Can Kaiser Permanente demonstrate diesel generators should be on the way out?

  • US & Canada

Kaiser Permanente is preparing to begin a microgrid demonstration project at a hospital in Ontario, California with the goal of proving diesel generators are no longer necessary as a hospital’s primary emergency power source.  

“From our perspective, we’re interested in being able to use other options for resiliency besides the diesel generators,” Seth Baruch Kaiser Permanente’s national director of energy and utilities says.

Funded by the California Energy Commission (CEC), the demonstration project will connect a microgrid to a critical power branch that supports essential services, emergency room operations, ventilators, imaging, and operating room equipment. The microgrid will include 2.2 MW of solar, a 1 MW fuel cell from Bloom Energy, and a 9 MWh battery. The project will also include a demonstration virtual power plant, with power provided from microgrids located in up to three different utility territories.

California is increasingly focused on possible alternatives to diesel generators due to the state’s ambitious climate goals and the increases in the number and length of power outages due to the state’s public safety power shut-offs as a wildfire prevention strategy. The Energy Conservation and Management Committee of the state’s Hospital Building Safety Board recently authored a white paper about microgrids for health care facilities that details technical, supply chain, code, and regulatory issues pertaining to microgrids.

Kaiser Permanente and Charge Bliss will work together again on this innovation after collaborating on a CEC-funded microgrid project at Kaiser Permanente’s Richmond, Calif. Hospital. It was the first time a hospital in California implemented a microgrid that connected renewable energy and battery storage to a pre-existing, diesel-fueled backup power system. The Richmond microgrid is connected to the life safety branch, supporting items important during an emergency for safety but not essential services.

The new Kaiser Permanente Ontario microgrid will have 10 times the capacity of the Richmond microgrid and will be able to operate 10 hours or more in island mode. “If we can essentially have the microgrid be the first line of defense and only use the generators as a back-up to the back-up, there may be virtually no cases in which the generators would be necessary except as a stand-by,” Baruch says. 

Kaiser Permanente’s new demonstration project could help provide evidence of the feasibility and reliability of microgrid solutions to provide safe, clean back-up power as we move to decarbonize health care and reduce state and national emissions.