Solarising RFM Hospital for People and Planet

As Eswatini envisions a transition to renewable energy

April 26, 2023

The 1000 kWp at the RFM Hospital to be soon commissioned.

UNDP/Mantoe Phakathi

Eswatini envisions a transition to renewable energy in its Energy Master Plan 2034, which aims to tackle the climate crisis and improve the livelihood of citizens. The Kingdom has achieved a high national electrification rate of over 80%. However, it imports 70% of its power with escalating costs, making it unaffordable for poor households. Moreover, the environmental footprint of electricity production represents a concern, as the imported electricity covering approximately 90% of the energy needs of rural Eswatini is produced by coal power.

RFM Hospital Administrator, Mr. Leonard Dlamini, showing the coal-powered boiler house.

UNDP/Mantoe Phakathi

In 2021, under the UNDP Climate Promise, Eswatini submitted its revised Nationally Determined Contributions, which provides the state's ambitious target of increasing the share of renewable energy to 50% in its electricity mix by 2030. Aligned with this aspiration, Eswatini has shaped the momentum with its international partners to catalyse the rollout of renewable energy adoption through large pilot projects. In 2017, the governments of Eswatini and Italy signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen and coordinate efforts in climate change mitigation. As one of the key outcomes of this collaboration, the 'Greening the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital Demonstration Project' was implemented by the UNDP under an agreement with the Government of Italy.

The project brings together the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy, the Ministry of Health, the Italian Government, and UNDP. The project has applied a sequenced approach to reduce energy demand and cost while improving primary healthcare services and the well-being of the hospital population. Started in 2020 and commissioned in early 2023, the RFM project will serve as a national showcase, demonstrating the benefits of such a transition which would be replicated in other public and private institutions nationwide.

The laundry room is one of the areas to be powered by the solar plant at the hospital.

UNDP/Mantoe Phakathi

The predominant factor for the hospital to embrace renewable energy is to improve electricity supply stability and cut the environmental footprint. UNDP Information and Technology Management Unit and its partners designed a tailored hybrid solar energy system to meet this demand. The hybrid solution consists of a solar system of 1000 kWp and a 1400 kWh battery system. This solution will cover 72% of the energy supply of the hospital with renewable energy while providing 6.5 hours of battery autonomy and using potential excess solar power to cover the outages.  

The environmental benefits of the project are significant. "We want to phase out the coal in the Hospital and use the solar system instead," according to Mr Leonard Dlamini, the Administrator of RFM, "all the wards, operating theatres, intensive care units and all the areas where there is special care will be prioritised to be powered by the solar system." With the system in operation, the coal-fuelled generators, a substantial power source for the hospital, will only be used for around 110 hours throughout the year. The installed hybrid system can save approximately 536 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to stopping driving 125 cars for a year.

The solution was also optimised to fulfil its criteria most cost-effectively. The hospital's electricity consumption will be down by 80% once the hybrid system is up and running, bringing in a significant annual economy saving of 176,714 USD, which will be mobilised to level up the hospital's operation capacity. "With the savings, we will enhance the hospital's services by, for example, buying kits for surgeons to reduce the need for patients to be transferred to health facilities outside the country because we do not have the right equipment even if we have the doctors." Mr Dlamini said.

The RFM demonstration project illustrates a promising future of the renewable energy transition in Eswatini. Evidence of the reduction of energy demand and energy cost resulting from the project will be documented and shared with the local community, public and private sector institutions, municipalities, and other stakeholders. Awareness-raising activities will be held through site visits, workshops, and other activities to create a strong impact beyond the project and inspire a more significant movement in renewable energy adoption.