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COVID-19 propels microgrids in healthcare sector, but regulatory, awareness hurdles remain

By Microgrid Resources Coalition posted 06-29-2020 12:07


Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive


In 2018, with a nearly $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC), a company called Charge Bliss built a 250 kW, 1 MWh solar and battery storage microgrid on top of a medical center in Richmond, California. 

The center saw immediate benefits, including a roughly one-third reduction in energy costs, according to healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente. Now, as the medical industry continues to reckon with COVID-19 and California faces the likelihood of more wildfire-related power outages, Kaiser is looking to deploy more solar-plus-storage systems and fuel cells.

"I think the whole COVID-19 situation just really reinforced the nervousness that we all have about power reliability in general," Seth Baruch, director of energy and utilities at Kaiser Permanente, told Utility Dive. 

"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" he added.

More and more hospitals have begun looking at microgrids to provide full campus back-up than they have in the past, Adam Dutka, vice president of healthcare at PowerSecure, told Utility Dive.

Previous apathy on the subject was due to both higher costs and a perceived lack of need. But prices are becoming more competitive, and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced hospitals to be flexible in where they route and treat patients. And while hospitals generally have back-up generators for their critical branches, a power outage could cause the rest of the building to go dark. 

"The hospitals that have already implemented microgrids are a step ahead. They were very flexible during this pandemic — they've been able to see multiple patients, they were able to take demand," he said.

Deploying microgrids in medical facilities can be challenging, however, due to regulatory hurdles and an overall lack of awareness.

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