The Nigerian Medical Community Dr. Olajide Joseph Adebola, Leader in Global eHealth
Interviewers at Focused Sun were able to reach Dr. Olajide Joseph Adebola through our CEO, Rene Francis, who maintains a number of high-level connections on the African continent, and Nigeria in particular for their constant leadership in telecommunication technology (O'Grady, 2020). Dr. Adebola, Chief Technology Officer and Partner at Home Plus Medicare Services Limited, a telemedicine and eHealth company, is a Health Systems & Business Leader who maintains a number of prestigious positions in several professional organizations.
Dr. Adebola is a member of the ISO/TC215 - Health Informatics group where he serves as Chair of the Technical & National Mirror Committee on ISO/TC215 - Health Informatics. He leads the Nigerian Medical Community with experience managing the design, development, and implementation of telemedicine, eHealth & health ICT programs. While he leads pilot projects and the development of project management, he also manages the day-to-day operations of the Society for Telemedicine and eHealth in Nigeria, where Dr. Adebola serves as its Founder & pioneering President.
The Society and its co-founders support the development of national telemedicine and eHealth programs, promote the cause of telemedicine and eHealth within public and private health institutions within Nigeria and abroad, and contribute to the dissemination and exchange of knowledge.
In his role as Chair of the National Mirror Committee ISOTC215 - Health Informatics, Standards Organization of Nigeria, his team is currently coordinating the adoption of 33 International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Standards, updating the Technical Reports and Specifications for digital health standardization in Nigeria. This project dates back to April 2019 and highlights Dr. Adebola’s expertise in digital health, eHealth consultancy services, project design & implementation, and workforce capacity building.
O'Grady, V. (2020, March 12). Nigeria still top of african mobile stats. Developing Telecoms. https://developingtelecoms.com/telecom-technology/wireless-networks/9323-nigeria-still-top-of-african-mobile-stats.html.
1. What technical requirements do the Nigerian medical community have? (Energy, Power, Heat, etc)...
The rural clinics in the Nigerian community are made up of three levels of medical care: National, State, and Local. The primary and first point of contact is the National Health System. The National Health System offers specialty hospitals as headquarters for medical doctors. Then there are district hospitals that are run by the state government. Finally, there is primary care that is run by local government authority and managed by the State Primary Health Care Board. As a whole, we are looking at 74 local governments with roughly 10,000 primary health care centers for the country of Nigeria alone.
Each of these primary health care centers needs a minimum amount of electricity to keep these clinics running. Many of these remote clinics must rely on generators with equipment to power these clinics since there is a lack of infrastructure in Nigeria. Running costs are high with clinics depending on energy from an independent power supply, the national grid, or from other institutions. On top of high costs, clinics face blackouts on top of that. The Nigerian medical community faces many physical challenges outside of just blackouts. The cost to build the appropriate infrastructure can be anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 dollars. A lack of reliable and consistent electricity is a major challenge for these clinics.
What is the process for setting up a Nigerian medical clinic? In order to set up a Nigerian medical clinic, you must first have a medical license for individuals and the facility. Then you must indicate what purpose the clinic will serve for the community. Once that is complete you must set up the national registration. The country will then inspect the site and award the license. The number of beds determines the cost of the licensed facility. The number of beds is also determined by the size of staff that exists within the clinic.
One thing that is missing is that there are no requirements by the government for sources of energy. If there were requirements, lobbying groups would come to fruition. The government will not enforce these requirements until they see more professionals become active in wanting to bring change.
2. What are problems to solve in providing medical services where it is needed most?
Manufacturing hospital consumables are scarce at the local and in-country levels. This is due to a weak supply chain issue that needs to be strengthened. There are also specific locations throughout Nigeria that face problems with pharmaceuticals and getting approval for generic drugs. Access to medicine needs to be more readily available. In order for this to happen, the medical community needs more energy to produce these drugs and import them.
Other areas to solve involve mental health and obstetrics. The Nigerian medical community faces high maternal mortality rates. This results from pregnant women not having access to skilled attendants like Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Getting different levels of care is a challenge throughout Nigeria.
3. How much electricity, heat, power, clean water, and cooling do Nigerian clinics use?
How much electricity depends on care, facilities, and services. The amount of electricity to run clinics depends on the care the facility provides, the facility itself, and the services it offers. The manufacturing of hospital consumables is another factor. Many of these consumables are now disposable but the process is delicate.
The need for water is a greater emphasis now more than ever with the pandemic. People are in need of clean water for sanitation purposes. People need water to wash their hands, do laundry, clean surfaces and provide sanitation.
Air conditioning is not of much importance to keep these clinics running. What is essential is to make sure the pharmacy is kept running efficiently. Medicine that is stored must be kept cool to ensure the drugs do not go bad.
4. What opportunities do you see with renewable energy in the medical community? In rural areas? At what capacity?
Clinics From a clinic perspective, the opportunities with renewable energy in Nigeria are vast. For starters, it will have a huge impact on our power supplies. This will allow our clinics to have consistent and reliable energy and not deal with issues like blackouts. With a Focused Sun microgrid operating locally, it can power clinics, and offer the opportunity to share with others. This can be guaranteed by integrating schools and other communities. Another factor to take into consideration is that the Foreign Exchange Market does not permit resources to be imported. Nigeria is only allowed to import 20% of its energy and manufacture 80% of it locally. If this can be accomplished this increases local employment.
One area we need to take into consideration is that there is very poor planning for Nigeria's energy sector. There needs to be a better-established roadmap to connect the national grid to industries that can pay for electricity. When Dr. Adebola visits his family in the United States, he can see the limitations that all health systems face, and is able to identify distinctly Nigerian obstacles and where unique solutions must be designed.
While all American clinics and hospitals are not the same, they are generally funded by organizations willing to spend money to improve service which in turn draws more patients into the system. For Nigeria, clinics located in industrial areas, like bigger cities, follow a similar model to urban areas in the United States. These industrial areas, run by private investors, are willing to pay for better service. This allows better care in a 24-hour day, where the cost of production, including energy, is factored into the resources required.
Dr. Adebola and the organizations he serves are looking into these metrics to develop a baseline study. What is the baseline for the cost of care at a level that is required for optimal delivery of healthcare at the most efficient cost? The national road map for service in the three levels, from National to State and Local, will be informed by this study. What procedures can be provided locally? How do State services compare?What National guidelines should be set? The national road map will navigate the answers to these questions.
Funding Do we know about grant opportunities with medical organizations? Local funding comes from the same investors seen in industrial areas. There are long term loans from the World Bank that are allocated towards renewable energy. Funding in rural projects involving social and health sectors is also available. Another area that may be of interest is that the Nigerian Energy Commission has renewable energy research at the federal level. Research looks into how local materials can be used to start building community renewable energy projects. Must be noted that this is limited at the local level.
Do grants exist for medical community leaders to meet clinic needs? There are funds to create a digital economy in rural telephony which also needs a power supply. Around digital health tools, this funding can be applied to the renewable energy infrastructure.
What sources of funding are available for the medical community and their projects? There are other sectors that offer funding like international funding. This funding can be applied to the medical community. The World Bank as well as other international parties may offer additional programs. In 2014, the “Basic Health Care Provision Act” was introduced. The fund allocates 1% of the consolidated national revenue. It is meant to pay for Nigerians “basic health care package,” with primary care for the vulnerable.
The National Primary Healthcare development gateway is one part of the 2014 Act, and the agency gateway is another. Primary healthcare centers have a primary healthcare administration. The government does not have access to those funds to prevent misappropriation. In each state, there are six states with the 7th state as the capital territory.
Each state has a primary healthcare board and the money doesn’t go directly to the board. The state provides some funds to assess the readiness and implement the funding. Once services are provided by personnel with skills, each primary care center deducts money from their own account. The money goes straight from the local and regional funds to healthcare. This is called “Performance-based Financing” where the management of the funds is giving after work is done.
Here is a breakdown on how the Nigerian government allocates their funds and to where. 45% of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund is used in the National Primary Healthcare. The NHIS (National Health Insurance Scheme) pays the healthcare providers. There is a need to review the legislation as more people continue to use it. The more who participate, the more healthcare services will be reimbursed, so the effectiveness of the program grows in size.
The remaining 5% is for public emergencies goes through two sub-gateways. 2.5% goes to the National Center for Disease Control, the NCDC, and another 2.5% goes to the Dept of Hospital Services, the DHS, to support the National Emergency Medical Services, the NEMS. Pandemic and Epidemics can be managed with a contingency fund, which helps to help pay for the value chain including emergency services and ambulatory care.
5. What issues do you face with electricity? Downtime if any? What temporary solutions did you use? How was it solved?
An issue that is constantly having to be dealt with is the blackouts the clinics face. The clinics face plenty of downtime which hurts the care they provide and damages the drugs stored. For this meeting alone, a generator is powering it. It is a constant theme in fact in which most homes and businesses are run on generators. There are also LAN and phone networks that exist, but the carriers running costs are reduced
To deal with power outages, hospitals purchase their generators and moderate the usage when there is an emergency. Hospitals have set up a system called, “lights out time” and “lights on time.” This allows us to keep the hospital running sufficiently enough without incurring extra cost.
In order to reduce power outages, supply chain management would need to transition the generator salesmen and generator repairmen. The knowledge of the power industry will be valued as they move from generators to building renewable Local factories producing renewable energy and making medical supplies could solve these issues
6. How is the cost of renewable energy viewed in your industry of the Nigerian medical community and its constituents?
In the healthcare sector, the initial cost is expensive. The cost of solar panels for instance. This depends on the amount of power, the cost of the batteries, and the amount of electricity being used. When you compare that with a diesel generator, the running costs seem to be more affordable. The amount of energy depends on the oil and diesel prices which can drive up the cost of energy. When you don’t have the power to run the equipment, the cost of renewable energy looks more affordable.
While renewable energy may be more affordable, it’s not always available. When basic lighting and air conditioning cannot be powered by renewable sources, convention methods must be used, at the going price as a variable cost. When you can’t charge for services associated with those energy costs, those services are less likely to have power over more profitable services. In the big cities where the charges for electricity can be afforded, that drives up the cost for rural communities as the supply and demand curve is determined by urban economics and pushed onto rural communities.
7. What barriers are there when adopting renewable energy?
From the National Sector perspective, the organization of energy provision must be improved. The power generation company generates electricity, while the transmission company transports energy. The distribution company then takes the power from transmission and distributes it through the community. Ironically, discos receive the electricity first, and become brokers in the community for who receives power next. This seems to work as the center of the town’s culture is the local dance hall, and they are happy for this institution to receive the lion’s share of the power first, followed by other buildings like clinics and hospitals. This may be entertaining anecdotally, but it shows there is a strong need to regulate electricity, tariffs, and the need for stimulus to bring electricity into life-saving institutions ahead of discos. The real problem is transmission and distribution, where only money-making businesses like discos are able to buy the power, while rural hospitals compete for the same resources. The ability to create power and heat at the local level, while also producing medical equipment and supplies in the same factory where a solar microgrid is manufactured, starts to solve these problems of access to electricity and the costs associated. If the access to a power grid is itself a revenue stream in the local economy, the growth in equity allows for the growth in energy supply to grow with community need at the local level, as opposed to the economics of an urban area that force higher prices for urban communities from a central distribution channel.
Dr. Amber Alayyan & Massimiliano Rebaudengo Deputy Cell Manager (Medical) & Technical Consultant for Operations Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Doctors Without Borders
The Focused Sun team was able to connect with Medecins Sans Frontieres (2021) through Dr. Amber Alayyan, Deputy Cell Manager in the Medical team’s Paris headquarters, and Massimiliano Rebaudengo, the MSF Technical Consultant for Operations.
For more information about the USA operation of MSF, Doctors Without Borders (2021), and to learn more about their Partner Program, visit https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/support-us/explore-donation-options/join-partner-program.
References: Doctors Without Borders. (2021). MSF partner program. Medecins Sans Frontieres - MSF. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/support-us/explore-donation-options/join-partner-program. Medecins Sans Frontieres. (2021). MSF. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/.
1. Tell us about the technical requirements at MSF (Energy, Power, Heat)
The leadership and operations of MSF (2021) rely heavily on their global logistics supply chain, in which Dr. Alayyan is responsible for finding ways to get supplies to where they are needed in advance and at the lowest cost possible.
What is the process for setting up a remote clinic? The only power supply solutions that are readily available in remote clinics are non-green options like generators running on fuel. Because of the lack of infrastructure, that’s pretty much what you’ll find in a remote clinic or hospital with Doctors Without Borders.
If clinics are not totally remote, MSF is able to utilize the grid in the country and extend it with regulatory approval. Generators, on the other hand, require relatively little approval and are regulated more by the microeconomic buyers, sellers, suppliers, and technicians than any government agency.
While remote medical aid is starting to use solar panels and batteries for energy storage to heat and cool clinics and hospitals, they are still viewed as expensive. Pharmacies and ORs with Surgery (in Operating Rooms or Operating Theaters depending on the nationality) require a higher level of power supply and reliability. Pharmacies must keep certain medicines refrigerated and treatments cool, while operations may require more electricity with longer procedures.
Because of their expense, Solar Panels with batteries, when used, are still often supplemented with generators. Solar is not ideal for powering humanitarian medical aid as the electricity in photovoltaic panels is only produced when the sun is shining. As we learn about the Focused Sun microgrid, it’s clear that the oil used with concentrated solar to store heat can be a versatile and low-cost solution to alkaline and chemical battery storage.
Reference: MSF. (2021). How we work. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/who-we-are/how-we-work.
2. What are the problems to solve applying medical aid where it's needed most?
In addition to logistics and the operational challenges MSF faces, the answers to questions about solving problems where humanitarian medical aid is needed feed into the Principles shared by the American Doctors Without Borders organization (MSF Ethics, 2021). This includes their commitment to political neutrality, as well as a growing commitment to environmental protection that can reduce health risks associated with generators.
Among the leadership at MSF, there is a green movement in the Humanitarian Medical Aid environment. Starting with the number of planes doctors and field workers take, there is a lot of interest in becoming more environmentally friendly. The logistics warehouses, described by Dr. Alayyan as “an IKEA warehouse for drugs”, are located across Europe in Amsterdam, Bordeaux, France, and Brussels, Belgium, among other places. All medical supplies are shipped by boat or flown by cargo flight, but as mentioned with MSF leaders reducing the amount of flights they take, planes are frowned upon despite their convenience. Import options are increasing and the movement is slow to pick up, but there are creative ideas circulating to improve medical supply lead times while reducing the cost and the ecological footprint at the same time.
There is a Green Team in Paris headquarters working on this, the effort to reduce the costs on the triple-bottom-line of planet, people, and financial figures. To the question, all of these problems to solve in providing medical aid are looking for innovative solutions that may allow improvements that were historically unattainable.
Operational Support for MSF in Bordeaux will know specific technical requirements for a remote microgrid module like Focused Sun’s. The Focused Sun regional factory model would be useful for these technical requirements, as the ability to fabricate the parts on site will reduce uncertainty and shorten lead times for power supply as well as other medical equipment that can be made from these FSMicrogrid factories.
Sweden, where Focused Sun CEO Rene Francis serves the local government and runs his own international humanitarian efforts, has an MSF innovation unit where many of these technologies are researched and discussed. While the process at MSF moves at a pace that reduces risk and uncertainty, the technology landscape is evolving quickly to provide solutions like the Focused Sun Microgrid for remote heat and power at low cost and with versatile implementation.
Reference: MSF Ethics. (2021). Principles. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/who-we-are/principles.
3. How much electricity, heat, power, clean water, and cooling do remote clinics use?
To experience what we learned from Dr. Alayyan and Mr. Rebaudengo, readers of their response to questions about remote clinics may wish to watch one of several MSF Documentary programs (2021), where viewers can perceive first-hand the challenges doctors face in these remote clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies, each with its own unique energy needs.
While clinics run from 7 am to 5 pm in daily operations, a neighboring pharmacy must be cooled overnight and run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When these energy demands are met by using a generator, the generators must be refueled, which often occurs at night. The noise and exhaust of the generator are troublesome, and the refueling requirement adds cost and pollution. Each remote site will use multiple generators in different locations, so refueling is time-consuming and cumbersome as the number of required fuel increases.
Hospitals run 24/7, along with their pharmacies, with both the large and small hospitals in the MSF network. The figures on consumption in clinics are about one-third that of the hospitals, with the 8-hour clinic schedule compared to the 24-hour hospital schedule.
An average US hospital uses 31 kilowatt-hours ( kWh ) of electricity and 103,600 Btu of natural gas per square foot annually (Snohomish County, 2021). Remote hospitals may be in the ballpark of 20 kWh per year, putting each remote clinic at about 7 kWh per year. (Snohomish County, 2021).
References: MSF Documentary. (2021). Access to the danger zone. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/who-we-are/films-about-msf/access-danger-zone. Snohomish County. (2021). Municipal Healthcare and Hospital Energy Usage. Business energy advisor, E-Source Companies LLC. https://snopud.bizenergyadvisor.com/article/hospitals.
4. What opportunities do you see with renewable energy in global medical aid? How about in rural areas? At what capacity?
MSF serves in the area of Humanitarian Medical Aid, which requires Emergency and Long-term Development of infrastructure. Not just MSF, but many organizations work in this space: Save the Children, Action Against Hunger, CARE, International Community Red Cross (ICRC), Unicef fund the work, World Health Organization (WHO) funds governments, and also there is the Relief International and the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
MSF is one of the only purely medical organizations, MSF and ICRC, whereas IRC and the others are more general, covering water, sanitation, etc. “Multi Sectorial” is the term used to describe these other organizations, while MSF is medical only in nature.
Long-term, how much can we use renewable energy? We may need to change the mindset from one of accepting the system currently in place to a willingness to make bold decisions. The renewable energy MSF chooses to replace generators will have lasting impacts on the economy, and this is a part of the ongoing internal discussion of operations and logistics. MSF can certainly use renewable energy in this changing mindset.
Do we know about grant opportunities for renewable energy sources? From generator economics in Africa to European nuclear and German PV, all energy sources come with their own complications and each is received into various regional limitations. Development is longer-term direct assistance that starts to change the other variables. While increased spending is not a guaranteed solution to problems, development certainly helps. The capacity for energy infrastructure must be aligned with the local economy for energy use, and this is a slow process to shift, as anyone can relate in their own countries transition to renewable energy sources.
Are there grants for doctors and hospitals to install and fund clinics? MSF funding for these projects would mostly come from private donations, where the topic of renewable energy and private sector funding has evolved over time. Governments and development agencies focusing on environmental issues are popping up. There are funding opportunities for these technologies in Humanitarian Medical Aid, which can come from private as well as public sources in certain regions.
What are the sources of funding available for remote medical aid? Financial aid is provided privately, medical aid by doctors, the technology is delivered by MSF. All of these networks are governed by the central MSF body with local representatives, and the allocation of resources goes through a rigorous process to ensure funds are allocated properly.
5. What issues do you face with electricity? Downtime if any? What temporary solutions did you use? How was it solved?
Authors have pointed to the challenge of accurately reporting on humanitarian medical aid (Grais, Luquero, Grellety, Pham, Coghlan, & Salignon, 2009). The study of Grais et al. (2009) points to the importance of this interview with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), specifically when it comes to the accuracy of reporting the electrical needs and solutions available in the field.
Electricity issues are a part of everyday life at MSF. There is a daily failure of electricity in most countries MSF serves. The shortages can happen at random or come as scheduled outages, planned to conserve electricity. Power cuts for electricity can happen one hour at a time, but this becomes problematic when power usage for lights and refrigerators continues even at night.
Grais, R. F., Luquero, F. J., Grellety, E., Pham, H., Coghlan, B., & Salignon, P. (2009). Learning lessons from field surveys in Humanitarian Contexts: A case study of field surveys conducted in North Kivu, DRC 2006-2008. Conflict and Health, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1752-1505-3-8
6. How is the cost of renewable energy viewed in your industry of Humanitarian Medical Aid?
Humanitarian medical aid organizations treat a number of medical issues (2021), and each medical issue has particular needs with various equipment and logistical processes. While MSF runs clinics that operate one 8-hour shift during office hours, they also run hospitals requiring 24/7 care. As we discussed in Question 3, annual remote power usage may average 20 kWh per year in a hospital and 7 kWh for a clinic, with 103,600 Btu of natural gas per square foot as an annual figure for each independently. County-run Public Utility Districts often publish this data for their local constituents, which can be used to plan scenarios and register the costs associated with various energy sources (Snohomish County, 2021).
The fact that renewable energy is less available is the biggest challenge Importing solar panels is possible but it requires an extra step and a mindset shift When a generator is running and it works, doctors have other problems dealing with The entire team of doctors, nurses, logistics, administration, security Also project coordinators and a massive staff of expatriates
The whole team just wants to have electricity Does it work? The generator works and is less of a priority Embassies in foreign countries will need to source their energy Consulates and embassies clustered in countries as an energy showcase for MSF field operation
References: Medical Issues. (2021). Medical issues MSF faces. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/medical-issues. Snohomish County. (2021). Municipal Healthcare and Hospital Energy Usage. Business energy advisor, E-Source Companies LLC. https://snopud.bizenergyadvisor.com/article/hospitals.
7. What barriers do you have to adopt renewable energy? While barriers to renewable energy adoption are not listed as the challenges faced in the MSF list of frequently asked questions (MSF FAQ, 2021), the increasing issues of climate change tied to polluting fuel sources is related, which ties to the organizational concern of “Having the necessary reserves to allow us to respond to new emergencies as they occur”. While financial reserves are explicit, energy reserves from renewable sources are implied.
In addition to their effect on global warming, fuel sources emitting carbon into the atmosphere also harbor direct negative health impacts. Protective gear is required for people working around generators to avoid inhalation of fumes as a part of their daily work. The road to improvements and replacements is long, and this lengthy process feels like the biggest barrier to adoption. While the time to adopt is a challenge, there is a change happening and the willingness is there. MSF is committed to the process of improving renewable energy.
Part of this discussion concerns whether MSF will position itself at the center of a global debate about green energy. The core principle of political neutrality allows MSF to operate with relative autonomy in the various regions where humanitarian medical aid is being delivered. This conservative risk aversion comes from a concern of maintaining political neutrality. Having conversations to making progress has always been a part of the MSF process.
Dr. Alayyan plans budgets for countries on the supply side, where the common question her team answers is “Are we shipping or flying materials to the aid site?”. It sounds like an easy question, but there are several variables that make it hard to strike a balance between the triangle of speed, cost, and environmental impact. Flying is fast, expensive, and has greater environmental costs. Shipping takes longer, is cheaper, and the environmental and economic costs are lower. When it comes to saving human lives, where do you draw the line on how fast you need supplies, what it’s worth to spend, and when the environmental costs are too great?
This leads to the question of, “OK, do we put in the standard list of solar panels to power our existing buildings, or build new buildings to improve the infrastructure? We can only do one at a time.” Solar panels are suggested as an item to add to the list of materials, and we are seeing more of them being installed. The current number of barriers is fewer than it was in the past.
Reference: MSF FAQ. (2021). Frequency Asked Questions About Our Work. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/faq-our-work.
Nashwell Partners folder for Ogallala Greens here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1yTTJjyVxSSuUHDt687oSSgfNUg4Yil8R?usp=sharing
1. Tell me about the technical requirements at Ogallala Greens?
https://amhydro.com/commercial-hydroponic-greenhouse-packages/ Download from the AmHydro website for their 15,000 plant system here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lCbBNpbGB8E1loEG-dozD8zqvXdrzUtW/view?usp=sharing
Heather at Crop King in Columbus, Ohio https://www.cropking.com/ 10-36 system (ten-foot channel with 36 pieces) can grow 540 plants Two-day grower’s workshop to answer questions and provide information
Crop King systems can be customized to reach the 15,000 plant AmHydro system: Hort Americas is another supplier, based in Houston: https://hortamericas.com/ https://hortamericas.com/catalog/controlled-environment-technology/the-growrack-from-greentech-agro/
Freight Farms is another example in Boston, MA: https://www.freightfarms.com/ Square Roots does the same thing in New York: https://squarerootsgrow.com/about_us/ (Kendell Musk’s company, selling at $20K per “farm”) https://squarerootsgrow.com/team/
Little Wild Things Farm in Washington, DC: https://littlewildthingsfarm.com/ (Jonathan Patty from Kitchens in Burning Man is with Little Wild Things)
2. What are problems to solve in hydroponic greenhouses?
Access to healthy edible greens is a challenge. The link above is an example of access. Growing greens in hydroponic systems require energy but with payoffs. Supplying the greenhouse with electricity on an ongoing basis or the plants will die. Heat storage to heat the greenhouse in the winter. Water and electric challenges exist. Cooling in the summer months.
3. How much electricity, heat, power, clean water, and cooling do hydroponic greenhouses use?
Electricity: $3.50 per square foot per year = $10,000 per 30’ x 96’ greenhouse per year https://www.quora.com/How-much-electricity-is-required-for-hydroponic-systems
Heat: Natural Gas costs are estimated at $800 per four months in 2016, so $4000/year today: https://blog.zipgrow.com/greenhouse-business-start-up-costs-profits-and-labor
4. Are there opportunities you see renewable energy making an impact in the farming industry? How about in rural areas? At what capacity?
Farmers, being traditionally conservative, are often slow to accept renewable power sources, however this is changing. The new generation of farmers are using technology and app-controlled systems that make farm management tasks possible from a smartphone. As this generation looks to invest in their farms to enhance their earning potential and reduce risk, renewable sources are a becoming more of a conversation.
With each generation who takes over a family farm, there are other who are consumed by larger corporate factory farms who are more interested in the bottom line and may not be interested in renewable energy infrastructure if it doesn’t equate with their accounting practices as a way to maximize profits. There are, however, growing opportunities to exploit government subsidies and marketing opportunities, as well as generating the valuable carbon credits that have benefited Tesla Motors’ balance sheet.
Do we know about grant opportunities with farmers? Grants for farmers to install a hydroponic greenhouse are limited, but the federal subsidy and tax implications are powerful economic motivators.
In addition billions of federal dollars will be available for farmers to transition in the Biden Administration.
The farming is done by the farmers, the technology is done by Ogallala Greens. When money is just sitting there, there are C-Suite and/or Sales Manager opportunities.
5. Have you faced issues with electricity? How long was downtime if any? What temporary solutions did you use? How was it solved?
Investors are interested in high returns and rapid scalability. The uncertainty in the Texas power grid that ERCOT has raised in their response to power failures means that Texan investors are looking to eliminate this risk. To tie rural greenhouses to a renewable energy source is attractive, and the concentrated solar power source with heat storage meets the needs of a greenhouse with heat and power.
The downtime caused by the power outages in Texas created downtimes of days at a time, motivating greenhouse owners to run diesel generators at high cost and environmental detriment that can tamper with crop nutrition and damage the valuable brand equity of environmental awareness that can drive consumer behavior.
The microgrid solution of powering not just the greenhouse but the surrounding rural infrastructure is a very attractive alternative as a backup to the power grid, which may fail. Rather than run diesel generators, the renewable energy solution boosts brand value and motivates consumers, while also providing resources to the local community beyond the transactional commodities of produce alone.
6. From your perspective, is renewable energy expensive in your industry?
It is not considered expensive with new construction. The cost of renewable energy, when added to a discounted price for hydroponic greenhouse equipment, can provide an affordable combination of reliable growing equipment coupled with an power-supply asset with heat and electricity. This fixed price for construction and power increase the scalable profit margin and decrease the risk of rising electricity costs and natural gas prices.
Without new construction, especially if the greenhouses are paid for, the relatively low outlay for utilities may seem desirable for operators who are not concerned with environmental implications of their power sources. Some may be interested in the upgrade to renewable energy to lock in pass-through rates and to begin to pay off an asset as opposed to navigating the uncertainty of rising fuel prices.
7. What barriers are there when adopting renewable energy options?
With rural greenhouses used for hydroponic agriculture, the primary barrier a farmer will face is getting power to the remote site. Traditional agriculture has relied on the natural sun, as our greenhouses will at Ogallala Greens, which is abundant in the open fields where our base of operations is located in West Texas. For water irrigation of crops, farmers have traditionally used pumps powered by the old-fashioned windmills that have become iconic in this area of the country. Also iconic in this region since the dawn of the 21st century are the electric wind turbines towering over the landscape between Lubbock and Dallas, Texas. The challenge, in this context, to run wires and cables from the source of the electricity and the power plant to rural sites away from the city.
The Focused Sun Microgrid provides electricity at a local level using concentrated solar, the same solar heat and power that makes our greenhouses work. This allows the heating of the greenhouse in colder months while the generator converts additional heat into electricity, keeping the lights on at night and the pumps running to channel the water in our hydroponic growing process. In short, the barriers to adopting renewable energy options in greenhouses, other than cost, have to do with the remote nature and getting wires through the power utility from the energy source to the point of use. While cost of renewable energy can be perceived as a barrier, a remote microgrid like the Focused Sun module comes at a cost that pays for itself, especially when you take into consideration the cost of running remote cables if the power company either won’t provide wires at all or charge the customer for the cost of installing them.