Power Outages Pose A Threat to Public Health and Safety

For medically vulnerable people, even short power outages can be a matter of life or death. During extended outages, entire communities can be left without power for basic health care services.

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Every day, power outages are a fact of life in America’s health care system. They compromise the delivery of health care to millions of patients, whether in the form of major hospital blackouts or power disruptions to households dependent on electricity for home health care devices.

The number and duration of power outages, many due to climate-induced severe weather, are increasing, thereby creating more risks to the health care system. During extended outages, communities can be left without power for basic health care services, resulting in adverse health effects due to medical equipment failure, waste water treatment plant breakdowns, lack of water pumping, and food and medical storage and delivery disruptions.

Those turning to traditional solutions – typically diesel generators – are often confronted with fuel shortages and equipment failures during extended outages, with hospitals and medical facilities left to struggle to meet increasing demand for medical care with limited power protection.

Residents in nursing homes, hospitals, and low-income communities experience these power outages most acutely when for hours, days, or weeks (or in the case of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, for many months), they can be left without reliable access to adequate health care services, air conditioning, food and medical refrigeration, and power to operate home medical devices. A 2017 study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Who’s at Risk When the Power Goes Out?, found that hundreds of thousands of people in the United States – and likely millions more – are “electricity dependent persons residing at home” that are at risk from power outages.

These impacts are not evenly felt by all people. Disadvantaged communities – those who live in low-lying areas, in public housing susceptible to disruptions, in senior centers without reliable power protection, or simply do not have the resources to relocate in a disaster – are most at risk. These populations deserve better.

They should have equal access to solar and energy storage technologies that can protect them in the next storm. The good news is that, with the right policies, incentives and market designs in place, these resilient power technologies can be now available to serve all populations.

Clean Energy Group’s new work at the intersection of health care and energy storage aims to develop and advance clean energy strategies that can:

  • Prevent or minimize deaths and public health crises caused by power outages by creating models for clean, resilient power systems in vulnerable homes and critical health facilities such as hospitals, senior centers, and other facilities serving those in need;
  • Support disaster response efforts through reliable onsite renewable energy generation and storage to power refrigeration for medications and to power and recharge home health care, emergency medical devices; and
  • Mitigate green-house gas and local particulate emissions, particularly emissions directly affecting local air quality conditions and adversely impacting the health of vulnerable communities.

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