Microgrids Help Combat COVID-19

COVID-19 has been creating new problems in the way hospitals operate, having reliable power sources plays a vital role in these operations. Disasters serve as a reminder of how important a reliable power source is. Without power, respirators, lights, HVAC systems, communication systems, and monitors would not be able to function properly. California has been a pioneer in the solar industry, building microgrids for healthcare centers and innovating new ways to generate electricity. Although more hospitals are implementing microgrid back-up technology to their buildings, challenges still remain in generating reliable power for field and pop-up hospitals. Microgrid technology, though new, is a reliable, economical, and environmentally safe way to generate and distribute power.  At Ollo, we strive to be innovative and show others how to implement emerging energy technology. Seeing the speedy implication of solar technology combat COVID-19 is inspirational to our team, reminding us of the magnitude of importance that solar power has on the future of power production.

In 2018 a grant of nearly $5 million from the California Energy Commission (CEC), was used to build a 250 kW, 1 MWh, solar energy microgrid on top of a medical center in Richmond, California. The medical center reaped the benefits of the microgrid almost immediately. The center had a one-third reduction in energy costs, according to healthcare provider Permanente. During a power outage, the microgrid can island the centers' life safety emergency power branch. When not being used as back-up power, the microgrid helps reduce energy consumption and reduces roughly a quarter of peak load. 

California Permanente is pushing to deploy more solar storage systems and microgrids into healthcare facilities. Seth Baruch the director of energy and utilities at Kaiser Permanente stated in an interview “I think the whole COVID-19 situation just really reinforced the nervousness that we all have about power reliability in general,”. Seth also mentioned, “It’s definitely affected our thinking and reinforced the notion that energy security is vital to be able to carry out what we need to do”.  COVID-19 has made hospitals adapt, to be more flexible with treatments and interactions with patients. Usually, hospitals have back-up generators for critical services, a power outage could cause everything the generator does not back up to lose power. A microgrid system will be able to direct power to areas not receiving power from the generator.

As more hospitals begin adapting to COVID-19 their method of treatment has to adapt as well. Some of the challenges that field hospitals and pop-up clinics have been facing are the locations of these sights, often the sights in need are off the grid. Being off the gird makes the supply of reliable energy very valuable. SimpliPhi a storage manufacturer has come up with a solution and partnered with a non-profit to create and deploy a microgrid to power a field hospital at the Matamoros migrant camp on the United States-Mexico border. The system powers the camps intensive care unit, the unit specifically treats COVID-19 patients. Catherine Von Burg, CEO of SimpliPhi, stated “With COVID-19, one of the primary impacts, of course, is a respiratory illness, and with diesel generators, which are so characteristically used in these kinds of situations … they are large and they are loud and they spew really noxious fumes,”. Using an environmentally friendly power source will reduce the risk of other infections caused by toxins entering respirators. The microgrid back-up concept benefits not only the patients but the groups responsible for funding. SimpliPhi claims that the microgrid at the Matamoros camp has saved the non-profit that operates the facility $2,000 a month. 

 The use of microgrid technology in healthcare is creating new opportunities for solar companies. New opportunities drive competition in the industry ultimately reducing the costs of the products. This is good for producers and customers as competition makes the process of obtaining solar products and installation more accessible to the public. Though there is a lack of knowledge towards microgrid technology and the benefits it offers, progress is being made that’ll lead to a healthier and brighter America. 

Learn more about this topic at: https://www.utilitydive.com/news/covid-19-microgrids-healthcare-sector/580492/

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