Smart Strategy

Regions Hospital’s sustainability team recently slashed $1.1 million in energy costs—and they’re not done yet.

By Erin Mathe on October 19, 2015

Patient care is the focal point of all decisions made at a hospital. So when the maintenance staff at Regions Hospital in St. Paul began looking at ways to operate more efficiently to save energy and reduce costs, they kept the patients in mind every step of the way.

Established in 1872, Regions Hospital is a private, nonprofit organization, providing health care services in St. Paul and its surrounding communities, as well as for patients who are from throughout Minnesota, western Wisconsin and other Midwestern states.

Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, converted exterior lighting to 80 percent LED, saving 50 to 60 percent of its energy use.

Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, converted exterior lighting to 80 percent LED, saving 50 to 60 percent of its energy use.

“We operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but there are still things we can do to save money,” said Don Abbott, director of maintenance and engineering.

With that in mind, Abbott and his team started to prioritize which efficiency projects they would work on first.


Abbott and his staff began by bringing together an energy management team in 2009, consisting of electricians, automation experts and a chief engineer. With leadership’s support, that team joined an existing sustainability team that was primarily focused on environmental stewardship. The addition of energy efficiency was a natural fit.

“I give our leadership a lot of credit for inviting us to the table right away,” said Abbott. “They trusted our decisions, which helped us focus on getting things right.”

The hospital then called on its electric and gas utility, Xcel Energy, to help create the priority list.

“They were highly motivated from the beginning,” said Scott Kurtz, Xcel Energy account manager. “We meet once a month, and I’m always impressed at how aggressive they want to be in saving energy.”

The sustainability team started by installing occupancy sensors for both HVAC and lighting controls all over the building, which Abbott refers to as low-hanging fruit. The building was constructed in 1964, leaving a lot of room for improvement.

Other, more daring lighting improvements came next. Regions was one of the first hospitals in the country to convert all of its operating rooms to LED lighting. When that was complete, they went outside, converting parking ramps and other exterior lighting to 80 percent LED and other high-efficiency options.

“We measured the energy use before and after switching out the parking lot lamps,” said Abbott. “In that one area from that one project, we cut 50 to 60 percent of our energy use. We also spend less time and money on maintenance now because LEDs last longer.”


The heating and cooling system came next. An Xcel Energy recommissioning study revealed that some of the HVAC systems weren’t functioning properly, so the team developed a plan to get the boilers and air quality systems tuned up.

In addition, the hospital installed room occupancy sensors that allowed programming changes at the room level for better air control, giving the hospital the ability to continue to schedule night setback modes, but providing staff more flexibility for when unplanned room occupancies occur. “We couldn’t regulate everything on a broad scale as we had done in the past because we needed to give staff and patients control at the room level,” said Tony Mies, building automation manager. “Now we have temporary occupancy controls, which are great for two reasons: People can make adjustments in the room, and it involves them in the energy reduction process.”

Other parts of the plan included a computer-based building control system to manage constant monitoring, built-in redundancy and a warning system.

In all, Abbott and his team worked on the following projects within a five-year time frame:

  • recommissioning study
  • heating and cooling: boilers, steam traps, pipe insulation, tank insulation and chillers
  • motors: VFDs, pumps, new motors
  • efficiency controls: sophisticated building automation systems in several locations
  • computer efficiency: replaced 389 desktop computers with virtual desktop infrastructure
  • custom: O2 trim controls on boilers, reverse osmosis
  • lighting: LEDs and other high-efficiency lighting in operating rooms, parking ramps and exterior lots
  • energy design assistance: efficiency built into new construction projects


All of the team’s efforts have paid off. In this short period of time, Regions has realized energy savings of over $1.17 million and has received more than $400,000 in Xcel Energy rebates. Using the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, the cumulative amount of energy saved is the equivalent of taking 940 cars off the road.

“We’re trying to make everything more reliable and more efficient while maintaining patient comfort,” said Josh Knoll, chief engineer.

Region's Hospital operating room

Regions Hospital was among the first hospitals in the country to install LED lights in 100 percent of its operating rooms.

In the process, the hospital has won a number of awards. Regions was named Xcel Energy’s Energy Efficiency Partner for several years running and received the Top 25 Environmental Excellence Award in North America from Practice Greenhealth. “We’re very proud,” said Abbott. “But we’re not done yet.”


Some of the hospital’s computer-based control systems are 15 years old, making them legacy products by industry standards and prime targets for replacement. Continuing to meet regularly with Xcel Energy will help Regions identify smart efficiency prescriptions for the future.

“We operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but there are still things we can do to save money. I give our leadership a lot of credit for inviting us to the table right away. They trusted our decisions, which helped us focus on getting things right.”—Don Abbott, director of maintenance and engineering, Regions Hospital

“You don’t have to invest millions of dollars on new equipment to operate more efficiently,” said Kurtz. “If you take what you’ve got and make it better, you can receive rebate dollars. That’s much more attractive than scrapping equipment and starting over.”

Added Abbott: “And now we can take savings from past projects, retrofit the equipment and continue to reap savings for years to come.”


  • Energy conservation projects at Regions have saved an estimated $1.17 million on energy costs from 2009 to 2013, with more than $400,000 in rebates received in this same time frame.
  • Regions decreased its Energy Use Intensity from 2012 to 2013 by more than 3.5 percent, a true indicator that the energy efficiency initiatives have been successful. The EUI expresses a building’s energy use as a function of its size or other characteristics.
  • Regions saved almost 4,500 tons of CO2 during this time frame, the equivalent of taking 940 cars off the road or enough energy to power 614 homes, according to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.
  • Regions saves 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water each day since the hospital converted shower heads in the patient care area to low-flow models. —E.M.