Acute care hospitals that fail to cut energy use risk paying higher utility costs as the number of power-guzzling medical and administrative devices continues to grow.

Sophisticated imaging equipment — especially in the operating room — electronic health record systems and energy-intensive data centers are major contributors to growing electricity use, says Dan Doyle, chairman of Grumman/Butkus Associates, an energy consulting and engineering firm in Evanston, Ill.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the use of more electronic devices generates more heat and an increased cooling load, he says. “All of those devices and equipment add up and they use a lot more electricity,” Doyle says.

But a benchmarking survey by Grumman/Butkus of about 100 Midwestern acute care hospitals released this year indicates that hospital energy costs have been moderating since a big spike in 2008. Total energy costs, including electricity, natural gas and steam, rose to $3.27 per sq. ft. in 2013 after a dip in 2012 to below $3. But those costs are below the 2008 peak of more than $3.65 per sq. ft. and in the range of costs in 2009–2011.

The price of electricity has driven most of any increase in overall energy cost. Electricity use has remained fairly steady on a per sq. ft. basis from 1999 through 2013, according to the survey. And the plummeting cost of natural gas since 2008 has helped to offset electricity costs.

Nevertheless, Doyle suggests a number of steps that taken together can reduce energy use in a hospital. Retrofitting lights, installing high-efficiency motors and variable-frequency drives, and fine-tuning the HVAC system and building controls are among the time-proven approaches.

He also says that hospitals can consult with their local utility companies to find out if they offer financial assistance for any energy-efficiency investments, and especially for more costly moves like installing new high-efficiency chillers.