Saturday, October 24, 2020
Lindsey Preston, left, Gundersen Health System's regional clinic manager, and Alan Eber, director of facility operations, are pictured with the Sparta clinic's solar array, which is mounted on the building's roof. The panels produce 100 kilowatts of electricity. Herald photo by Pat Mulvaney

Gundersen's Sparta clinic sets the standard in sustainability

The energy independent building is a model for health care facilities nationwide

Gundersen Health System Sparta Clinic is the vanguard of energy conservation for health care facilities in Wisconsin, if not the entire U.S.

That's the assessment of the Department of Energy's Better Buildings Initiative, whose Director, Maria Vargas, was at the clinic Tuesday to sing Gundersen's praises for creating an energy independent facility.

"What they've done in Sparta is impressive," she said. Gundersen is the leader in creating energy efficiency in a health care facility, and according to Vargas, the goal of the Better Building Initiative is to ensure those ideas are shared with other medical facilities so they can follow suit.

"Because if everybody has to start from square one like what Gundersen did, we're never going to make it as a country," she said.

Alan Eber, director of facility operations for Gundersen, said that during the design phase of the Sparta Clinic, Gundersen set a target of cutting its energy use by 50% of what a standard clinic in the region uses.

It accomplished that and more, surpassing its energy usage goal by 9% since opening in May 2017. That represents a $70,000 savings in annual energy costs.

That was accomplished through a number of sustainable design features in the clinic's heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, building materials and lighting and controls.

The clinic has 40 geothermal wells drilled 300 feet below the parking lot that are the sole source of heating and cooling for the building.

Control sensors in rooms don't only automatically turn off lights, they shut off the HVAC system to rooms if they haven't been occupied for 30 minutes.

But energy efficiency is only one side of the equation. The other side is generating energy using a renewable energy source. That's accomplished through a solar array mounted on the roof, which produces 100 kilowatts of electricity.

However, that's not enough to offset the clinic's energy use, so Gundersen bought into the Xcel community solar garden in Cashton. That accounts for another 200 kilowatts of electricity for the building.

When Gundersen started the Sparta project, they were, in a sense, inventing the wheel. Eber said he couldn't find another health care facility in the country that was energy independent.

He points out health care buildings are unique in the sense they use a lot more energy than a typical building because they have more air exchangers and more equipment than most buildings.

"We're just energy intensive by nature," he said. "The most energy a building uses is in its HVAC system, so if you're going to save energy in a building you have to work on the HVAC system."

Eber and designers have used what they've learned from the Sparta clinic to up their game at the new health care facility and cancer center that is nearing completion in Tomah.

Something new there is the inclusion of an industrial Tesla battery that not only provides energy backup without the use of an internal combustion engine, but has the ability to store power from the solar panels mounted on the clinic roof.

That facility, which is attached to the new Tomah Health facility, is set to open this fall.


Evans Print & Media Group

1302 River Rd.
P.O. Box 252

Sparta, WI 54656-0252

Office Number: (608) 269-3186
Fax Number: (608) 269-6876


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