Solar supports life-saving care in Ukraine

22 March, 2023

Photograph: Ecoclub

Russia’s relentless targeting of Ukraine’s soviet-era energy infrastructure has made the strategic vulnerability of centralised energy systems clear for all to see.

Power outages are daily depriving civilians of electricity, heat, and access to vital services, while the risk of a serious nuclear incident still looms large as Russian forces occupy Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

In Zvyagel, west of Kyiv, the head of the city hospital’s maternity department, Nataliya Zoshchuk, reflects on the moment the facility was plunged into darkness part way through a surgical procedure:

‘‘We couldn’t see anything but we had to continue operating,” she told environmental NGO Ecoclub. “One minute is crucial in a person’s life. That’s why we need light and electricity,” she added.

It’s little surprise then that local resident Tetyana Kalinicheva was terrified at the prospect of having to give birth under such conditions.

Thankfully, her worst fears were never realised, and she safely delivered her newborn baby daughter, in large part thanks to a solar power unit that had been installed at the hospital which ensured a steady supply of electricity regardless of the status of the main grid.

Many Ukrainian hospitals rely on costly, polluting backup generators to maintain power supplies during grid outages.

In an effort to bring down expenses and improve stability of supply, environmental NGO Ecoclub installed the 32.4 KW solar unit at the Zvyagel hospital in December 2022. The unit produces enough power to operate one artificial ventilation machine for a whole month.

‘‘Energy independence is very important as we never know how long a power outage may last and what the consequences may be,” Vasly Borys, general director of the Novograd-Volyn Territorial Medical Association told Ecoclub. “We perform up to 15 operations per day and some are on ventilators. It is crucial that we get power day and night,” he added.

The solar panels installed at the Zvyagel hospital will save about 13,000 euros per year in energy bills, and will avoid the need to source, purchase and burn thousands of litres of diesel for backup generators.

‘’Solar panels work with the generator and the conventional power supply system to make it more stable. Before the installation, the generator alone couldn’t provide power for the whole hospital,’’ said Dmytro Sakaliuk, an expert on energy issues at Ecoclub.

The Zvyagel hospital is just one of many examples in Ukraine where renewables have either replaced, or are being used to supplement, inefficient centralised energy systems, boosting energy security, reducing costs and slashing CO2 emissions.