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How Health Care Uses Energy

With more than 5,700 inpatient facilities, representing just under a million beds, the US health care sector is faced with many important decisions to make on its path to sustainability. In order to make decisions about a hospital’s energy use and consumption, it is important to understand where the US derives most of its energy. The graph below illustrates the percentage allocations of the United States energy portfolio. It is important to understand that this percentage breakdown may not reflect a hospital’s energy portfolio. For example, a hospital in the midwest may derive 40-60% of its electricity from coal-fired power plants.


The health care sector utilizes energy for a variety of reasons from space heating to powering diagnostic equipment. A typical hospital derives its power from an electric and gas utility. Nationally, energy used within a hospital can broken down by the following graphs:

Gas Usage in Hospitals


Electricity Usage in Hospitals


By-Products of Energy Production

Energy generation produces a host of air emissions that can have significant human health impacts. Coal-fired power plants, for example, generate carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, and sulfur oxides; carcinogenic and mutagenic substances; and recoverable minerals of commercial value—including aluminum and iron, and radionuclides such as thorium and uranium naturally occurring in coal[i]. Emissions from power plants have been linked to premature deaths, chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, emergency room visits and more. Energy generation is also a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions—linked to climate change and a different range of potential health impacts. The energy needed to run commercial and industrial buildings in the United States produces 19 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, 12 percent of nitrogen oxides, and 25 percent of sulfur dioxide, at a cost of $110 billion a year. Check out Practice Greenhealth’s Energy Impact Calculator to learn more about how energy use can impact human health.

Healthcare organizations spent over $8.3 billion on energy in 2007.  Additionally, hospital energy costs have risen from $3.89 per square foot in 2003 to $6.09 per square foot in 2008. Reliable current estimates project that hospitals are spending at least $8.5 billion on energy costs, and the amount could easily be closer to $11–$15 billion. Added to these demands are tightening regulations on carbon emissions and an imperative unique to hospitals: maintain energy reliability and provide round-the-clock critical care, even during the most extreme emergencies.Energy security has become a major cause for concern in healthcare. During the past two decades, non-disaster-related blackouts affecting at least 50,000 consumers have increased 124 percent -- up from 41 blackouts between 1991 and 1995, to 92 between 2001 and 2005, according to research at the University of Minnesota. A recent CNN article found that in the most recently analyzed data available, utilities reported 36 such outages in 2006 alone.

Increased energy efficiency can provide the triple benefit of decreasing healthcare’s contribution to deleterious air emissions, reducing the burden on the struggling energy grid and significantly reducing operating costs. Learn more about how your facility can track its energy usage, identify energy efficiency strategies, move to greener energy solutions and benchmark its progress.

[i] Gabbard, A. Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT for the US Department of Energy.  February 2008. Available at:

 [CDL1]Cost to whom?


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