UW Health Retrocommissioning Project Cuts Costs, Energy Use

One solution includes turning off overhead lighting when natural daylight is available to light atrium spaces.Recent building improvement projects are already saving UW Health thousands of dollars, and sustainability leaders expect cost savings to continue for many years to come. That's thanks to a two-year process that began with an audit, followed by a number of retrocommissioning updates throughout UW Hospital and Clinics and American Family Children's Hospital.


Retrocommissioning, or RCx, is the process of improving existing building performance and efficiency of systems, equipment and operations. In addition to saving energy and costs, retrocommissioning can increase the comfort of those of us who use the facilities and improve indoor air quality, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance equipment maintenance.


Sustainable Engineering Group, a Madison-based consulting service, helped kick off this project with an energy audit of UW Hospital and Clinics and American Family Children's Hospital, which began in July 2013. The audit identified opportunities to lower energy use, while maintaining or even improving upon the comfort of employees, patients and visitors, and the quality of the indoor environment.


As part of the study, SEG provided a list of 20 potential measures we could take that would have a positive impact on energy use, ranging from easy, short-term payback measures, to larger-scale building renovations.


The most significant potential for savings had to do with scheduling when equipment is used and energy use in lab spaces. The implementation was a two-step process. The first step was to implement change in just one area and then evaluate the impact. If it was a success, that change was implemented throughout the facility, using the lessons learned in the smaller trial period. This method allows staff to identify any early issues, such as equipment problems or the comfort of the people using the spaces.


Major projects undertaken by internal staff, Sustainable Engineering Group and Johnson Control Inc. included:

  • Scheduling humidification and ventilation systems, and only humidifying and ventilating areas when spaces are occupied by people
  • Turning off overhead lighting during the day, when natural daylight is available (such as in atrium spaces)
  • Using more external air to cool the building when temperatures meet what’s needed inside
  • HVAC system renovations to reduce excess energy usage to heat and cool buildings

In all, Phase 1 cost $488,075, including the audit, with annual cost savings projected to be $486,124. The updates netted UW Health just more than $335,000 in Focus on Energy incentives, which will be reinvested into a new sustainability budget to fund future projects.


That cost savings is approximately 5 percent of the annual budget to provide energy to the UW Hospital and Clinics and American Family Children's Hospital (roughly $9 million each year). It's a great first step and UW Health leadership, with the expertise of SEG, is looking at more opportunities to reduce energy use beyond the measures already put into place.


Energy Saved Equivalent Solar Panel Array Area