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UCI Health unveils innovative central utilities plant at Irvine campus

Facility advances health system’s sustainability goals, uses no carbon combustion or natural gas

April 19, 2024
an aerial view taken by a drone of uci health irvine on a sunny day and its central utility plant, which is the first all electric plant to power a medical center. the buildings are labeled with their names along their roofs.

The central utilities plant uses no natural gas or combustion to power UCI Health — Irvine. 

Orange, Calif. — The completion of the central utilities plant (CUP) on the UCI Health – Irvine medical campus marks a major milestone for the project and the organization’s sustainability goals.

This facility will deliver clean energy to the entire campus, setting a precedent in an industry known for massive power demands and large carbon dioxide emissions.

The CUP will utilize no carbon combustion or natural gas as power sources. In case of emergencies or blackouts, UCI Health maintains backup diesel generators, complying with both federal and state requirements.

“This plant is the heartbeat of the entire medical campus in Irvine,” said Paul Da Veiga, UCI Health director of planning, design and construction.

“It supplies all mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment essential for supporting and servicing the buildings on the campus.”

Innovative features

The CUP includes several innovative features aimed at meeting the needs of the medical campus sustainably.

A distinctive aspect is the generation of steam. Traditional central boilers, common in such systems, contribute to a large carbon footprint. The CUP at Irvine, however, employs localized boilers for specific areas, reducing power consumption and eliminating the need for extensive steam piping, which poses a risk during earthquakes.

The CUP also houses state-of-the-art chillers for heating and cooling the new campus. Unlike conventional chillers that dissipate heat into the atmosphere, these units will recapture and utilize it for space heating and hot water.

“This plant will feed about 800,000 square feet of space,” Da Veiga added. “Our backup generators exceed site’s megawatt usage requirements.”

Additionally, solar panels atop the parking structure rooftops supplement the power supply.

Advancing sustainability in healthcare

The CUP and UCI Health ― Irvine are crucial in the health system’s mission to model environmental stewardship and expand care across the communities it serves.

UCI Health is also involved with Race to Zero, a United Nations-backed initiative, and has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, with annual progress reporting.

Efforts at UCI Medical Center in Orange have already reduced electricity, natural gas and water usage. Since 2022, there has been a 25% decrease in anesthetic gas use, which accounts for up to half of all hospital emissions.

Redefining healthcare’s environmental impact

Joe Brothman, UCI Health director of general services, views the CUP as a substantial step in enhancing the health system’s role in reducing healthcare’s environmental footprint and increasing sustainability.

"Multiple factors, including location, climate and financial feasibility, were considered for this project," said Brothman.

Irvine's infrastructure and energy capabilities were key in supporting the new hospital's needs.

"Our team is equipped to operate this next-generation facility and tackle any challenges that arise as we explore new sustainable practices."

About UCI Health

UCI Health is the clinical enterprise of the University of California, Irvine, and the only academic health system based in Orange County. UCI Health is comprised of its main campus, UCI Medical Center, a 459-bed, acute care hospital in in Orange, Calif., four hospitals and affiliated physicians of the UCI Health Community Network in Orange and Los Angeles counties and ambulatory care centers across the region. Listed among America’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report for 23 consecutive years, UCI Medical Center provides tertiary and quaternary care and is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centerhigh-risk perinatal/neonatal program and American College of Surgeons-verified Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma centergold level 1 geriatric emergency department and regional burn center. UCI Health serves a region of nearly 4 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn and Twitter.

About UCI Health — Irvine

UCI Health — Irvine, a new medical complex under construction at the north end of the UC Irvine campus, will bring unparalleled expertise and the finest evidence-based care that only an academic health system can offer to the communities of coastal and south Orange County.

The new 1.2 million-square-foot campus will offer key clinical programs in oncology, digestive health, neurology, neurosurgery, orthopedics and spine surgery.

The nation’s first medical center powered by a central utilities plant that uses no carbon combustion or natural gas, UCI Health — Irvine will be home to:

The Joe C. Wen & Family UCI Health Center for Advanced Care, a five-story, 168,000-square-foot medical facility offering the full range of multidisciplinary specialty care for children and adults under a single roof, urgent care services, the Center for Children’s Health and the UCI Health Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders — Opening spring 2024

The Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory Care building, a five-story, 225,000-square-foot tower with 52 private exam rooms, 26 infusion bays and eight outpatient operating rooms — Opening 2024

A seven-story, 350,000-square-foot, acute care hospital with 144 inpatient beds, 10 operating suites and a 24-hour emergency department with 20 treatment rooms — Opening 2025