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As hospitals across the country can no doubt attest, the need for energy reliability and flexibility has increased significantly in the world of COVID-19.

With many hospitals at capacity during various points of this pandemic, the costs of losing power and relying solely on backup generators serving only a portion of the facility has the potential to be catastrophic. Microgrids provide facilities with the ability to easily increase capacity in the form of field hospitals or pop-up clinics which may be beneficial now or in the future.    

This, combined with the affordability of more environmentally friendly fuels and energy sources, is making the development of a microgrid increasingly attractive for hospitals, healthcare providers as well as other facilities across the country.

Better Technology Delivers Better Results

The benefits of microgrids through Combined Heat and Power (CHP) for hospitals and healthcare facilities are well known. We’ve discussed how they can keep facilities running during severe weather and how to know when it’s the right time to switch to this type of power technology. COVID-19 has only increased the need for power reliability, affordability, flexibility, and sustainability.

Today, microgrids can be developed through a combination of CHP technology, solar-wind power, and battery storage to even further reduce environmental impact and increase reliability. Rather than pulling energy from the grid, CHP enables running a microgrid on natural gas or biogas while integrating fully renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power, into the system.

However, one issue with renewable solar power is that it can “overproduce” at times when the power input doesn’t line up with peak facility loads. Batteries can serve to store this excess solar energy and further reduce CHP fuel consumption by saving the power for times of higher need. Many of the most modern microgrids are now forgoing lithium-ion batteries in favor of longer-lasting, higher-storage, and more dependable flow batteries.

This combination of CHP technology, renewable energy options, and improved flow batteries is making the decision to develop a microgrid more attractive for healthcare facilities and others.

COVID-19 and Beyond

Obviously, having a power source that is more protected from the effects of severe weather is critical at any time. But when many hospitals are already being strained by COVID-19 patients, the need is greater than ever.

Beyond reliability, microgrids also offer facilities the ability to create mobile medical facilities and pop-up clinics to handle increased patient volumes when COVID-19 cases rise. Utility Dive reported that earlier this year, the Matamoros migrant camp on the United States-Mexico border used their battery systems to power a pop-up intensive care unit for treating COVID-19 patients. This mobile microgrid also provided the non-profit operating the facility with $2,000 in monthly savings, which would have otherwise been spent on fuel for a diesel generator.

In the years ahead, as many epidemiologists expect COVID-19 to be just one of many viral outbreaks the world should prepare to face, this technology will become even more beneficial. Backup generators often only serve core, high priority portions of facilities and arranging for fuel replenishment can be problematic during natural disasters.  Hospitals may often need to flex their capacity to accommodate more patients than their existing facility can handle. Having the option to do that quickly and relatively easily without relying on costly, inefficient diesel generators will help save lives.

The Edge: The Time to Invest in a Microgrid is Now

For healthcare and other facilities that want to protect themselves from severe weather and upgrade their energy system, installing a microgrid system with battery backup certainly makes a lot of sense. In the time of COVID-19 and into the future, this technology will only become more important.

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney has helped numerous organizations in healthcare and beyond develop plans for installing a microgrid, find the right partners, secure regulatory approval and more. The time to increase your facility’s energy reliability and sustainability is now.