Summer 2023 saw an increase in patients seeking treatment for heat-related illnesses. States in the South, West, and Midwest grappled with unrelenting heat waves that made it difficult to survive without air conditioning. Northeastern states were flooded by heavy rainstorms. In addition, Canadian wildfires blanketed several U.S. states with dangerous levels of smog, making it difficult to breathe. I was in New York City in early June, and I couldn’t see the skyline for two days. Walking outside made my eyes burn and my nose run. I imagine it was much worse for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
These extreme weather conditions and others will continue to drive up demand for electricity in nearly every state, which will strain the electric grid at the same time that older power plants are being taken offline. This combination recently prompted the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to project that two-thirds of North America would be at risk of energy shortfalls this summer during periods of extreme demand.
An overburdening of the electric grid has become a recurring theme. In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri knocked out power to much of Texas for several days straight, including hospitals and other medical facilities. As climate change continues to fuel extreme weather conditions, hospitals must ensure they can reliably care for patients without power interruptions. Having reliable and resilient power can mean the difference between saving and losing lives. In Texas, many hospitals were able to continue caring for their patients thanks to backup generators powered by propane.
These generators are designed to operate without any connection to the electric grid. The fuel is stored on-site in tanks that can hold more than a week’s supply of propane that, unlike diesel fuel, does not degrade over time. Because of this unique characteristic, propane generators are a good choice for hospitals and other critical facilities that can’t afford to lose power for even a second. In fact, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are required by the National Fire Protection Association to provide a minimum of 72 hours of on-site fuel storage to power or support the operation.
For hospital facility managers investing in clean energy solutions, propane is significantly cleaner than oil and diesel and is considered a clean alternative fuel by the U.S. Department of Energy. Propane is methane-free, emits extremely low levels of nitrogen oxides and virtually no particulate matter, and is becoming more available in its renewable form made from cooking waste products and plants.
There are some requirements to consider prior to installing a propane generator. The hospital needs to be on ample real estate to accommodate the propane tanks. And, once installed, the generator and propane system require routine maintenance to ensure they are always ready to perform. This process can easily be incorporated into existing emergency planning procedures.
Propane can provide reassurance during this time of strain on the electric grid. It can keep hospitals and other critical facilities powered so that patients receive the care they need, and allow emergency responders to do their jobs effectively.
Photo: ChrisGorgio, Getty Images