Microgrid for Neonatal ICU

Today’s newsletter from Resilience.org has a fascinating story in Chris Nelder’s Energy Transition Show entitled “Foreign Aid for Microgrids”. As I’ve been learning more about renewable energy, I’ve been wanting to understand how microgrids work.

When I began to read the article, I found the project being discussed was how to provide reliable energy to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Bo, Sierra Leone, Africa. My career in respiratory medicine began as a respiratory therapist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Riley Hospital for Children, part of Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. Further, I was aware of the Riley Mother and Baby Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya, that my friend Jim Lemons and others at Riley in Indianapolis, were instrumental in building and maintaining.

Unfortunately what led to this project was the following tweet:

“Three of our oxygen-dependent babies died last night when the power went off. Not good enough in 2017. Low-cost tech eg affordable solar power must be a priority for saving newborn lives”

Niall Conroy @NICU_doc_salone, 20 Nov 2017

Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance read that tweet and decided to do something about the situation, to make sure there is a reliable energy supply all the time.

He helped design the microgrid, that was completely off grid, with 60 solar panels (315 Watts each) and lead gel batteries. The nearly $100,000 for the project was raised by 260 donors via crowd source funding. Michael felt it was better to use crowd source funding than a large grant from a philanthropic organization, because that brought a lot of people into the project that would spread what was learned in the process. He wants to find other ways to publish what they have learned, so others can do similar projects.

One effect of this successful project was the hospital admissions to the NICU rose from about 70/month to 100/month was word spread that the hospital had a reliable energy source.

One lesson Michael suggested was to make organizations like UNICEF, which provided $10,000 of hospital equipment for the NICU, to be aware of the importance, and costs, of a reliable energy system, too.

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