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News archive - May 2014

Capturing the power of the sun

Capturing the power of the sun

The very nature of hospitals dictates they must be able to run 24/7. This means an interrupted supply of electricity. But this high demand comes at a cost, and power bills are among the biggest budget pressure for many trusts.

So, with the NHS charged with drastically cutting energy costs, and associated carbon emissions, estates and facilities managers are on the lookout for innovative solutions.

One that has proved popular is the installation of solar photovoltaic (solar PV) panels.

Solar PV cells are made from layers of semi-conducting material, usually silicon. When light shines on the cell it creates an electric field across the layers.

Groups of these cells are mounted together in modules that can be fixed onto the roof of a hospital building.

The good news is that, despite the unpredictable weather in the UK, the sun doesn’t have to be out for solar panels to work. They produce more power on a sunny day, but they will still produce some energy on a cloudy day.

More efficient

On average, solar PV panels can create electricity with an efficiency of 15%-20%. This makes solar PV particularly attractive to healthcare operators.

Hospitals that install panels will be able to save some money every year since they will be cutting the costs of their energy bills. Also, a hospital that generates excess electricity can sell this back to the local grid via Feed-in Tariffs and earn cash that can be spent on service improvements.

Among those to take advantage of this approach are Solihull Hospital and the James Paget University Hospital, which have both installed solar panel arrays to the roofs of their estates.

At James Paget, around 1,500 panels were erected as part of a project centrally funded by the Department of Health, which has a national £50m scheme to support the adoption of energy efficiency projects in the NHS.

The energy generated by these panels is expected to save 308 tonnes of carbon every year.

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust is also set to save £800,000 after fitting five solar arrays, each generating 50kW of energy to the roofs of five control centres in the region.

The centres, which operate 24 hours a day, will be able to generate 195,000kw hours of clean solar electricity a year. Besides the energy savings, the trust will receive money from the Feed-in-Tariff for renewably-generated electricity and by selling unused electricity to the National Grid.

Cutting costs

Robert Goss, managing director of Conergy UK, which manufactured the panels used, urges other trusts to follow suit. He told hdm: “The health service has thousands of acres of rooftop which are currently going unused. Solar means NHS organisations can cut its energy bills and benefit from new revenue streams, safeguarding money for frontline services.”

What is believed to be the largest array currently in the NHS is at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex.

The savings achieved by the panels, and new efficient boilers, equate to a reduction of 8,000m3 of gas and 16 tonnes of CO2 per year.

The hospital’s energy manager, Bill Dickson, said: “It has been immensely frustrating to see many of our wider energy-saving efforts wiped out by the rises we have seen in gas, energy and oil. It has been particularly pleasing, therefore, to be commissioning the solar thermal energy system, which will hopefully bring us significant energy savings once fully operational at a time where cost saving is becoming ever important”.

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