convers. Manage. 48, 1160 (2007).

[6] L. H. Brown, P. G. Buettner, and D. V. Canyon, "The Energy Burden and Environmental Impact of Health Services." Am. J. Public Health 102, e76 (2012).