For some, the loss of electricity is a mere inconvenience. In a hospital, however, losing power can easily be the difference between life and death.
At Lancaster General Hospital, a typical day includes 85 surgeries and hundreds of tests and procedures, each with a reliance on technology.
Next month, in an effort to protect its patients, increase system reliability and lower costs, LGH will debut a $28 million, natural gas-powered, state-of-the-art energy center.
“While electricity reliability is at an all-time high, LGH’s tolerance for failure is literally zero. During surgery or at other critical moments in patient care, even a flicker of power has the potential to impact outcomes, said Troy Hafer, the Lancaster-based Benchmark Construction’s project manager for the energy center.
“In our homes and offices, we’ve all experienced periodic electricity failures,” he said, adding that in contrast, natural gas has a track record of uninterrupted service.
But what happens in the event of an electrical failure and a leak to the 8-inch gas line, buried deep within the streets?
In this scenario, responsibility for powering the hospital goes to a new pair of two-megawatt backup generators, fueled by a massive 50,000-gallon tank of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. In conjunction with two existing 2.1 megawatt generators, power would be restored to the hospital. These backups have the capacity to power LGH for four full days.
The health system also took the opportunity to enhance efficiencies by adding a chilling function to the existing electrical and heating capabilities, building a tri-generation system that creates electricity, heating and cooling from a single source. Additionally, excess heat from the system’s turbine will be used to fire a new heat recovery steam boiler, which in turn creates steam. This steam will be used by LGH for cooking, humidification, food-prep services, HVAC, sterilization, and laundry services. This single boiler will handle all the hot water needs for the entire facility, enabling the hospital’s remaining three boilers to be on stand-by.
Further adding to the complexity of the project, because of LGH’s location downtown, the energy center had to be installed on the roof of an existing boiler house. To support the new equipment, 15 structural steel beams were lowered by crane and secured to a new independent structural foundation, creating a skeleton on which to build, all while the boiler plant continued to run. The fit was often snug, with multi-ton beams coming to rest inches from delicate equipment.
“While this project has incredibly experienced people working on it, the third-floor installation of the turbine was something new for many of us,” said Hafer.
The LGH Energy Center of the Future was helped by a $1.3 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and teams of talented contractors from central Pennsylvania and beyond, including 10 from Lancaster County.
Equally impressive as the added reliability of the Energy Center of the Future are the cost savings realized on the project. LGH anticipates a full pay-back in less than eight years for a system that will also lower emissions by 52 percent.
In their successful grant application, LGH noted that the Energy Center of the Future hopes to serve as “a ‘light on the hill’ -- literally in the event of a power grid failure and figuratively as a model for other hospitals.”