How Hospital Microgrids can Solve Energy Challenges

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Adam Dutka, vice president sales – healthcare, at PowerSecure, delves into how hospital microgrids can solve energy challenges in these critical institutions, especially in light of the current COVID-19 crisis.

Adam Dutka, vice president sales – healthcare, PowerSecure,

 Recent horrific events in our nation’s history taught us many things, none the least of which is an enhanced need for preparedness. Looking ahead, what’s the worst that could happen?  Is it another pandemic, overlaid with a natural disaster or cyberattack causing an extended power outage? What does real resiliency look like in our post-COVID-19 world?

The U.S Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) has warned that an electromagnetic pulse event (from a solar flare or a terrorist attack) could cause a massive power outage that would dwarf the massive 2003 Northeast Blackout  affecting 50 million people, and would require months if not years for full recovery.

As you build your strategic plan around preparedness, energy resiliency remains the key factor in enabling your entire facility to maintain normal operation during an extended power outage.  Resiliency assures a safe environment of care that is insulated from unplanned events. Historically, larger scale resiliency solutions for continuous power delivery were deployed to data centers and government facilities.  But in our technologically driven age where the demand for consistent power and power quality are so critical to operations, several local and regional Hospitals along with trauma centers and teaching hospitals from across the country have identified energy resiliency as fundamental requirements for future preparedness.

Why is a microgrid a suitable energy solution for a hospital?

First, a simple definition of a microgrid:  A microgrid is a self-contained energy system that serves a discrete load, can operate in parallel with the traditional utility power grid and operate completely independently of the grid.  With a microgrid, you may never have to risk losing power again. When maintaining continuous power is a necessity, a microgrid provides the resilience you need and the ability to isolate, creating an island from the traditional utility grid.  This makes microgrids more resilient during a prolonged outage.

Microgrids represent a paradigm shift from remote central station power plants toward localized generation, keeping operations running when the power grid goes down.  Microgrids provide efficient, low-cost, clean energy while also enhancing resiliency, and improving the operation and stability of the regional electric grid.

Hospitals, by definition, need to be the most resilient asset in their community and must be viewed as a safe environment, regardless of what else is going on around them. Understanding the requirements of your facility will help determine the right types of generating resources that you might want to deploy. From clean diesel engine generating systems (EPA Tier 4 Final) or natural gas engine generating systems which can be integrated with battery storage systems, renewable energy sources (like solar or wind) and fuel cells to form a microgrid.

Why haven’t microgrids been more widely deployed to hospitals? 

While the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt microgrids, there are hospitals and healthcare systems across the country that have been utilizing this reliable resiliency solution for more than a decade. Microgrids are superior to traditional standby generation because they dramatically increase resiliency, reduce emissions and often have an attractive rate of return on investments.

Some reasons that have prompted more measured adoption stem from inaccurate perceptions of increased operational risk as compared to traditional emergency backup and higher costs of installing a microgrid.  The idea that running your microgrid more often will somehow reduce the reliability is untrue. In actuality, it is proven that running the microgrid will enhance reliability and should bolster confidence that it will be available when the need arises. Furthermore, the combination of efficiency gains, price reductions for key components, utility incentives, rate savings and creative financing options have made microgrids commercially viable for healthcare facilities.

There is no doubt that hospitals are going to look very different over the next several years or even decades, as they evaluate the size, agility and flexibility of their facilities.

What are the benefits derived from a microgrid?
  • Improved resiliency and redundancy: On-site generation configured to operate in parallel with or isolated from the electric grid to serve a facility’s entire load provides superior resilient and redundant solutions to the traditional electric grid and standby generation
  • Energy flexibility: Provides local control and energy independence to the end user
  • Power quality: Improves overall power quality by supporting the utility grid during generation-deficient situations, while maintaining high quality system performance.
  • Economically optimized: Improves the economics for energy surety by capturing value from the energy markets to the benefit of the utility and the customer
  • Maximizes utilization: Integration of various distributed energy resources to maximize the utilization and benefits associated with such local resources
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By Syda Productions/Shutterstock.com

Why should you consider a microgrid now?

Since microgrids can serve as an innovative source to create financial benefits for a hospital, a handful of top microgrid developers can arrange to provide the microgrid to your facility while reducing your energy and operational cost.  For example, PowerSecure, a provider of microgrids in the United States, collaborates with healthcare providers to design and execute microgrid deployments to reduce energy and operational cost for a facility.

Alternative and creative financing structures are becoming more widely accepted such as, Resiliency as a service (RaaS). This emerging financing model with flexible, highly customized arrangements that transfer risk from the healthcare facility onto the microgrid owners. These funding mechanisms are designed to meet the facility’s energy needs, sustainability goals, local regulatory issues and available energy resources, changing the investment in a microgrid from an upfront capital expenditure to a predictable operating expense.

Hospital microgrids providing full campus backup ensures that entire complexes will be compliant in advance of proposed state and NFPA 99 code changes regarding HVAC requirements in a power outage. HVAC considerations (e.g. temperature, ventilation and negative pressure maintenance) are essential for control of airborne infectious disease outbreaks and bioterrorism threats.  To this point most healthcare facilities’ energy backup plans have not addressed this need.

There is no doubt that hospitals are going to look very different over the next several years or even decades, as they evaluate the size, agility and flexibility of their facilities. As patients seek to feel comfortable going back into their hospitals, the role of the hospital will begin to expand as they once again are seen as a safe environment for the community. How you prepare now will determine how well your facility will survive the next event.

Adam Dutka is vice president sales for healthcare, at PowerSecure. 

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