Sustainable Future for UK Hospitals with Solar Energy

Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham, East Yorkshire has become the first hospital in the UK to be completely powered by its own renewable energy in daylight hours. In September 2021, Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust started installing solar panels on land next to the hospital site. It took five months to install the £4.2m grant funded installation of more than 11,000 solar panels, which covers 7.7 hectares, around the size of 14 football pitches. The Trust received a grant from the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as part of its Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme which allowed them to embark on this ambitious project. The plan was to generate a third of the total energy requirements of the hospital.

The project which became known as the ‘Field of Dreams’ is part of the trust’s campaign to tackle the NHS’s impact on climate change by achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

The Trust’s investment in solar technology is now paying dividends. Hull University Teaching Hospitals Trust, which runs the hospital, said the scheme meant the trust was currently saving about £250,000 a month. With the arrival of the longer days of British Summer Time, the panels are generating enough electricity to meet the entire daytime power needs of the Castle Hill site. Currently, about 26MWh per day is generated, the equivalent to the average daily energy needs of 3,250 UK households. Output is expected to almost double during the peak summer months.

The trust, which also runs Hull Royal Infirmary, is also planning to replace 20,000 lights across both sites with LED bulbs, to insulate buildings and install heat pumps to cut heating costs.

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Alex Best, Head of Capital for the Trust said:

“Our aim has always been to generate enough electricity to make the hospital site self-sufficient in the summer months when the days are longer, and now that the clocks have gone forward, the panels are generating around 26MWh per day so far in May and are anticipated to rise to a peak summer load of 50 MWh per day.

Not only does this represent a significant contribution towards our plan to become carbon neutral by 2030, but the project is also saving us a significant amount of money on hospital energy bills; approximately £250,000 to 300,000 every month.”

Marc Beaumont, Head of Sustainability for the Trust also said:

“When you consider the size of the Castle Hill Hospital site and the amount of activity that goes on here, that’s a huge amount of power that’s required to keep it running.

Now if you stop to consider what the solar panel project is contributing, it’s incredible to think that the power used to deliver patients’ radiotherapy treatment sessions, to support many life-saving surgical procedures, and to keep our intensive care unit running right now is all completely self-generated, green electricity.”

Work has also begun on a 12-hectare solar farm which is being developed on a former landfill site adjacent to New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton. Proposals for this giant solar farm were approved in 2021 and the site will be cabled directly to the New Cross Hospital.

Hospital bosses believe the scheme will save the trust millions of pounds in energy bills in the coming years and plan to spend the money on frontline services instead.

Planning images showed solar panels stretching across the former landfill site, the size of 21 football pitches.

The original idea to turn a former tip into a solar farm came from the Wolverhampton council.

Councillor Steve Evans said:

“It’s toxic land, we can’t build on here, we’d never be able to do anything, and we had some issues with fly tipping”.

Another hospital, Milton Keynes University Hospital has utilised its flat roofing structure to install solar panels to generate significant energy on-site. £2.75m was invested in new roofing and the installation of solar PV.

The Trust took the opportunity afforded by the installation of solar panels to improve the roof insulation in order to optimise energy use, reduce costs and carbon emissions.

During the building works the Trust has also introduced LED lighting to further improve their energy efficiency.

The first phase of the work has been completed with more than 2,500 solar panels installed across the hospital, producing 853MWh which is equivalent to powering over 200 average homes for a year or around 8% of the Trust’s total electricity requirement. When the second stage of work is completed, there will be over 3,300 individual panels positioned on roofs around the site which will ultimately generate nearly a gigawatt of free electricity which equates to the same power that would be used by 344 average homes in the UK.

The cost and carbon savings are not the only benefits the hospital is experiencing. The new roofing has made for a more comfortable environment for both staff and patients.

A staff member said:

“Before the roofing upgrade and installation of solar panels, this area would fluctuate in temperature – at times too hot and others too cold. The new roofs have made an incredible difference to both staff and patients and it’s even better to know that we are helping the environment.”

The innovative and inspiring project at the Castle Hill Hospital has saved significant funds which can be reinvested back into treatment and care. The success of all the green achievements in the hospital sector provides an excellent example for other hospitals and the wider NHS to adopt sustainability at the heart of healthcare.

It’s possible to see that if these successes were reproduced on a national scale, it could save the NHS billions, allowing reinvestment in healthcare. The advancement of sustainability in healthcare provides a key precedent for a greener future for the NHS.

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