In a study, the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW) found that solar-powered primary healthcare centers (PHCs) in Chhattisgarh admitted over 50 percent more patients and conducted almost twice the number of child deliveries in a month compared to power-deficit PHCs that lacked a solar system.
The ability of solar powered PHCs to operate cold chain, storing vaccines and drugs, and newborn care equipment also improved significantly in Chhattisgarh.
The CEEW study is based on an evaluation of 147 PHCs, including 83 having solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems, across 15 districts in Chhattisgarh. Despite being a power surplus state, one-third of the PHCs in Chhattisgarh are either un-electrified or without regular power supply. About 90 percent of PHCs reported power cuts during peak operating hours. One-third of the PHCs experienced power cuts in the evening. More than 21 percent of the PHCs reported damage of medical equipment due to voltage fluctuations.
Between 2012 and 2016, the Chhattisgarh State Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) installed 2 kW off-grid solar PV rooftop systems across 570 PHCs. In the CEEW analysis, it was found that a solar PV system provides three to four hours of backup electricity for a PHC.
Peak generation from solar PV systems coincides with peak load times for PHCs, 12pm to 4pm, making solar not only an effective backup generation system but also a potential primary mode of power supply. Higher comfort due to better lighting and running fans in the solar PHCs increased patients’ willingness to get admitted.
The study revealed that solar-powered PHCs could significantly improve in-patient services, out-patient services, emergency care, delivery services, and laboratory services in rural India. The study also establishes a strong correlation between sustainable development goals, focusing on good health and well-being, and focusing on affordable and clean energy.
“Scaling solar systems across PHCs is in India’s interest as it meets the targets of the National Solar Mission as well as the National Health Mission. In Chhattisgarh, CEEW found that solar provided a reliable power backup to PHCs, especially during peak load hours and after sundown. Solar power systems for PHCs must also be tailored to meet local needs and considerations. Taking a cue from CREDA, other states must also focus on creating robust operations and maintenance services for solar powered PHCs,” said Dr. Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW.
In Chhattisgarh, 90 percent of the solar powered PHCs reported cost savings from using solar PV systems over diesel generators. Diesel power costs ₹24-26 (~$0.37-0.41) per kWh while solar plus battery costs around ₹12-14 (~$0.19-0.22) per kWh.
According to the Rural Health Statistics 2016, India has about 25,000 PHCs. Of the functional PHCs in India, 4.6 percent are unelectrified, affecting over 38 million rural households depending on these healthcare facilities.
The CEEW study also revealed that providing 5kW solar rooftop systems to all PHCs across India could contribute to about 160 MW of the rooftop solar target. If solar were to be extended to cover sub-centers (1 kW systems) and community health centers (8 kW systems), the total potential would be about 415 MW.
This is a large potential untapped market for rooftop installers in India who are struggling to find new channels.
Image credit: CEEW