Since the earthquake, Partners In Health (PIH) has focused on rebuilding the damaged healthcare and health education systems in Haiti in partnership with the Haitian Ministry of Health. Constructing and opening a new national teaching hospital, Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais (HUM), was one huge step towards achieving this goal, and PIH is proud to share how this vision is now a sustainable reality.
It’s among the most basic, most critical, and most overlooked resources needed to run a hospital: electricity. But in Haiti’s Central Plateau, the flow of electricity is intermittent at best. Consider that in Mirebalais, located 30 miles north of Port-au-Prince, the power goes out for an average of three hours each day. This poses an enormous challenge to running any hospital: surgeries are jeopardized, neonatal ventilators stall, the cold chain is interrupted, and countless everyday tasks get derailed. As Partners In Health co-founder Paul Farmer noted at a recent lecture at the Harvard School of Public Health, “It’s not great if you’re a surgeon and you have to think about getting the generator going.”
To ensure patients and staff at HUM weren’t left in the dark when the 300-bed hospital opened in March, PIH and its partners looked toward the sun. Stretched across the roof of the new 200,000-square-foot hospital is a vast and meticulously arranged array of 1,800 solar panels.
On a bright day, these panels are expected to produce more energy than the hospital will consume. Before the hospital even opened, the system churned out 139 megawatt hours of electricity, enough to charge 22 million smartphones and offset 72 tons of coal. Perhaps most important is that the excess electricity will be fed back into Haiti’s national grid, giving a much-needed boost to the country’s woefully inadequate energy infrastructure.
“At each step of the way, we were attempting things that had never before been done in Haiti,” said Jim Ansara, volunteer HUM director of design and construction and a longtime PIH supporter. In a country ravaged by deforestation, the benefit to the environment cannot be overstated: HUM’s solar array has already offset more than 140,000 pounds of carbon emissions. Annually, the system is expected to save 210 metric tons of carbon emissions.
The system also carries a financial benefit. In Haiti, electricity is six times as expensive as in New England: the price per kilowatt hour is 35 cents, compared with 5.5 cents in New England. Using solar energy is expected to slash $379,000 from HUM’s projected annual operating costs. It’s also estimated that, overall, the hospital will create 800 jobs for Haitians. When fully operational, HUM is expected to be the largest solar-powered hospital in the world that produces more than 100 percent of its energy during peak daylight hours.
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