Microgrids – Resilience for Healthcare

Steve Pullins, Vice President of Development (Dynamic Energy Networks)

Maybe it’s me getting old, or maybe it’s going through the discussions with my Mom about Assisted Living, or maybe it’s the loss of life in a Florida healthcare facility during a hurricane, that my attention has turned to resilience in healthcare.

Whatever the reason, my exploration of resilience in healthcare has led to a few discoveries.

·     The senior population is doubling in the US

·     New medical technologies are bringing transformation (70% of hospitals are adding wings, buildings, and satellite facilities in the next 3 years)

·     Hospital energy use is 2.5 times a commercial building of the same square feet area.

·     Energy costs are a top concern of healthcare CEO’s (expected to double over the next 20 years)

·     Some hospitals in Ontario Canada have cut medical staff to enable paying the rising utility bills.

·     Hospitals must be at “full strength” during major storms, not limited to the portion of the hospital served by emergency generation.

Healthcare CEO’s have a dilemma. Do I spend our precious capital dollars on new technology and the life-saving measures it brings, or do I spend it on improving our energy situation?

For my personal reasons above, I hope the CEO decides to continually improve healthcare’s core mission.

Energy is not a core mission of healthcare. But, it brings to healthcare an energy dilemma. The growth of hospitals in footprint (often incremental in nature), digital technologies (requiring better power quality), and mission in the community (especially during storms) means more aggressive energy planning. The necessary energy planning must recognize the “new normal” in healthcare – growing senior population, rapidly emerging digital technologies, rising energy costs, increasing number and severity of major storms. Flexibility and resilience must become core to the energy objectives.

Healthcare (hospitals + the associated network of facilities) performance must be at its highest when the utility grid is most challenged – major storms. Major storms stress the community in public safety – the result is more accidents and injuries. Plus, the major storms make all other healthcare functions more difficult. Hence the need for healthcare to be in full performance mode.

However, most hospitals are set up to have only a portion of the hospital powered by emergency generation when the utility grid is lost. Most hospitals have critical circuits (operating rooms, intensive care units, etc.) powered by emergency generators on limited fuel supply. While there is not good data that tells us how much, most of the feedback suggests that a vast majority of hospitals are powered at a 50% level or less.

The healthcare “new normal” requires a more flexible approach to energy supply and improvements in the resilience of that supply. Flexibility recognizing that healthcare is in a digital transformation, and resilience recognizing that the community leans more heavily on healthcare during major storms and utility grid outages.

After exploring the intersection of healthcare and energy over the last 3 years, it is clear that Microgrids (in its many forms) offers the flexibility and resilience needed in healthcare to drive more self-determination and mission support from energy.

Microgrids, being an on-site energy resource, can add greatly to the flexibility of energy services as healthcare facilities expand with new digital technology-filled wings (70% of hospitals over the next three years).

Microgrids, being an on-site energy resource, can become the hospital-wide energy supply when a major storm hits and/or the utility grid is lost. This does not reduce the emergency generation, but adds to it. In fact, with seamless transitioning to an island mode when the utility grid is lost, the emergency generation may not be required to start, keeping it as that life safety backup needed – a defense in depth approach. Plus, instead of the hospital functioning at partial mission, the Microgrid enables a fully functioning hospital throughout the storm and aftermath.

While hospitals are at the center of the discussion, the rest of the healthcare system – urgent care clinics, assisted living centers, nursing homes, and doctor’s offices – can benefit from the same flexibility and resilience thinking. After all, if the rest of the healthcare system collapses when the utility grid is lost, the hospital will be expected to pick up all the slack.

There is a very good report on “Healthcare Microgrids,” Microgrid Knowledge, 2017 that delves into several important aspects of how Microgrids are perfectly aligned to provide the flexibility and resilience the healthcare industry needs for the new normal.

There are a few very good examples of where the Microgrid has transformed the hospital into a fully-functioning, islanded operation, when major storms hit:

·     Dell Children’s Medical Center (Austin, TX)

·     Utica College / Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare (Utica, NY)

·     Shands Cancer Hospital at the University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

This needs to be the norm rather than the exception.

Originally Published on LinkedIn