Solar Saves Lives: Solar Power for Primary Health Clinics in Puerto Rico
In 2018, Direct Relief, the Hispanic Federation, The Solar Foundation, and New Energy PR committed to install solar or solar + storage systems at 12 primary care clinics in Puerto Rico. These clinics have been identified in partnership with the Asociación de Salud Primaria de Puerto Rico, which oversees 60+ federally funded clinics on the island. Health clinics were hit hard by Hurricane Maria, with extended power outages causing losses of medicines and compromising clinics’ ability to provide care. Six months on, health centers – especially those in rural and remote areas – still struggle with unreliable access to power. To address immediate energy needs and build the long-term resilience of these facilities, the solar systems will cover at minimum the critical energy needs of each site, allowing them to restore services and ensure continuity of care into the future, regardless of their access to grid power.
To address the needs facing health clinics in Puerto Rico, Direct Relief and the Hispanic Federation will each provide $1 million in grants to support the purchase and installation of solar equipment on at least 12 priority primary health care clinics in Puerto Rico. These sites will be identified in collaboration with the Asociación de Salud Primaria de Puerto Rico, an association which oversees the 20 non-profit health organizations which collectively operate the island’s more than 60 Federally Qualified Health Centers clinics. These clinics provide medical care regardless of patients’ insurance status or ability to pay.
In coordination, the Solar Foundation will mobilize donations of key equipment such as solar panels, racking systems, and batteries. The Solar Foundation will also mobilize additional financial resources to support the effort, to the extent possible.
Puerto Rican solar company New Energy will do site assessments, system designs, and installations of the individual solar systems.
Each system will be individualized based on the specific needs of each clinic, but will at a minimum cover the critical load of each clinic to ensure the clinics’ ability to carry out essential functions – for example, the refrigeration of medicines and provision of emergency services – when grid power is not available.
By the end of Q1 2018, partners will have begun solar + storage installations on four of the sites. By the end of Q2, partners will have completed solar + storage installations on six of the sites, and will evaluate additional sites for installation. By year end, 12 site installations will be completed. Installations will vary site to site with sizes ranging from 18kw to as large as 500kw.
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, causing widespread devastation just two weeks after another large storm, Hurricane Irma, had swept through the island. Health clinics experienced significant damage as a result of Hurricane Maria. The extended power outage resulting from Hurricane Maria meant that clinics were not able to function at night, and caused the loss of large stocks of medicines and vaccines due to loss of refrigeration capabilities. Clinics were forced to rely on expensive, polluting diesel generators to provide basic services.
Now, months after Hurricanes Maria and Irma made landfall, much of Puerto Rico remains in urgent need of reliable and resilient power. Some are still living without access to grid power, and the entire island faces challenges due to its unreliable power supply and unexpected outages. Full restoration of the power grid is expected to take many more months, if not years, with remote and rural areas facing the most critical outstanding needs.
Rapid deployment of solar and solar + storage technologies can restore vital electricity to critical areas such as medical clinics that serve vulnerable populations—specifically those in need of medical care. Solar can help address immediate, short-term medical needs while building a more resilient electricity grid for the future, and ensuring continuity of care in the face of future interruptions to grid power.
Solar Saves Lives is welcoming partners who can bring solar equipment, expertise, or monetary funding to support the overall goals of the initiative. The partnership would benefit from additional monetary support to expand the reach of the project. Monetary support allows for the purchase of more solar equipment, the ability to cover costs associated with the transport of donated equipment, and the costs associated with hiring local engineers and installers to execute the installations. Additional in-kind donations of solar equipment would also benefit the partnership.
The Solar Saves Lives partnership provides a clear chain through which to make a difference in the lives of many by providing reliable energy to medical facilities throughout Puerto Rico. Outreach efforts include mention of all partners, providing visibility for all who contribute. The partnership has streamlined a system for identifying sites, obtaining equipment, transporting equipment, and completing installations – all at the lowest costs. This high profile initiative provides resilience for critical infrastructure that will last for years to come and allow access to medical services even if, and when, the next storms hit.