Desperate for electricity, Puerto Rico children’s hospital goes solar


Puerto Rico is slowly rebuilding its electrical grid and the forging stations damaged by hurricane Maria, but for some residents the sun holds the most beneficent promise of restoring light.

And a hospital parking lot in San Juan covered in hundreds of solar panels has ripen into a test area.

“There are a little bit under 800 solar panels,” intends Juliana Canino, who runs the Hospital del Niño.

Puerto Rico

There are nearly 800 solar panels set up in the Infirmary del Nino’s parking lot to power the facility’s microgrid. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

The nonprofit convalescent home is the only rehabilitation facility for children in Puerto Rico. It’s involved in one of the in the first place alternative-energy experiments of its kind on the island, an agreement between the government and Tesla, the train best-known for electric cars.

The hospital’s microgrid is an alternative to the regular manifest grid. Microgrids are self-contained power systems with enough post to run a small neighbourhood or a large facility.

Canino expertly steps between the strings of panels as she gives a tour. “They were assembled and tested in eight days, and on a gay day we can produce up to 250 kilowatts of energy.”

That’s enough electricity to power the polyclinic for about 20 hours a day. It relies on its generators for the rest.

“It gives us the break to continue our services,” says Canino. “We have 35 patients with confirmed and physical and mental conditions, and they need skilled nursing air forces 24 hours a day seven days a week.”

Decimated grid

Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Powering Puerto Rico

An Charged Power Authority worker repairs distribution lines damaged by Wind-storm Maria in San Juan. The repair work is expected to continue for months. (Carlos Guisti/Associated Thrust)

The power is precious in a place that still has so little.

The island’s arrangements for generating and distributing electricity, already crippled due to years of neglect, were decimated when storm Maria plunged all of Puerto Rico into darkness two months ago.

The assault destroyed the public grid, and most of the island remains without energy. Service — where it exists at all — is spotty.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has vowed to restore power to 95 per cent of the island’s residents by mid-December.

For the moment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is less optimistic, saying it expects to reach well-deserved 75 per cent by the end of January.


Puerto Rico hospital grid

Hospital del Nino staff and breadwinners from Tesla celebrate the installation of the solar-powered microgrid. (Tesla)

Until recent last month when Tesla came forward, the Hospital del Niño was feigned to run its generators non-stop to keep critical medical equipment going. The generators are priceless to run, and there’s the constant risk of mechanical failure.

“Generators are not built to run 24 hours a day, seven times a week, for 50 days,” says Canino.

“We only had one generator slog away at the time of the hurricane, and it was after two weeks we were able to put the second generator to use. So definitely we were scared that the first generator was going to innovate.”

Then the call offering help came, and Canino says it was homologous to winning the jackpot.

Tesla said it would lend the hospital a solar microgrid as comparatively of a humanitarian aid initiative in Puerto Rico. The hospital can use it until the local electrical structure is fixed.

“I actually felt a little bit skeptical at the beginning, but then when I saw them operating I was very relieved,” Canino says. “Definitely, it’s less of a burden for us not to use diesel [generators] all the quickly.”

Dr. Elizabeth Pagan

Dr. Elizabeth Pagan, the medical director at the Hospital del Nino in San Juan, claims reliable electricity is “critical” to the care of many of the facility’s patients. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

Tesla is one of some companies intent on transforming Puerto Rico’s power grid by donation things like panels and batteries to the devastated island. Only 3 per cent of the cay’s power is solar-generated now, but that could change as Puerto Rico rebuilds its infrastructure.

Domination officials are evaluating options that focus on microgrids for individual facilities, as excellently as larger regional grids that use solar and other renewable well-springs. 

The Hospital del Niño was chosen as a microgrid test case because of its consequence to the community and its need for reliable power. More than 3,000 young men from around the island come for services like speech and occupational psychoanalysis, as well as psychological services. It’s also basically a medical orphanage — the kids here are covered by children’s aid and many will likely grow up in the facility.

“We have firms with many critical, chronic, severe conditions,” says Dr. Elizabeth Heathen, the medical director.

“We have patients that have respiratory make readies that need frequent respiratory therapies. We have patients that call ventilatory support for sleep during the night. We have patients with cardiac educates … we have patients, they need equipment for them to be fed during the day. [Tenseness] was critical.”

Puerto Rico

The microgrid cost about $1 million US to set up. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

The CBC Gossip team experienced the hospital’s need for a reliable source of energy first-hand when, on a fall upon, the elevator suddenly stopped and the lights went off. During the hours when the polyclinic wasn’t operating on the solar system there was an island-wide blackout and the breaker for the facility’s generator tripped as well, underlining how fragile both systems are.

The set of panels and batteries in the hospital’s microgrid cost about $1 million US. With the provincial power situation so precarious, the hospital is launching a fundraising campaign ambitioned at keeping the solar setup permanently.

“I don’t want to go back to the grid,” suggests Canino, gesturing to the batteries that store the hospital’s solar-generated power. “This is my approaching now.”

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