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article imageExtreme weather events fuel need for healthcare microgrids

By Karen Graham     Sep 15, 2017 in Technology
Power outages caused by extreme weather events cost the U.S. economy between $18 and $33 billion annually. The need for greater resiliency in the nation's power grid has become even more important after millions lost power due to recent hurricanes.
Because our power grids are sensitive to weather and cyber attacks, a number of states have funded what is called community or resilient microgrids. And quite often, the funding is contingent on the microgrids serving hospitals, police stations, water treatment facilities, telecommunications towers and other critical infrastructure.
Microgrids can be found at universities, factories, data centers, stores, telecommunication centers, apartments, military bases, and a range of other operations. Microgrids are relatively new, and probably the best definition would be to describe them as "islands of power." In other words, microgrids are a solution to power outages that provide resiliency to a community or other entities when there is a power outage on the national grid.
The U.S. Department of energy describes a microgrid: “A microgrid is a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources (DERs) within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island-mode.”
Why we need healthcare microgrids
When a monster snowstorm or severe thunderstorm knocks out the power in a city, most of us hunker down, and if we live in a region where power outages occur regularly, we might even have a generator to give us backup power. But what happens if the power is out for several days and the city has three or more hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers?
This is what happened in New York City in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath. Four hospitals were closed to patients for at least three weeks after the storm, while one hospital evacuated patients during the storm and another required the assistance of the National Guard to evacuate its 700 patients.
Superstorm Sandy: Destruction in New Jersey
Superstorm Sandy: Destruction in New Jersey
Master Sgt. Mark Olsen / Us Air Force
The hospitals had to close their doors for a variety of reasons, like flooding and the loss of power, even of their emergency backup generation units. The aftermath of the superstorm resulted in hospitals looking at ways to increase the reliability and resiliency of the power generation resources.
The solution was the building of a diverse range of generating assets and putting them under the direction of healthcare microgrids. And this is also where the idea of community resiliency in a healthcare microgrid has gained popularity. If only one hospital in a community has a microgrid system to protect it from a power outage, where will all the patients and emergency care end up going?
Additionally, the pressure on hospitals during storms gets worse as other kinds of medical facilities lose power, such as satellites, walk-in medical clinics, nursing homes, and retirement care facilities. The hospital becomes the health services fallback for every medical problem.
With Irma raging for more than 33 hours  packing winds of up to 295 kph (183 mph)  French weather ex...
With Irma raging for more than 33 hours, packing winds of up to 295 kph (183 mph), French weather experts said it was longest-lasting superstorm on record 
Over the last decade, the federal government has tightened up its regulations for hospitals to avoid the power outage mess we saw in Superstorm Dandy. Backup generators must be tested on a set schedule, monthly, annually and then every three years for four hours. But even with this routine checking, backup generators still have their limitations. Just when a hospital might need one, they could fail to work.
Steve Pullins, vice president of energy solutions at Hitachi America says, "A healthcare microgrid is truly a new energy business model for your hospital, one that encompasses your electric utility, your backup generators, and your new on-site supply, all configured with a dynamic software intelligence."
And a microgrid is not dependent on any one energy source. When a hospital or other institution installs a microgrid, it goes from having one form of backup, like a diesel or natural gas generator, to multiple kinds of backup, solar, energy storage, CHP or other sources. This way, during a power outage, the microgrid uses software to direct its own on-site power. And best of all, there is no "one-size-fits-all" for a microgrid.
More about microgrids, Healthcare, Resilience, healthcare chain, energy business model
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