Renewable Energy in Eastern Ukraine : For the children of the Town of Bryanka, the answer was blowing in the wind

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No more power outages during medical procedures in Bryanka hospital

Dr Sergei Kuptsov smiles wryly as he remembers the bad old days when his office would be plunged into darkness once or twice a week because the power had failed again,  turning off most of the hospital’s medical equipment and all of its refrigerators and thereby threatening  the survival of their stored medicines and vaccines.

“When the power goes out you have to forget standard routines,” he says. “You have to drop everything you do and deal with the problem. Imagine the situation. A sick child is brought in to the hospital in the middle of the night and I can’t even inspect him because there is no light! Or all our refrigerators are suddenly not working and you have doctors and nurses frantically calling around to figure out which neighboring town still has electricity so they can urgently send off an ambulance to get the medicines to save the patient.”

This was the reality doctors at Bryanka Hospital in Eastern Ukraine had to deal with virtually every other week – constant power outages and constant crisis management. Much time, effort and money was wasted on emergency situations due to the constant power outages.

Power outages are common in rural areas of Eastern Ukraine partly due to the worn out power lines infrastructure and also because of harsh weather conditions in the winter and autumn.  For a hospital power outages are not just a matter of inconvenience. The lack of a reliable energy supply can and does have a drastic impact on a doctor’s ability to save children’s lives.

Years of mining have turned the town of Bryanka in Eastern Ukraine into an environmental hotspot leaving a heavy footprint not only on the environment through increased greenhouse gas emissions and local air, water, and land pollution but also negatively impacting people’s lives. Coal dust stirred during the mining process and from transport of coal can cause severe respiratory problems to people and in some extreme cases can even lead to death. The recent economic crisis has affected Ukraine more strongly than other countries and it aggravates the situation. High levels of unemployment, low incomes, decreased life expectancy, and the growth of infant mortality rate and proliferation of communicable diseases are just a few challenges that Bryanka residents face as a result. Women and children are particularly prone to suffer from negative health due to living in areas affected by mining.

There was an urgent need for solution to the problem of power outages at Bryanka children’s hospital. Since the hospital is a public organization it has been constantly underfunded meaning that the solution had to be cost-effective, environmentally-friendly and sustainable at the same time. 

“We wanted to buy a diesel electric-power generator but had to give up this idea,” says Elena Zhevaga , the hospital’s  supply manager.  “This is a children’s hospital. We couldn’t  have the constant smell and noise here.  Besides, the exhaust from the diesel electric-power generator is harmful and it releases CO2 into the air - and we have enough of that anyway here,” she adds.

The town was well aware of the situation so, parents, doctors, environmental activists and people from the mayor’s office got together to discuss and agree a solution to this problem.

The environmental NGO “Zeleny Svit” (Green World) has turned to UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme for the solution to the problem of preventing power outages while at the same time providing a source of clean, affordable, and reliable energy for the hospital.  

The solution was to power the hospital using wind energy. It was a joint decision of the hospital, the mayor’s office, and the NGO ‘Zeleny Svit’ to purchase and install a 5 KwH  wind power generator capable of producing up to 5 KwH of energy, enough to keep the hospital running for 5 hours in the event of a power failure.

The Small Grants Programme supported the initiative with  50 000 USD because it was not only helping people of Bryanka but it was providing global environmental benefits by reducing carbon dioxide emissions through the use of wind energy.  In the broader scheme of things, the Small Grants Programme project helped to raise people’s awareness about climate change and demonstrated local solutions for global challenges.  The GEF Small Grant Programme has been deeply committed to promote environmental protection and support initiatives of non-governmental and community based organizations, demonstrating that community action can respond to people’s needs and promote global environmental benefits at the same time.

This grass-roots initiative was also supported by the Lugansk state environmental department because it contributed to local environmental strategies and demonstrated an integrated approach to ecology, economy and health care.   

“The production cost of renewable energy is often lower than coal or natural gas, and its other advantage is its ecological compatibility,” says Nicholai Morgunov, Mayor of Bryanka.

Local businesses also took an active part in this initiative.

“We live in this area and we can’t just try to pretend we don’t know about the situation. These are our children,” says Oleksandr Zhuravlev, director of Clever-New Technology, the company that provided the equipment and maintenance to build the wind turbine. “We were happy to chip in and take part in this project.”

But the last word goes to Dr  Kuptsov. Pointing proudly out of the window towards the wind generator, he smiles.

“Now we are not only have a solution to the power outages, we are saving money on utility bills and these savings can go to into upgrading our medical equipment.”

The solution to the environmental and economical problems at the Byyanka Children’s hospital was always there – blowing in the wind.