Geothermal systems for hospitals can save millions

An Illinois hospital that is using a rare geothermal system for its heating and cooling needs has cut its energy costs by nearly $1 million a year, the Daily Herald reported.

Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill., installed the system four years ago as part of a $310 million rebuild. A 15-acre, 18-feet deep artificial lake is used to heat and cool the facility in conjunction with a 185-mile-long network of pipes. It's the only geothermal system used by a hospital in Illinois, and cost about $6 million to install, including land acquisition for the lake.

The Daily Herald reported the hospital saved $1.3 million in its first year of operation, and generates savings of about $900,000 a year since, the returns mitigated by recent downturns in gas and electricity rates.

Hospitals are among the most energy-intensive structures that are built, and the sector spends nearly $9 billion a year on energy use. However, many managers pay scant attention to updating their infrastructure in order to save money.

Aside from Sherman Hospital, Northeast Georgia Hospital System is installing a geothermal pond at its new campus in Braselton, Ga. Northeast Georgia officials say the geothermal system will save it $14 million over the next 30 years, and that it will only require five to seven years to recoup the cost of its construction.

Despite the success of the Sherman Hospital system, staff has to be vigilant for leaks in the huge network of pipes, which are a combination of metal and plastic. There was a serious leak in the system last year, which caused $1 million in damage to the medical records department, although insurance covered all but $25,000 of the loss, according to the Daily Herald.

Engineers from the U.S. and other countries regularly visit the system, which necessitates that staff members give frequent tours, the newspaper reported. 

To learn more:
- read the Daily Herald article
- here's the fact sheet on Northeast Georgia's geothermal system

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