Powering Up for Health

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An innovative ‘microgrid’ is installed at the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center — a first time at a California hospital.

Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center

As a leader in addressing the connection between climate change and health, Kaiser Permanente is moving toward cleaner energy alternatives that also have valuable everyday benefits. A prime example: a groundbreaking, renewable energy-fueled microgrid at the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center, the first to be installed at a California hospital.

“By operating California’s first-ever hospital microgrid, we are helping to reduce pollution and climate-warming emissions in a community that is hard-hit by the negative health effects of both pollution and climate change,” said David Leighton, chief operating officer of the Richmond Medical Center. “In Richmond, that includes environmental stewardship as a key determinant of health.”

A microgrid is an energy system that collects, stores, and releases energy on demand — and can continue to operate even if the power grid goes down. In Richmond, a 250-kilowatt solar panel installation sits on the rooftop of the medical center’s 5-level parking garage, which generates clean power while the sun is out. The microgrid is able to store one megawatt-hour of energy in batteries until it is needed. And, in the event of a power outage, the microgrid will provide emergency power to critical medical center systems for up to 3 hours.

The microgrid is one example of Kaiser Permanente’s commitment in renewable energy for health. Currently, Kaiser Permanente hosts solar panels at nearly 50 California sites, and has more than 300 electric-vehicle charging stations at 37 locations throughout the state. Over the past 10 years, Kaiser Permanente has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent, tracking toward its goal of becoming carbon neutral in 2020.

“Every day, our caregivers treat patients with asthma and other chronic health conditions related to environmental stressors,” said Judith Park, MD, physician in chief at the Richmond Medical Center. “Our commitment to Richmond and the East Bay is not only to improve the health of our members, but also the health of the communities we serve.”

Focusing on the environment has been an important part of Kaiser Permanente’s mission for 2 decades, leading the organization to develop policies and take steps to reduce its environmental footprint.

The California Energy Commission’s Electric Program provided a $4.77 million grant to fund this project to Charge Bliss, the energy consultant and developer that designed and engineered the microgrid. Since it went live in April 2017, Kaiser Permanente has reaped the benefits of having the microgrid pilot installed at the Richmond Medical Center.

Deciding whether to expand the microgrid pilot project to other sites depends on a number of factors, including an evaluation of whether onsite energy storage will help meet carbon-reduction commitments, a site’s energy needs and existing power infrastructure, and the availability of economic incentives and physical space constraints.

Leighton added, “The successful operation of the microgrid is another milestone in our industry-leading renewable energy program, reflecting our commitment to addressing the health impacts of climate change and to reducing pollutants that can lead to disease.”

Key Microgrid Benefits for Richmond Medical Center

  • Operational: Provides sustainable emergency power to critical systems in the event of a widespread power outage, so that green power continues to be part of the mix during those events (in addition to existing traditional backup generators).
  • Environmental: Reduces facility’s carbon footprint through the generation of solar energy and encourages others to do the same.
  • Economic: Reduces energy bills by up to 50 percent because the microgrid can create and store solar energy during the day, when renewable energy prices are low, and then discharge it during the night, when renewable energy prices are high.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. I love this story! It’s inspiring to see KP be a leader in this area, which I feel passionately about. A microgrid like this, well-planned, is a win-win: power needs met with less carbon emissions, and lower electricity costs, amplified by the use of the battery to avoid high rate times of day. Most modern solar installations are extremely reliable and low maintenance, bringing strong value for decades of use. Please follow up on the economic value reaped by KP with this grid. While the environmental benefits are substantial (and very important to our mission), in many cases the economic value alone justifies the build out of solar electric facilities, and can be instructive to other people and companies even if they don’t share our environmental views. Bonus: they make nice shade for those cars on the top floor on a hot day!

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