9 June 2023

Critical Services Building sparks next step in healthcare as country's first all-electric hospital infrastructure

| Claire Fenwicke
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Critical Services Building foyer under construction

The new Critical Services Building will be the country’s first major all-electric hospital building. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Canberra is leading the country in combining the construction of major health infrastructure with environmental goals, declaring the Territory has built Australia’s first all-electric hospital building.

The ACT Government has committed for the Territory to be powered by net zero emissions by 2045.

However, the goal is different for the public health sector, which is aiming for net zero by 2040.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said removing industrial gas from the Critical Services Building was a huge step in achieving this goal.

“This building was a really important part of how do we get there? What will we have to offset if we use gas, or can we go all-electric with our renewable electricity, and really kickstart … a move to complex critical services hospital buildings being powered by 100 per cent electricity?” she said.

“Retrofitting buildings [to become electric] is quite expensive, but what this building demonstrates is that when you’re building from scratch, there is no substantial difference between doing the traditional gas-fired power and doing an all-electric build.

“What’s more, this building is demonstrating to the rest of Australia that it is possible to build an all-electric, major hospital building and to do it within budget.”

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Instead of using gas boilers, 21 heat pumps have been installed on top of the building to heat water. Clinical gas will still be used for relevant healthcare services.

Construction costs weren’t overly impacted by the change, with a “negligible” difference of less than $1 million between a traditional gas fit-out and using electric options instead.

Given hospitals are large users of energy, it’s expected moving to renewable electricity will mitigate the release of about 1886 tonnes of carbon emissions each year, the equivalent of removing 760 cars from Canberra’s roads.

heat pumps

Electric heat pumps have been installed on the Critical Services Building roof for water heating in place of gas. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The success of making the Critical Services Building all-electric will also guide how to build the new northside hospital without industrial gas connections.

“What we’ve really understood from this build is it’s not only technically possible, but we can absolutely [build all-electric] in budget … so we would expect the new northside hospital would also be 100 per cent powered by renewable electricity,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“And as we progress with the Canberra Hospital Masterplan, we’ll be working through how that can be electrified through the process as well.”

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A new connection was built between Woden Power Station and the hospital to bring mains power to the site to ensure the grid could manage the extra demand.

“We’re also obviously going to have back-up generators that, at this point, will be diesel-powered so that we can ensure continuity of service for hospital buildings,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

The government has now applied to the Green Building Council of Australia for a five-star Green Star accreditation rating for the Critical Services Building in the wake of its electric capabilities.

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