As we know all too well, wildfires, heat waves, and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and severe. One consequence is power outages, which can last days, weeks, or even longer. We’ve witnessed power outages due to storms before, but a new phenomenon is adding another dimension to the issue: “planned outages.” Utilities in the western United States are instating mandatory power shutoffs on days with high risk of wildfires to prevent the possibility of a transmission line sparking a catastrophic fire. In California, thousands of people have been affected by these power outages.
Power outages may be unavoidable. But what happens when the power goes out?
For some, a power outage could prove deadly.
More and more people are receiving non-critical care and treatment at home rather than in a hospital – and many of them depend on electrically-powered medical equipment. At least 2.5 million people in the United States are dependent on electricity-reliant medical equipment, with some estimates exceeding 10 million people. As the shift towards home healthcare and home care continues – and as the American population ages – these numbers are only expected to grow.
There has been no widespread effort to provide safe, resilient backup power to individuals who are dependent on in-home medical equipment. As a result, when the power goes out, vulnerable people are at risk. Backup power that is affordable, reliable, and effective is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ – it is critical to preventing needless deaths and injuries caused by power outages.
This summer, Meridian and our partner Clean Energy Group convened 30+ diverse leaders from across home care, home healthcare, energy, emergency management, and affordable housing to examine what would be needed to scale clean energy solutions to the home healthcare industry. This was the first time that the renewable energy and home healthcare communities met to address this issue.
Here are the top 5 take-aways we heard about how clean energy could benefit healthcare and what will be needed to get there:
- Prevent needless deaths and injuries: Healthcare complications, including outage-related issues like medical device failure, accounted for almost one-third of the estimated 4,645 deaths in the three months following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Clean energy solutions such as solar with battery storage systems could ensure that medically vulnerable individuals can power critical medical devices during an emergency.
- Reduce emergency room visits: In non-evacuation scenarios, providing a backup power source to home healthcare patients will decrease hospital emergency room visits during emergencies. Individuals will be able to shelter in place rather than travel under dangerous conditions to a nearby hospital.
- Drive resilience and innovation: Almost $108 billion is spent on home healthcare in the US, with spending projected to surpass all care categories in the next decade. Providing reliable backup power to medically-vulnerable individuals will improve the safety and resilience of this growing industry and spurring innovation in medical and home mobility devices.
- Build health equity: Battery storage pilots across the U.S. (including Vermont’s Green Mountain Power program) are providing residential battery programs at no- or reduced-cost to ensure that those who could benefit most from resilient power are able to access the technology.
- Foster new partnerships: Scaling resilient power to the healthcare industry will require strong collaboration between the energy, healthcare, and emergency management communities to prevent needless deaths and injuries from medical device failure caused by power outages.
We heard loud and clear that the technology to help medically vulnerable people survive power outages and improve resiliency already exists. Over the coming years, we will be building new partnerships to ensure that the technology is made accessible to those who could benefit most from it. Please contact us to learn more—we’d love for you to join us in this work!