Hot to Cold: Ascension St Vincent’s Chilton uses technology to save energy and maintain hospital air quality – The Clanton Advertiser


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Wellness in September 2022. Copies are available from The Clanton Advertiser office at 1109 Seventh Street N in Clanton.


When residents come to Ascension St. Vincent’s Chilton for an appointment or medical emergency, they see the staff and medical equipment on hand to provide care.

What they cannot see is all the technology and energy efficient measures that have been put in place to ensure the building is heated and cooled in a cost effective manner and that the air in the patient rooms is never stale.

Planning for the best possible efficiency and air quality began with design selection.

With experience managing power plants, Chilton County Healthcare Authority board member Robert Threlkeld worked with architect Russ Realmuto of Birchfield Penuel & Associates and Spire representative Steve Roberson on the energy-related portions of the project.

The focus was on integrating components that would make the building “as energy efficient as possible … that would keep it as healthy as possible,” Threlkeld said.

These efforts reduced the energy costs of running the building while contributing to the sustainability and longevity of the hospital.

“Reducing your energy costs and maintaining that level of reliability has a positive impact on your bottom line,” said Threlkeld.


Two micro gas turbines, which are operated with natural gas, were installed as components. Threlkeld said they are basically small jet engines. Roberson said the use of micro gas turbines is new in Alabama and “contributes significantly to the hospital’s overall resilience and efficiency.”

It reduces the hospital’s dependency on traditional power supply because each of the

microturbines has a generator that produces up to 65 KW of power at a time, “which is fed back into the hospital’s electrical system”.

“Traditionally, in most hospitals, it’s the health and safety code, you have to be able to maintain certain things for your recreation rooms, and natural gas has an excellent reputation for being very, very reliable,” Roberson said.

He said natural gas could easily meet the high demand for hot water, cooking and heating, such as at Ascension St Vincent’s Chilton.

In addition to the micro gas turbines, the boiler, one of the chillers, air humidifiers, the kitchen appliances and a steam generator for sterilization are operated with natural gas.

To protect against power failures, the hospital has an emergency power line to the building and an emergency diesel generator.

When the power goes out, the microturbines are used to run things that may not be essential to maintaining patient care, but are important nonetheless. A diesel generator would be used to power the essential equipment.

“Through all of these energy efficiency measures, we reduce the need for a diesel generator (compared to a similar-sized hospital),” said Threkeld.

The heat generated by the microturbines during power generation is channeled into a vacuum where it’s cooled to cool water used for the chilled beams that cool each of the rooms, facilities manager Jeff Roberts said.


The air system used for the hospital draws all of its air from outside, ensuring that fresh air is always circulating through the rooms.

Roberson said that using the outside air “brings oxygen in … it pushes out all kinds of harmful bacteria, viruses, etc.”

Realmuto said “this hospital was far better set up for the pandemic than most” as the air system used made it easier to set up isolation rooms.

Roberts said the rate at which the air is flowing is equivalent to a room full of new air every 15 minutes.

Energy recovery units are used to reduce the amount of energy needed to cool the incoming air, Roberts said.

As outside air is drawn into the system, it is filtered and directed under a panel that has been cooled by the exhaust air flowing over and out of the system. Because incoming air passes under the chilled plate, it gets up to 10 degrees cooler, Roberts said.

Air conditioning uses special radiators called chilled beams that use chilled water to create the cold air. Instead of blowing cool air through a large duct, a 6-inch duct is used to force air into the chilled beam, Threlkeld said.

The system has only one exhaust.

The use of this system allowed the infrastructure to take up less space between floors, reducing construction costs as well as the height of the building.

“We paid for the (chilled beam) system by reducing the distance between floors in concrete and steel,” said Threlkeld.

The thermostats in each room are programmable and have sensors to keep the temperature in the room comfortable at all times.

“It happens as a natural process where you’re going to feel air movement in your house where you don’t feel it,” Roberts said. “It makes it (air) … flow down more slowly so you don’t get this chill from air blowing over you and stuff like that.”

Threlkeld said systems with large air ducts lose 30% efficiency.

Condensate generated within the system is captured and used in the system’s cooling tower “to purge heat from the absorption chiller,” Roberts said.

This eliminates the water payment for the cooling tower.

Realmuto said a cooling tower is “the absolute most efficient” way to bring the temperature down.

An additional cooler can be seen with the cooling tower in the background.


Maintaining energy efficiency has continued to be a focus throughout the hospital’s nearly six years of operation.

“We’re looking at ways to ensure we’re maximizing savings in every aspect of the service, and energy savings are certainly one of them,” said hospital administrator Shanon Hamilton.

This also includes insulation throughout, LED lighting throughout the property with occupancy sensors to turn off the lights and timers to dim the lights in the parking lots and front lobby areas.

“LED lights use a third of the energy of a fluorescent light,” said Threkeld. “So it’s not just less energy, it’s less radiant heat, less maintenance.”

Variable-frequency drives allow motors in pumps and ventilation systems to be adjusted to run at less than 100% capacity as needed, Threkeld said.


Operating the hospital’s sophisticated energy system, the team discovered another way to maximize efficiency.

An upgrade project is underway to make changes so that the heat generated by the microturbines is not just used to produce chilled water

B. in a vacuum, but also for water heating.

That hot water can be used to heat the building and replace some of the other functions currently performed by the hospital’s boilers, Roberts said.

“I doubt we’ll even use the kettle in the summer once you get that upgrade,” Roberts said. “… Then we will reduce our occupancy by 40% in the winter months.”

Threlkeld said the project will pay for itself through cost savings on natural gas.


The focus on responsible use of energy resources continued in the daily operations of the hospital, such as: B. Collecting used cooking oil from the kitchen to send to a facility that uses it as fuel.

“We will continue to explore ways we can incorporate into our operations to become more efficient so that we can reduce the overhead of running the hospital, but also to free up resources for our community,” Hamilton said.

In the future, this could also include research into a charging station for electric vehicles.

Ascension St. Vincent’s Chilton is seeking recognition from the Department of Energy through its Technical Assistance Partnership.

Roberson said the partnership is with universities across the country that focus on energy efficiency.

Ascension St Vincent’s Chilton aims to be a model of what can be achieved in the South East.


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