Navigant Research Blog

Solar PV for Healthcare

Laura Vogel — October 12, 2015

Navigant Consulting and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Buildings Alliance recently released an On-Site Commercial Solar PV Decision Guide for the Healthcare Sector to address barriers and solutions to solar PV for healthcare facilities.

Why Healthcare?

More and more, healthcare facilities are looking for ways to reduce energy costs. According to the DOE, hospitals and healthcare facilities consumed more than 8% of the total energy used in U.S. commercial buildings in 2012 and spend more than $8 billion on energy annually. Following the food service industry, healthcare is the second most energy-intensive sector, with energy costs rising an alarming 56% between 2003 and 2008, according to the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. Many hospitals are focusing on energy efficiency, and Navigant Research forecasts the market for healthcare energy management systems will more than double by 2024. Solar PV is a key solution to reduce energy costs.

Some of the benefits of solar PV include:

  • It reduces electricity consumption and helps decrease peak demand, meaning lower operating costs and more resources for patient care.
  • It protects against rising energy costs and price volatility.
  • It generates electricity without any direct emissions.

Barriers to solar PV include:

  • Hospital roofs are crowded with other equipment and there is limited space for a solar array.
  • Staff have limited availability, and many hospitals do not have a dedicated energy manager.
  • Large healthcare systems are often made up of small, autonomous organizations, which complicates ownership models.
  • Nonprofit healthcare organizations and real estate investment trusts cannot take direct advantage of tax benefits.
  • Management sees solar PV as a large investment that may not be financially viable, especially compared to medical equipment.

Solutions and Strategies

Installation type: If the roof is dominated by medical equipment, design a carport or ground-mounted array. A carport array may be more expensive, but it also provides benefits like shading cars from the sun. Ground-mounted arrays put underutilized land to use and usually accommodate larger systems.

Commercial Carport-Mounted PV Array

Jay Blog Picture

(Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Location: Healthcare facilities other than hospitals often make better hosts and should be considered when siting a PV system. Medical office buildings, laboratories, material management centers, outpatient facilities, and other care centers typically have less rooftop equipment than a hospital.

Financing: Third-party ownership structures often involve a power purchase agreement (PPA), under which the healthcare facility purchases electricity at an agreed upon price. For non-profit organizations that cannot take advantage of tax benefits, a PPA is likely the best financing strategy because the third party will be able to access tax incentives and reflect this in a lower price.

Planning: The PV project should be approved by the Chief Financial Officer and the Facilities Manager/Director of Engineering. It will eventually go to the Board of Directors for approval, and would benefit from having an internal champion—like a Sustainability Manager—see it through the process. Healthcare organizations can also integrate sustainability efforts into the organizational structure.

Organizational Structure

Jay Blog Figure

 (Source: Navigant Consulting)

 

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