With loadshedding wreaking havoc on the health system, the National Department of Health (NDoH) plans to install inverters and solar panels in health facilities nationwide from June.
“The declaration of loadshedding as a national state of disaster enables the department to speed up the solar energy programme”, says Ayanda Dakela, Head of Facilities and Infrastructure Management at NDoH.
She says the move toward solar energy has been fast tracked due to the cost of generators. Last year, Gauteng health facilities spent R42.5 million on diesel for generators by August -almost double the amount spent in the same period in 2021.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is currently conducting a feasibility study on the roll out of greener energy initiatives in public healthcare facilities.
Tobias Van Reenan, a senior CSIR researcher, explains that the initial scope of the project is to assess the impact of loadshedding on critical health services, and to determine the capacity required to maintain critical services during load shedding. “The study is going to be a model of what is going to be required to back up all of our health facilities. A model that talks to clinics, community healthcare centres (CHC’s), and hospitals.”
He says solar rooftop or ground based panels are not suitable for a large facility like a hospital, which has a high maintenance burden and complex operational nature.
“There are other solutions that can be available, other than installing and running their own photovoltaic plants. These systems are not fit and forget, especially the maintenance for solar systems which can be a burden for a facility. On such a large scale, PV panels and inverters can intermittently fail. These systems will need to be maintained and there needs to be a budget set up for all of that”, says Van Reenan.
Simpler solutions that are easy to adopt are lead acid battery inverters as a back-up, so facilities can achieve a few hours of resilience against load shedding. Solar panels might not work in some remote areas because they risk being stolen, placing healthcare facilities at risk.
The costs involved in realising a more energy stable healthcare system is currently unclear. Dakela says ‘it will be a lot of money’.