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RESTART Health: Renewable Energy Systems To Activate Recovery Through the Health sector

RESTART Health – Renewable Energy Systems To Activate Recovery Through the Health sector is among the winners of the latest edition of the Polisocial Award, financed with a budget of 100.000 €. The Polisocial Award initiative is financed with funds from the 5 per thousand of IRPEF and supports the development of scientific research with high social impact of the Politecnico di Milano. The theme of the 2021 edition was “Equity and Recovery”.

The project supports the mission of the St. Mary's Hospital Lacor (LH), located in the city of Gulu in Uganda, which is to provide affordable health care to all and fight disease and poverty.

Healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries are under stress due to the continuous growing populations and the emergence of infectious diseases such as the recent Ebola and COVID-19 crises. These conditions, with the uneven distribution of healthcare accessibility, the limited public health financial resources and the limited access to energy often make the health sector in SSA unreliable.

Lack of access to electricity or its unreliability means that health infrastructures SSA are unable to provide the communities with adequate services, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased admissions and stays in the intensive care units. A lack of lighting prevents 24h operations, unreliable power supply can make cold-chain activities inoperable or damage medical equipment, while a limited power capacity can prevent the utilization of modern machineries.

In this framework, the main objective is to enforce the health system creating a holistic and integrated approach for the health infrastructures in SSA increasing the reliability and to enlarging the accessibility to the service for vulnerable communities. In particular, the project aims to ensuring a more reliable and appropriate energy system providing instruments for the efficient management of hybrid microgrid systems for health infrastructures in islanded and grid connected conditions promoting the development of related activities and local entrepreneurship by developing:

  1. Conceptualization of healthcare facilities as community energy service providers. The output is the development of guidelines for optimal energy usage. In the LH the focus will be on:
    •     cold chain development for food, vaccines and medicines conservation purposes;
    •     electrical and thermal energy efficiency interventions;
    •     e-cooking for workers, patients and visitors meals preparation;
    •     e-mobility solution within the Hospital area and in the close sorrounding.
  2. Protocols and platforms for energy-system monitoring to improve knowledge and promote replicability of technical interventions and long-term sustainability. Guidelines for similar contexts and suggestions to policy-makers on the improvement of the national and regional regulatory framework for grid-tied health infrastructures.
  3. Effective tools for the microgrid energy management, compatible with the needs of healthcare infrastructures (e.g. high quality and low interruptions), focusing on:
    •     load shifting strategies to supply prioritized loads,
    •     optimal management of energy resources to minimize impact of outages.
  4. Design an holistic system to connect and reinforce the different services (as hospital, residentials, school, cooperatives….)
  5. Social and sustainable business models able to promote a local micro-entrepreneurship to manage the energy systems, the promotion of distributed generation and of community services.

The mentioned objectives address the short-, medium- and long-term needs for health service in terms of energy access and reliability, ensuring an adequate quality of healthcare and access to services to the most vulnerable population (i.e., rural areas and suburban settlements), and the opportunity to have a reliable and sustainable health system in the long term.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering is involved in the project thanks to Dr. Marco Mauri, who is part of the team along with Prof. Irene Bengo and Prof. Veronica Chiodo from the Department of Management Engineering. The team is lead by the Prof. Riccardo Mereu, Project Manager, and Prof. Marco Melo, Head Scientific Officer, from the Department of Energy.