Photovoltaic (PV) for Health Centers - Project Experience

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This articles aims at compiling experience from past and ongoing Photovoltaic (PV) programmes for rural health centers. For each project the following issues are covered:

  • Project Approach
  • Project Outputs & Technical System Details
  • Evidence for Impacts
  • Lessons Learned


Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

Promotion of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Programme (PREEP)

see also: Electrification of social institutions with solar PV - lessons learned from Uganda

Project Approach

PREEEP has supported a number of social institutions in Uganda with access to solar energy (health centres, boarding schools, vocational training centres, orphanages). This has been done through extension of subsidy to these institutions. GIZ operations are currently focused on Northern Uganda, but institutions in other district can also receive support. However, to qualify for this subsidy, a number of conditions need to be fulfilled.
These are listed below;
  • The institution should be located in Northern Uganda or another district where PREEEP is already active
  • The institution could be a boarding school, a health centre, a vocational training centre or an orphanage.
  • The institution should be located not less than 5 km from the nearest grid and should also not be in an area earmarked for grid extension in the next 10 years. If the grid is nearby and the costs for grid connection are low, PREEEP can also support grid connection.
  • The institution should be willing to contribute a percentage of 20% of the overall cost of the proposed system and will be responsible for operation and maintenance.


  • GIZ identifies institution /institution applies to GIZ
  • Check whether selection criteria are fulfilled
  • GIZ conducts survey of electricity requirements; this includes a sketch of the premises with measurements and distances between buildings
  • GIZ designs the system and calculates the estimated costs incl. the 20% financial contribution by the institution</span>
  • GIZ gets back to the applicant and checks whether the institution is ready / able to pay the contribution and in which time frame (payment in instalments is possible); for public health centres, the partner is the District Health Office
  • GIZ and institutions sign MoU that includes the amounts to be contributed by both partners and the payment schedule
  • Institution transfers financial contribution to GIZ account
  • GIZ launches procurement process
  • Local company installs
  • GIZ inspects installation
  • Monitoring visits / impact assessment

Note that the institution is required to meet the costs for operation and maintenance, which includes replacement of batteries after approx. 4-7 years. This is a major reinvestment! It should also be noted that the institution has to stick to the uses that the system was designed for. Connecting additional buildings and appliances is not possible!If the institution wants to use computers or other appliances that require a lot of power, they should buy energy efficient ones from the start (e.g. laptops). If they want to use inefficient appliances, the system has to be much bigger and is therefore significantly more expensive for both parties.

Project Outputs & Technical Details

Total number of electrified institutions since 2006: 73, of which 55 are Health Centres (category II and III, see table below for definition). The remaining institutions are schools (mostly secondary boarding schools), orphanages, vocational institutions and youth centres. In the current programme phase (since June 2008) 32 solar PV systems have been installed in rural health centres. Structure and health infrastructure of National Health System in Uganda

Health unit
Physical structure/ services
Target population
Outpatient services only
Outpatient services, maternity, general ward and laboratory
Sub county
Outpatient services, wards, theatre, laboratory, blood transfusion
Hospital, laboratory, X-ray
100,000 to 1 million
Specialist services
Region (3 – 5 districts)
1 - 2 million
Advanced tertiary care
Over 20 million

The average size of solar PV system installed is 630 W. The systems range from 160 W to 2580 W. The earlier systems were standardized in terms of size (one system for lighting, one for cooling, if applicable one for staff quarters). Since 2008 the individual energy needs of each health centre are assessed and systems designed accordingly. Since then, system size has increased in comparison to the earlier systems. The installed systems are majorily AC systems. However, until last year (2009), the project still opted for DC systems in staff quarters and health centers that only needed electricity for lighting. The DC option has proven to be, albeit more efficient and cheaper, less convenient and effective. DC bulbs are more expensive than AC bulbs. Health Centres are hence less likely to replace blown DC bulbs than the cheaper AC bulbs. Furthermore, some Health Centres work with small appliances such as electric microscopes that do not consume a lot of energy and are therefore not covered in the energy assessment. These small appliances can only be used on AC power. In the staff quarters, DC systems have proven ineffective, because users do not make use of their DC sockets because they do not know where to buy the right adapters for radios and phone charging (some radios also don’t have the right outlets). Therefore since mid 2009 only AC systems are installed in Health Centres and their adjacent staff quarters. However, overusage is more frequent on AC systems than on DC ones.The typical connected appliances range from light bulbs (CFLs from 5-14 W depending on purpose – security light, general room lighting, medical spot light), energy efficient computers and printers, DC refrigerators to small medical equipment such as electric microscopes. Because GTZ PREEEP requires a 20 % contribution by the district government responsible for the Health Centres, the size and number of connected appliances also depends on the district’s budget and willingness to spend money. The average cost for equipment and installation rank at 11 EUR per Wattpeak (30,000 Uganda Shillings).

Evidence for Impacts

Impact Study (Harsdorff, Market and Friends Consult (2009)):

Impact Assessment of the Solar Electrification of Health Centres. Kampala, GIZ PREEEP.Results of Impact Study:

  1. The use of solar PV at HCs enhances the delivery of medical services through the provision of quality light for use during treatment of night time emergencies, emergency deliveries and for security purposes at the HC and staff quarters. The solar fridges also facilitate the service of instant immunization of children at HC that previously did not have fridges.
  2. Whereas Health Centres continue to use traditional sources of energy (kerosene for waste burning and charcoal for sterilisation/cooking), solar electricity reduces expenditures on energy sources for lighting and gas (replaced by solar fridges).
  3. HC II without staff quarters mainly operate during the day hence under-utilize the installed lighting systems which are only used for security lights.
  4. Although the availability of solar is not a decisive factor for the deployment of health staff, it is likely to increase motivation and morale of health staff whose living standards are improved by access to cheaper and quality light
  5. Solar has facilitated communication and notably work related communication between health workers in far off locations, through the provision of electricity for phone charging, thereby enhancing efficiency of medical service delivery.

Lessons Learned

To enhance impact, installation of PV systems should prioritize Health Centers that operate at night and/or those with staff quarters, because they are more likely to effectively use systems by opening for night time emergencies. These tend to be bigger and are more expensive to electrify. Solar fridges should be part of the system package as they increase the impact of solar PV for Health Centres. However, the type of fridges to be installed should be selected carefully.

Only durable and easy to repair fridges should be installed (products known on the local market). The district as owner of the Health Centres has to budget for operation and maintenance costs. Apart from regular replacement of blown out bulbs, the batteries have to be replaced every 4-7 years (depending on usage).

Battery replacement is a major reinvestment that the district has to be prepared for. Awareness and education about battery replacement is a crucial part in electrifying institutions. User training has to be conducted thoroughly and in detail. The durability and lifetime of a solar PV system depends heavily on its user.

Follow up visits have shown that some systems are overused, esp. in staff quarters. An in-depth user training with appropriate material that can stay with the health centre can help raising awareness about the system’s potential and limits. Staff changes occur rather frequently during a solar PV system’s lifetime. It is necessary that the old staff properly initiates his/her successor in the usage of the solar system. Durable awareness/user training material as well as self-explanatory information about the load schedule at a central point can be helpful.

Theft of solar system components(e.g. modules) is a major problem in some areas. Therefore it is necessary to analyze the security situation around the Health Centre during the initial assessment. The modules should preferably be mounted on the roof and protected against theft, e.g. with self-sealing screws. In some cases, the building of a fence or the appointment of additional security personnel might become necessary. The project should advise the Health Centre/district on these issues.

GIZ ECO, Ethiopia

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

Access to Modern Energy Services (AMES)

Project Approach

GIZ-ECO has disseminated photovoltaic systems to 142 institutions in rural areas all over Ethiopia. Out of total, 131 institutions are health centers. 11 institutions are community centers which include school, Epi center and cooperatives trade & cultural center. With in 4 health centers besides electrification, solar water pump and solar water heaters are also installed.

GIZ-ECO has financed the hardware (panel, charge controller, inverter, submersible water pump, Solar water heater, batteries, fuses, wires, distribution board, HDPE water pipe, installation materials) and the installations. At 4 health centers on cost sharing basis with ECO, installation materials and the installation cost is covered by ASHE(USAID). Moreover, on cost sharing modalities, systems at 11 community centers are installed along with development partners (CDI, Islamic Relief of Ethipia, The Hunger Project in Ethiopia and Gondar University). Most of the hardware is imported. The procurement was organised by GIZ based on a Europe wide tender. The tables for the panels, the panel frames and the installation material are produced or bought locally.
The health centers and community centers were selected by the programme, the regional health bureaus, zonal health administration and the project. Minimum requirement is that corresponding communities are not electrified, will not get grid electricity within the next 3 years and that the health center is operational and equipped with basic medical equipment.
The design of the system was developed in cooperation with the German organisation Deutsche Gesellschaft für Solarenergie (DGS).
The installation of the PV-systems is carried out by 5 Ethiopian companies (Based in Addis) which were selected by a national tender procedure for the first 100 health centers. Others are installed with 6 regionally selected elctromechanical companies and cooperatives. The installation company has also to train local staff in operation and basic maitenance measures and is obliged to carry out a service/maintenance visit 6-9 month after commissioning hand over or by request. All work is supervised by GIZ- ECO.
In addition to the installation of PV-systems GIZ-ECO is promoting the training of solar technicians in cooperation with SELAM. The technicians are nominated by the installation companies. It is planned to offer training courses in solar technology which are open to all interested technicians (e.g. technicians from health centers).

Role of the Ministry of Health:

  • Regional clustering of health center
  • Cover the expenses of costume process
  • Follow up and control the project progress and activities
  • Hand over the project after installation
  • Allocate the budget for preventing maintenance for sustainability of the system installed.
  • Assign appropriate person to be trained for operator of installed system

Role of GIZ/ECO:

  • Technical crosschecking of the clustered sites as pre criteria sited by project
  • Power demand assessment
  • Design, specification and engineering estimation
  • Procurement of all components and materials ( International and Local)
  • Selection of local installation companies and trains their on system commissioning as well as practical on site and contracting the installation work to selected companies
  • Supervision ,handover and technical follow-up
  • End user training, two level training ( on each installed site and at office (Addis Ababa)
  • Base line study
  • Financing

Project Outputs and Technical Details

The photovoltaic systems of the health centers have a generation capacity of 1,5 kWp, which is enough for lighting and to run small medical appliances, a dry-air sterilizer, a centrifuge, a microscope and a fridge. Mobile chargers and TVs are also in use. The systems are AC single phase, 230V, 50Hz. The system consists of the following components:

  • 16x Sharp thin layer panels each with 90 Wp (25 years guarantee),
  • aluminium tube carry structure for the panel,
  • 24 x 2V, 200 Ah deep cycle lead acid solar battery,
  • Sunny Island, Sunny Boy charge controller and inverter
  • 7W CFL lamps
  • Power cable, switches, tubes etc.

The system is providing power to 2-4 blocks per health center.
The promoted photovoltaic systems cost 15,000 € including transport and installation. The costs of the panel itself are 4500 €. It is expected that the panel will last for 20 years or 240 months. The depreciation over the full period is 18,75 € per month. Charge controller and inverter (Sunny Island and Sunny Boy) cost approximately 3000 €. The lifespan is minimum 20 years. The monthly depreciation is 12,50 €. The price of the battery is around 3000 €. Assuming a lifespan of 10 years (= 120 months) the monthly costs of the battery are 25 €. Thus, it is calculated that the health centers need around 55 € per month to be able to replace the system with proper resources.

-> German press release regarding the use of 100 SMA inverters. (09 August 2010)

Evidence for Impacts

Evidence for impcats is only available from field visits and observations; no impact study has been carried out yet.
  • Service time and work facility is increased
  • Health professionals are motivated
  • Community members could get near by health service and their expense for transportation to go far town for same service is saved
  • Death rate by different disease could be decreased
  • Productivity could be increased
  • Communication and information could increased by using mobile phone, radio, TV.
  • Air pollution by fuel from vaccine refrigerator is avoided and expense for fuel is saved
    (1 liter per HC and 50 liters from total installed HC (health centers))
  • Awareness about the technology is created
  • Market for PV-technology is opened

Lessons Learned

Knowledge transfer regarding the technology was successfull due to the following activities

  • Power needs assessments
  • System design, specification, engineering, installation, supervision and training

General success factors:

  • Good government policy for the sector development
  • Good collaboration between the project and stakeholders
  • Outsourcing for local installation companies
  • Training, supvervision, and team coordination
  • Professional experience and qualification.

Challenges during project implementation:

  • Material procurement takes long
  • Limited resources of the project (professionals and shortage of project car)
  • Site selection as ber cited criteria
  • Misunderstanding of site selection criteria at some zonal and Woredas
  • Accessibility of sites
  • Change of sites due to EEPCO grid (under construction)
  • Weather conditions

Reliability of components:
All components that we used are good standard with best quality and all installed 50 system with these components are in good functionality without problems. Hence it is reliable any where.
User behavior:
In cause of our project, all staff members of health centers are trained and one professional from them is trained as operator by the project, all users is conscious about technology and systems and they are responsible.

Conclusion: as we have seen from practical points of view the system is reliable, modular, simple to install, to manage and best alternative energy salutation for of grid rural community if it is well designed and specified by professionals.

Further Information

  • Energy for Rural Health Centers
  • PV Systems for Rural Health Facilities in Developing Areas: This report outlines a technical overview towards deployment of PV systems for rural health facilities in developing areas. The demand and supply of energy in health facilities is analysed, and international standards are presented. Technical and economic aspects of different power generation options are discussed. Experience of international development organizations is widely elaborated, main conducive factors of PV supply are outlined and lessons learned from fields are concluded, with an aim towards enhancing PV systems sustainability for rural health facilities.