Solar Panels-From Homes to Hospitals

Published on : May 06, 2011

Solar Panels-From Homes to Hospitals

Solar Panels-From Homes to Hospitals

Sustainability, now a mainstream word is continuously carrying more weight in the world. Even in just the last five years it has had a significant impact on food, clothes, hospitals, buildings, and all kinds of tangible products. It’s almost a trendy word. Companies have formed, conferences are held and the government has jumped onboard all in the name of “greening” the environment. Energy conservation plays a huge role in the success of going “green”. Emergency Planner/ Safety Engineer at the McHale Report, and member of the Green Building Council, Karen McHale has become an expert on energy conservation, as her home in Colorado runs completely on solar panels.


It Began as a Necessity

Purchasing a house in the mountains in Colorado is ideal for living a quaint and quiet life it isolates you from everything, including a power company. Once the McHale’s found out that they couldn’t get electricity up in the mountains, they started developing plans to run their house off of solar panels.

“Solar power isn’t cheap, it took $20,000 to make it work for our house, but we have more than made our money back, McHale said, the microwave, dryer, computer, refrigerator and all necessities run off of this power, we don’t want for anything.”


How it Works

The success of solar panels depends on many things; two of the basics are how much direct energy they absorb from the sun and controlling the amount of energy used in the house. Everything in McHale’s house is plugged into a power strip, once they are done using something they turn the power completely off. Conserving energy throughout the day is a major part of using solar panels successfully. Appliances such as a microwave stays on all the time, and all of that energy is wasted, the same goes for a television, the remote control is constantly sending out signals.

“These are everyday things that people wouldn’t consider it wasting so much energy, if a person without solar panels took the same measures they could cut their energy bill by 40%,” McHale said.

 While the panels absorb the sun and produce direct electricity, batteries are in place to absorb enough sunlight to power the house throughout the night, the energy they make from an eight hour day will run the house for 24 hours.


The Benefits

In addition to saving money and helping the environment, you can also keep your power running during a storm or natural disaster, there are no power lines to get destroyed.

“We never lose power in snow storms, we just brush the snow off the panels and we have power, it really works great for homes,” McHale adds.

Homes that run on solar power require backup generators for those just in case incidents. If you have plenty of propane stored up for the generator you really can’t lose power. Most homes that run off of electricity don’t have backup generators. In the event of a major disaster solar powered homes will be prepared. McHale’s experiences with having a solar powered house have led her to become an Emergency Planner, in which she trains people how to perform daily functions during a natural disaster. She has also written a fictional account of her findings in the book, Economic Meltdown: A Family Preparedness Plan for Disaster.


Solar Panels and Hospitals

Several hospitals around the world are starting to go green, either building a hospital following the LEED guidelines, incorporating sustainable products, or vegetated roofing for example. There is so much energy used in a hospital that the thought of running it solely off of solar panels seems impossible with the technology currently available, but some are just about there.

Some hospitals have implemented solar panels to power certain parts of hospitals or just derive a percentage of their power from solar panels in order to reduce costs and have more money available for other necessities. According the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, in Arizona this spring, the VA along with Southern Arizona VA Health Care System will have installed a new 2.9-megawatt, covered carport parking solar PV array project on its grounds. This solar project will provide 18% of the total medical center’s annual electric requirements, which will save the medical center over $319,000 in electric costs annually.

McHale predicts that if a hospital was to run solely off of solar panels the best way to implement that would be to build a solar farm in a town, every house would run off of this and the hospital could be put on that grid. Atriums in the middle of hospitals and windows in the middle of walls could create “passive solar” which would be a major part of making solar power successful for hospitals.


The Only Option

Homes such as McHale’s are not the only buildings that lack the accessibility to electricity.

Gambia, a country in West Africa has five hospitals and several clinics with very qualified doctors, staff and equipment, the only problem, these healthcare facilities have limited access to electricity, many only get power a few hours a day. Generators are used, but most facilities can only afford to run them certain hours of the day. Sulayman Junkung General Hospital for example, was only able to have electricity for seven hours a day, due to fuel costs and maintenance issues with the generator.

An American student traveled to a hospital in Gambia, and witnessed doctors scrubbing in without running water, performing surgeries by candlelight and she saw just how devastating the effects of no electricity were, when she got back home she decided to do something about it. Kathryn Hall Founder of Power Up Gambia a non-profit organization raised $300,000 to power Sulayman Junkung General Hospital off of solar panels. Those funds went to a 12 kW system that supplies the hospital for 17 hours a day, while charging a battery bank that runs the hospital during the night. From 7:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. an on-site generator provides the power, once that shuts down the solar deep cycle batteries take over. There are 90 solar panels installed on six trackers on an open ground next to the hospital, they feed power to a small “solar house” where the inverters, battery chargers and batteries are stored. The project is complete and the hospital can now serve 20,000 patients annually and effectively.

“This system has been amazingly reliable and has worked with no down time since it’s installation in early 2009,” said Lynn McConville Executive Director for Power Up Gambia.

 Power Up Gambia has helped Somita a village clinic get electricity from panels as well, and they are currently working on “powering up” Bansang Hospital, which provides healthcare to 600,000 people in Gambia.[i] Fortunately the sun in Gambia is very bright which provides a perfect condition for powering solar panels.

“This work succeeds in uniting the two great struggles of our time: the struggle for social justice and that for ecological justice,”- Power Up Gambia.


Olivia is the Assistant Editor for Healthcare Development Magazine, and travels around networking and developing new ideas for the magazine.
She may be reached at [email protected].
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