In the Lab: Energy Efficiency Meets Automation

Cleveland Clinic showcases a strategic and technology-centric approach to building upgrades.

Cleveland Clinic,, Cleveland, Ohio, is a nonprofit multi-specialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. It was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based on the principles of cooperation, compassion, and innovation. More than 3,000 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 11,000 nurses represent 120 medical specialties and sub-specialties. 

The newly constructed Cleveland Clinic Tomsich Pathology Laboratories for the Robert J. Tomsich Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Institute (RT-PLMI) offers state-of-the-art diagnostic services in microbiology, special chemistry, immunopathology, and molecular pathology, as well as expert diagnosis to patients institutionally, regionally, and nationally. 

The new lab is also the first showcase project for the Better Buildings Challenge from the DOE (Dept. of Energy),, Washington, D.C., which supports commercial and industrial building owners by providing technical assistance and solutions for energy efficiency among building facility managers. 

The program also provides a forum for collaboration and problem solving in energy efficiency. The ultimate goal of the Better Buildings Challenge is to make American commercial and industrial buildings at least 20% more energy efficient by 2020. 

“Patients First” is the driving principle. With that in mind, having less intensive energy applications frees up precious resources to support patient care. In an environment of increasing scrutiny on the quality and cost of healthcare delivery, superior energy management has far-reaching impacts. 

A central component of our ongoing commitment to responsible energy management is ensuring we construct high-performance buildings by applying the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program to all new major construction projects. 

Our approach to the design and construction of Tomsich Pathology Laboratories was further driven by the knowledge that labs are energy-intensive spaces. Energy efficiency was an important consideration during the design and construction of the facility. 

The medical facility was designed using BIM (building information modeling), the adoption of which was key to this fast-track, on-time construction project. The AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) project team’s use of BIM-enabled collaborative and realtime engineering solutions helped avoid costly mistakes, unnecessary labor, and downtime. Finally, we additionally sought to maximize the energy efficiency of the whole medical building through the use of advanced, automated, and efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) and lighting throughout the medical facility.

Lighting Strategies
Providing a connection between indoor spaces and the outdoors for all building occupants was an important objective for the project team. The building design maximizes daylighting opportunities and provides access to views to 92% of the building’s occupied space by applying extensive exterior and interior glazing in both the office and laboratory areas.

To maximize the energy efficiency benefit of daylighting, lighting along the perimeter of the building is controlled by daylight sensors that dim or brighten the lights in response to available natural light. Further, solar heat gain is reduced by horizontal sunshades on the east, west, and south facades of the building. 

Lighting power densities are further reduced through the installation of LED lighting that meets upwards of 90% of the building’s interior lighting needs. Occupancy sensors were also installed in all offices and conference rooms to cut down on wasted lighting use in unoccupied spaces. These lighting controls allow the use of a time clock to designate when lights should be off if labs are not in use. Further, the lighting territories of each lab were zoned separately to allow users to turn off the lights.

Automation for Safe Environments
Since laboratory environments release different elements into the atmosphere, energy recovery wasn’t installed on every exhaust due to potential contamination issues. However, for all other ventilation systems, energy recapture strategies were utilized, which allowed the project to greatly exceed ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers),, Atlanta, Ga., standards for energy usage. 

The labs contain extremely valuable pieces of equipment and rely on continuous power to meet demand for important diagnostic services. As such, each lab station needs its own UPS (uninterrupted power supply). We met this need through a centralized UPS backup system that serves the whole lab instead of individual battery backups at each lab station. This approach reduces the need for equipment, increases system reliability, and reduces maintenance costs. 

This approach keeps the power to the equipment on, and maintains its quality to ensure that, in the case of a blackout, lab tests are uninterrupted and no damage is done to the equipment. This not only decreases the maintenance cost by having all the batteries in one location where they are more readily serviced, but it also reduces the environmental impact by reducing the quantity of batteries needed to achieve the energy storage solution. This allows for more reliable backup power for lab users, since each station is isolated from an individual UPS failure that puts equipment at risk. 

All the energy that goes to lighting, HVAC, and power is contained in its own band and can be monitored separately. This lets us “tease out” differences in the use of lighting, HVAC, or plug loads and ensure the building is operating as intended. The building was also designed to allow for flexibility in the layout and positioning of the lab equipment in the 135,000-sq. ft. space. This flexibility helps increase productivity by reducing the amount of additional activity and time required to reconfigure the facility as needs change.

Next Steps
Joining the Better Buildings Challenge holds us accountable to continuously strive toward effective and transparent energy management. The energy to operate buildings across the U.S. costs roughly $200 billion annually, and on average, 30% of this energy is wasted. The generation of that energy also enacts a toll on the quality of our air and water, and in turn, on the health of our communities. Our work as a partner in the Better Buildings Challenge lets us not only track, manage, and save energy, but also share our approach and learn from our fellow partners. 

Healthcare facilities are the second most energy intensive commercial buildings behind food service. As a leader in healthcare, we must be deliberate in aligning our actions with our mission, especially in how we build, maintain, and operate our facilities so that we support healthy environments for healthy communities.

Jon Utech is senior director, Office for a Healthy Environment, Cleveland Clinic,, Cleveland, Ohio.