Worldwide, citizens depend on hospitals to run 24/7 without interruption and deliver continual critical care. From cooling and ventilation to sterilisation and lighting, the energy needs of hospitals are significant and, as such, their carbon emissions are high. The healthcare sector is responsible for 4.4 per cent of annual global emissions1. As governments around the world pledge to meet net zero targets, hospitals have a significant responsibility. Decarbonisation of the healthcare sector is a pressing and difficult challenge on a global scale.
The challenge is compounded in Africa by the fact that only 52% of its citizens have access to the healthcare they need2. This means that, in the African context, sustainability is about so much more than green building principles, carbon footprints and the race to achieve NetZero. It is also about addressing people’s needs, improving access to care for rural communities and ensuring that the solutions provided can be continuously maintained and supported over time.
With rising adoption of technology to support carbon emissions reductions and improve patient care, we will also see hospitals making increasing use of technology to deliver outpatient services straight to the patient’s home. These services will be supported by networks of decentralised, community-based day clinics, to provide hands-on nursing care and social support, as needed. But the mutually beneficial applications for sustainability principles doesn’t end there.
Electrification presents significant opportunity
There is certainly the challenge of an unreliable electrical grid in many African countries. Second to this, the electrical power provided by the grid in most of these countries is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels like coal and gas, with diesel generator backup solutions.
Within this local market context, while the solutions we provide as a start might not necessarily eliminate the use of fossil fuels entirely, they certainly reduce the reliance on fossil fuels through integrated hybrid energy solutions. This sees healthcare groups and developers looking to invest in standalone or micro-grid hybrid power solutions that incorporate some form of alternative and zero-carbon electricity sources such as wind, solar, hydro and geothermal with battery storage backup. Such hybrid solutions can for example be used to power isolated systems which represent a significant annual energy consumption within the facility.
By incorporating electrification, hospitals can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and reap significant benefits. And while an all-electric facility may seem like a futuristic vision in the African context now, it’s not impossible and represents the opportunity to save on energy costs, contribute to improving human health and pave the way towards a greener, more sustainable future for healthcare and the planet. Getting this right will require taking further steps to swap existing technologies and systems that use fossil fuels with sustainable alternatives like heat pumps etc., either during hospital refurbishments or in new hospital designs from the outset.
If Africa can harness its significant potential for renewable energy production, the cost of running healthcare facilities in more remote communities, as well as the significant challenges posed by insufficient infrastructure in these communities, could be heavily reduced. On a continent where new facilities are sorely needed, it’s about designing for sustainability from the outset. HVAC systems can be designed to leverage electric technologies to meet cooling and hot water generation requirements, where heat rejected from cooling the facility is used to provide pre-heating for hot water systems.
There are indeed challenges, but these hurdles can be overcome with adequate and thorough preparations. Engineers and healthcare providers need to approach new building designs, and building refurbishment projects, with sustainability in mind. Each estate needs a comprehensive technical assessment and detailed strategy and business case to find the most effective solution.