Home Climate justice Will going solar help health clinics survive the climate crisis? | Climate crisis

Will going solar help health clinics survive the climate crisis? | Climate crisis

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IIt’s not easy to shake Rosa Vivian Fernandez. The general manager of a California health care clinic, she sees the harsh realities the low-income, largely Hispanic community the clinic serves faces every day.

But when Fernandez traveled to Puerto Rico in 2017 to visit family, she was shocked to see how devastated Hurricane Maria had been on the island.

“All the health centers – those that weren’t flooded or destroyed by the storm – collapsed,” Fernandez said. More than 5,000 people died from the severe Atlantic storm, which caused an estimated $90bn (£80bn) in property damage, wiping out the power grid. “People have died because of the lack of services,” she added.

After her 2017 visit, Fernandez realized that the clinic she runs, the San Benito Health Foundation in Hollister, Calif., could also be vulnerable to power outages that could compromise patient health. California’s record heatwaves and other factors are increasingly straining an already strained power grid. Something had to be done, she decided.

Today, the 17,000 square foot clinic in San Benito is nearly 100% solar powered with the ability to rely entirely on solar power for a week, through a self-contained microgrid of panels $1.7 million solar and battery products.

The clinic has been heralded as an example for other healthcare facilities to follow, an achievement all the more remarkable given that approximately 90% of patients are people of color who lack health insurance.

Hospitals are big energy consumers and stand to gain from switching to solar power, research shows. The San Benito clinic, pictured, is nearly 100% solar powered. Photography: The Romero Institute’s Let’s Green CA Campaign

And efforts to become energy independent have positioned San Benito as one of many healthcare facilities building resilience to environmental challenges associated with climate change.

A report released last year by California’s Hospital Building Safety Board warned that solar power is rapidly becoming essential for the “sustainability and resilience” of healthcare as climate change increasingly threatens energy resources. traditional. The report notes that the San Benito clinic is part of several “pilot projects” providing examples for other health facilities to follow.

“We hope this will serve as a model for other community health centers,” Fernandez said.

‘Green energy’

Researchers say hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities are among the sectors most in need of moving away from fossil fuel-dependent power sources due to their high energy consumption, critical nature their services and the fact that healthcare institutions are generally large emitters. greenhouse gas emissions.

Thanks to this recognition, solar and other “green energy” options are gaining popularity globally. A hospital in New Jersey began work to integrate solar power into its power supply in 2014 and now over 70% of its annual electrical needs are supplied by solar power. And a hospital in Jackson, Calif., installed an onsite solar power generation system in 2019 to supply more than half of its electricity needs. Three hospitals in Greece currently under construction will be covered with canopies of solar panels to help power the facilities.

Solar power has also helped hospitals in Puerto Rico keep the lights on after big storms – with some shutdowns and restarts. In San Juan, a children’s hospital was able to restore power after Hurricane Maria, when Tesla donated a series of solar panels and batteries. But elsewhere, these philanthropic efforts have been less successful in inducing long-term change. The only hospital on Vieques, one of Puerto Rico’s smallest islands, closed shortly after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, even after Tesla installed solar power equipment at the center.

The Weed Army Community Hospital in Fort Irwin, California is the first Department of Defense LEED platinum and carbon-neutral medical facility built in the United States.
The Weed Army Community Hospital in Fort Irwin, California is the first Department of Defense LEED platinum and carbon-neutral medical facility built in the United States. Photography: Aliyah

Yet inspired by what she saw on the island after Maria, Fernandez was determined to bring solar power to San Benito Health.

Founded by farmworkers in 1975, San Benito Health is located in an agricultural and ranching community of approximately 41,000 people, surrounded by farm fields shining with green rows of lettuce and spinach. The clinic offers dental, pediatric and vision care, as well as primary care services.

To build the system and retrofit the clinic to accommodate solar panels on its roof, the clinic partnered with climate justice nonprofit group Let’s Green CA and solar installation provider Mynt Systems. One of the objectives was to ensure that the clinic would have the capacity to store at least 10 days of electricity.

By relying on the sun for its energy needs, the clinic’s microgrid reduces the need to burn an estimated 2.3 million pounds of coal over 25 years, according to Robert Hymes, chief development officer of Mynt Systems, who has installed the clinic system.

“Electric bikes too”

The clinic’s monthly electricity bills have gone from over $44,000 per year to less than $4,000 per year since the clinic switched to solar power in 2019. The clinic has also received so far $200,000 (£176,282) in rebates from the PG&E electric utility and expects another $200,000 more over the next five years. In contrast, electricity prices have soared more than 15% so far this year.

The operational benefits of going solar were underscored earlier this month when record temperatures well over 100 F (37.7 C) pushed the region’s power grid beyond capacity. Three buildings at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., lost power due to the failure of a diesel generator designed as a backup, forcing the hospital to cancel surgeries and direct ambulances to transport emergency patients elsewhere.

The early success of their solar system prompted San Benito Health to plan for growth. Clinic officials are designing a new, larger microgrid, the clinic has purchased an electric van to operate as a mobile clinic, and electric vehicle charging stations have been installed in the parking lot.

“We are also looking at e-bikes,” Fernandez said.

In London, the Gateway Surgical Center has solar lighting in its car park.  A growing number of medical facilities are turning to solar power as demand for energy increases.
In London, the Gateway Surgical Center has solar lighting in its car park. A growing number of medical facilities are turning to solar power as demand for energy increases. Photography: Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

During a 2019 celebration of the clinic’s renovated energy system, California Congressman Jimmy Panetta applauded the work that has gone into the project. “Having health foundations take positive steps to not only care for their patients full time, all the time, but to care for our environment – that’s an example that needs to be used across this state… across this country. “, did he declare.

This is an edited version of a story co-published with the New Lede, an environmental working group journalism project.