Utilizing Solar Energy for Medical Sector: Lessons India Needs to Follow

For obvious reasons the healthcare industry worldwide requires an uninterrupted supply of electricity. Although, globally we have made great strides in harnessing and utilizing energy, still more than 1 billion people (worldwide) are currently living without electricity. And interruptions in energy supply in developing countries, have created an enormous challenge for the health care industry. Lack of access to the electricity grid and in-consistent flow of electricity in developing countries stand as the reason behind the limited success of healthcare. Factoring in the depleting conventional energy reserves, rising conventional energy prices, growing global population and energy demand, the world is slowly yet steadily moving towards green energy transition, championing solar energy.

By promising uninterrupted energy at a minimized cost to consumers, renewable energy resources appear to be the logical choice for industries as important as ‘Health Care’.

Benefits of Using Solar Energy in the Healthcare Industry

Un-Interrupted Power Supply: Health care sector uses simple to complex diagnostic units that require a constant stream of electricity to deliver accurate results. There are also fail-safe systems in hospitals that add to every hospital’s energy bills. However, lack of electricity grid in many areas, power outages, and back up system failure (generators) to provide power at required time (generators start only 90% of the time during a power failure), leads to wrong diagnosis and fatalities.

Solar power systems, be it mini-grid or off-grid rooftop solutions that are equipped with batteries can offer power when needed without interruption, thus saving lives.

Eco-Friendly: Unlike fossil fuel, solar energy can be harvested from the Sun without any negative impact on the environment. Using solar energy can reduce the carbon footprint of healthcare institutions and free the air from particulate matter that affects patients’ recovery.

Reducing Energy Bills: Fossil fuels are limited and therefore, its usage cost continues to increase. By using solar energy, this cost can be minimized in the long run. The savings can be used by making improvements in health care initiatives.

Ease of Installation: Health care institutions can use their available roof or unutilized space in the compound (on the ground) to install solar plants and harvest energy. A solar panels system is free of any moving parts, which minimizes the maintenance cost considerably and adds safety to the equation.

India Needs Solar-Powered Medical Centres

Lack of energy grid in the rural areas, power outages are common in India. And in such a scenario, medical institutions suffer the most. As a result, most hospitals in rural India use diesel-run generators and inverters. These ‘solutions’ are expensive and increase pollution levels through rising the particulate matter and poisonous gases in the atmosphere, thus making it an expensive risk for health care sectors.

By opting solar energy with storage solutions, hospitals in India can generate clean and sustainable energy 24×7. Additionally, solar can help save money on electricity bills, and rapid implementation of net-metering throughout the country presents an opportunity for healthcare units to earn money by generating green energy.

According to a recent study, it has been found that by using off-grid solar power systems, Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in Chhattisgarh have been successful in providing better health care than before. Seeing the results, the Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) installed off-grid solar panel systems in 570 PHCs from 2012 to 2016.

With support of sustainable and reliable solar energy systems, PHCs in Chhattisgarh admitted 60% more patients and nearly 90% of the health centres showed more than 25% savings in electricity bills. Additionally, reliable solar power supply reduced fault or damage to the expensive medical electronic equipment by avoiding power fluctuations.

Successful results from this initiative have encouraged similar ventures by the Government in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tripura. For example, Okhla missionary hospital in Delhi has also shown success by installing a rooftop solar power plant that can generate 300kW clean energy.

Way Forward

A recent report from Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) highlighted that if all PHCs across India were solarized, nearly 160 MW of rooftop capacity could be installed. For a country that is taking aggressive initiatives to provide power to all through solarisation, improving its health care sector through solar power would serve dual targets and are completely aligned with National Solar Mission as well as the National Health Mission’s agenda.

However, for that to happen focus on awareness, better investment, flexible financing options, faster subsidy disbursal, solar skill development, and more solar panels manufacturing is needed (to maintain quality and cost of the products). The results seen in India’s medical sector should be considered as an inspiration for India and other developing countries as well. Still, we have quite a distance in front of us to traverse, to make such initiatives a success.