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Plan Ecospital: Healthy Biomass Benefits

Rising energy demands and fossil fuel cost volatility prompted the management of a Spanish regional health care service provider, El Servicio Gallego de Salud (Sergas), the Health Service of Galicia, to embark on major fossil-to renewables switch-out programme across its primary healthcare facilities. Being in Galicia, the most densely forested region in Spain, forest-based biomass was the renewable energy source of preference.

The Health Service of Galicia (Sergas) aims to achieve an efficient, sustainable and renewable energy system in its main hospitals and primary care centres by switching to using locally available forest based biomass fuel (photo courtesy Sergas).

The Health Service of Galicia (Sergas) aims to achieve an efficient, sustainable and renewable energy system in its main hospitals and primary care centres by switching to using locally available forest based biomass fuel (photo courtesy Sergas).

Whilst rising energy demands and fossil fuel cost volatility are not new, it has prompted the management of El Servicio Gallego de Salud (Sergas), the Health Service of Galicia to embark on major fossil-to renewables switch-out programme across its primary healthcare facilities. Sergas is the agency responsible for the provision of public health services in Galicia, a region in northwest Spain. The region has a population of 2.7 million and Sergas currently operates 7 hospital complexes formed by 31 centres, 14 of which are large hospitals, 7 regional hospitals and has 170 primary care centres under direct management.

Enter Plan Ecospital

To address all these actions in a congruent and planned manner, a  an integrated energy efficiency plan, Plan Ecospital, was drafted. In the plan, a comprehensive analysis of the current situation was carried out. It showed a heterogenous mix of energy installations and management methods coupled with a lack of priority towards energy efficiency. The potential savings from energy consumption reduction and improvements in energy procurement policy were also identified.

Furthermore, Plan Ecospital also had to ensure the uninterrupted energy supply to the health centres and be designed to enable the shortest economic pay-back time possible. Given the current market, investment finance is difficult thus the fuel-switch programme could only be financed through savings achieved thus needed to deliver tangible bottom-line results from the start.

An added difficulty is the fact that there was no previous experience in public health services of a project of this scale and comprehensive nature.

Biomass ”a must”

One of the fundamental pillars of Plan Ecospital is to incorporate renewable energy to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and to comply with European directives on energy efficiency. Galicia also accounts for around 40 percent of the Spanish national timber supply on 6 percent of the country’s land base. So it was simply ”a must” that Plan Ecospital selected forest-derived biomass as its preferred renewable energy source. The Plan is also aligned with the strategy of the regional government to promote the use of biomass.

To enhance the consumption of biomass from forests is particularly relevant not only from the point of energy, economic and environmental perspective, but also contributes in a decisive way to give value and usefulness to forest residue, reduces the risk of forest fires and ultimately to encourage people to settle down in rural areas.

Positive social and environmental impacts

Thanks to Plan Ecospital over 12.4 MW of biomass heat capacity has been installed replacing fossil fuels such gas, propane and diesel oil. Combined these represent an average annual consumption of 6 260 tonnes of biomass fuels and an average reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 7 500 tonnes.

Furthermore, this annual consumption of biomass comes from the forest in Galicia and thus promotes job creation in the forestry sector. It has been estimated that over 50 direct and indirect jobs have been created as a result with the added benefit of active forest maintenance and management on over 3 300 ha of forest. This reduces the overall fire hazard risk.

The objectives set at the beginning have been achieved:

  • Contribute to the sustainability of the Galician public health system by reducing the cost of energy supply and avoiding sudden changes in their prices.
  • Promote respect for the environment by incorporating renewable energy and reducing CO2 emissions
  • Energise rural areas, cleaning of forests and reduce the risk of forest fires
  • Implement energy saving measures and educate users in responsible consumption
  • Improve comfort and habitability of health centres.
  • Demonstrate that forest biomass as thermal energy is viable in such sensitive places as health centres in both urban and non-urban areas, regardless of their level of consumption or the type and antiquity of the installation.

For further reading the full article can be found here. It was originally published in Spanish in Bioenergy International Español.

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