Hospitals and clinics everywhere need energy management and local renewables

Back in November, I had argued that solar photovoltaic panels and energy storage solutions were a better alternative to generate electricity for Ukrainian hospitals. I wanted to offer a follow-up to this article and elaborate on how energy management and renewables are needed for hospitals and clinics everywhere. As I have worked on the energy transition of healthcare and medico-social structures for the Pays de la Loire Region in France, I wanted to share what I have learned on that crucial topic.

Hospitals are the most energy intensive buildings. Indeed, a lot of energy is needed to keep patients at the right temperature, to cook thousands of meals every day, to maintain a good air quality, to run all the energy intensive equipments like RMI scanners, radiology equipment…

Using a lot less energy is critical for hospitals everywhere.

Energy management is more than ever critical : climate change is here and only starting and energy prices have skyrocketed with the war in Ukraine. Understanding where energy is consumed and see where and when it can be saved is the necessary first step, and not just in medical structures, but everywhere. Whether it’s 5, 10 or 15% of total energy, there will be wasted energy to be found and slashed. This can be lights left on 24/7 in corridors, excess heating in rooms and offices and so on.

Once this has been done, and before investing in renewables, one should invest in energy efficiency. Whether its insulating the buildings or changing the lights or day-to-day equipment to something more efficient, this is a critical step. Sometimes, this is not straightforward, it might be decreasing the water needed for showers and faucets (hot water is very energy intensive)

Using much less energy makes us all more resilient and much closer to carbon neutrality. I believe we should be investing at least as much resources, time and money on saving energy as we do on renewables. Only this way will we reach carbon neutrality by mid-century.

Renewable energy solutions make even more sense in efficient buildings

As mentioned in my previous article, solar PV is now competitive and can provide massive amounts of electricity directly on site. This makes medical institutions save money and lower the harm on our common environment. Energy storage solutiosn are fast becoming cheaper and cheaper and are a great substitute to polluting and expensive diesel generators.

With solar photovoltaic being all the rage these days, it’s easy to forget about its parent : solar thermal. This technology can heat both buildings and domestic hot water. As 30% of all the energy used in hospitals is for hot water, this is particularly handy. If lack of space is a problem, hybrid solar panels can provide both electricity and hot water.

Another way to help medical infrastructures become more energy independant and save on cost is biogas. If you are not familiar with it, please check out my primer on that renewable energy source. Biodigesters help save on energy, water, and landfill costs and bring the circular economy to hospitals. Even if food waste in medical structures were to be halved this decade, there would still be massive amounts of food waste and scraps left to turn into organic fertilizer, heat and electricity.

I am wondering if cogeneration would have been a better choice as Ukrainians now lack both electricity and heat. Cogeneration is 88% efficient as it generates both electricity and heat. And yes, it also can run on biogas (once it’s been purified…)

Last but not least both geothermal energy and district heating can keep entire hospitals and neighborhoods warm throughout winter. These solutions may be expensive and hard to set up but can last decades, are low carbon and can be a pride to own.

We have seen it in this week’s article, hospitals – and other buildings and communities – are not lacking solutions to become more energy efficient and resilient. They lack the political will and the money to do so.

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