Inside America’s groundbreaking solar-powered health facility

(The Guardian, 13 Oct 2022) A California clinic is one of a growing number of healthcare centers looking to achieve energy independence as environmental challenges increase.

It is not easy to rattle Rosa Vivian Fernandez. The chief executive of a California healthcare clinic, she sees the harsh realities that the low-income, largely Hispanic community served by the clinic faces every day.

But when Fernandez traveled to Puerto Rico in 2017 to visit family, she was shocked to see how deeply Hurricane Maria had devastated the island.

“All the healthcare centers – the ones that did not get flooded or destroyed by the storm – went down,” Fernandez said. More than 5,000 people died due to the violent Atlantic storm, which caused an estimated $90bn (£80bn) in property damages, wiping out the electrical grid. “People died from the lack of services,” she added.

After her 2017 visit, Fernandez realized the clinic she heads, San Benito Health Foundation in Hollister, California, could also be vulnerable to power failures that could jeopardize patient health. California’s record heatwaves and other factors are increasingly taxing an already strained electrical power grid. Something had to be done, she decided.

Today, the 17,000 sq ft San Benito clinic is nearly 100% solar-powered with the ability to rely entirely on sun-fueled energy for a week, thanks to a $1.7m self-contained micro-grid of solar panels and batteries.

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The Guardian, 13 Oct 2022: Inside America’s groundbreaking solar-powered health facility