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PIH’s Solar-Powered Mirebalais Hospital Opens in Haiti, Merging Innovative Design and Healthcare
Not only is HUM Central Haiti’s first-ever teaching hospital, it is the largest hospital in the world to be powered primarily with solar energy. In an area where power outages last for an average of 3 hours each day, the sun is a more reliable and cost-effective energy source. The array of 1800 solar panels on the hospital’s roof produces up to 140 megawatt hours of electricity on a bright day. That is more than 100% of HUM’s daily energy requirements, allowing the excess amount to be fed into Haiti’s severely inadequate national power grid. This is a first for Haiti, says Director of Construction Jim Ansara: “The challenge was in the design and engineering, and getting the solar power produced to mesh with the often unstable grids and the backup generators. At each step of the way, we were attempting things that had never before been done…”
The spirit of sustainable innovation is evident in every aspect of the design: natural ventilation and lighting; sun angles and roof overhangs; motion sensor lights; healing gardens and courtyards; as well as water-efficient plumbing and highly effective wastewater treatment. Although cutting edge, the hospital remains remarkably Haitian – a wall of medallions crafted by local metalworkers frames the main entrance and the hospital is light and airy with open-air courtyards, gardens and waiting areas. Ceiling fans provide airflow and comfort while air conditioning is used only in rooms which require strict temperature control. Natural ventilation, coupled with the placement of ultraviolet lights in open areas, reduces the spread of hospital-acquired tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.
In addition to air movement, the hospital carefully considers the treatment of waste – an important response to the country’s recent cholera epidemic. The site includes its own wastewater treatment plant based on a system that utilizes simple mechanics and aerobic bacteria. Ann Polaneczky, the lead project engineer responsible for designing the plant, explains they had to come up with a simple but effective system: “Our biggest challenge was meeting the high US standard without the typical US treatment approach. At Mirebalais, we will not have an engineer on site… We didn’t have advance construction techniques or a lot of money to spend now or in the future.”
The method clearly works, as water coming from the wastewater plant is significantly cleaner than the tributary it is discharged into, with no fecal bacteria alive after the process. Polanceczky reiterates one of the most striking aspects of the HUM project, stating: “The hospital is proof of what is possible in Haiti and that includes responsible wastewater treatment. We must protect the safety of the environment if we want to truly improve public health.”
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