In 2017, L. V. Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) decided to invest in solar rooftop power to meet electricity needs across our network of secondary and tertiary eye care centres. What started as an initiative to reduce electricity costs has quickly turned into a viable plan to adopt a clean and efficient source of energy. This has reduced our dependence on fossil fuels and helped cut carbon emissions produced using conventional power sources like fossil fuels. After four years, our CO2 emissions saved equal the electricity consumed by thousands of Indian households in a year.
Both the United Nations (UN) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness Climate Action Working Group (IAPB CAWG) highlight the issue of environmental sustainability. The IAPB’s 10 key areas of action for eye health organisations provide a clear direction for eye care to implement environmentally sustainable business practices.
The LVPEI eye health pyramid is embodied by a set of permanent centres of care—primary and secondary health centres, and hospitals–that build trust through their presence in communities and bring much-needed care to under-served locations. This physical infrastructure needs reliable electricity to service its customers at all times of the day. This level of service delivery is dependent on reliable electricity supply. In low- and middle-income settings, when grid-based power supply fails, it is supplemented with fossil fuel powered generators. In many countries, even the grid supply is primarily sourced from coal-based power plants.
Solar technologies, especially roof-top solar panels, are a reliable, low-cost and environmentally sustainable energy source that helps provide electricity and address its role as a basic driver of pollution, especially in the developing world. The economic and environmental costs of transmission are absent in roof-top utilities, as most buildings use them for captive power supply. LVPEI’s network of eye health centres operate during the day and are therefore best placed to utilise roof-top solar panels for our electricity needs.
LVPEI today has installed solar roof-top systems across 17 centers in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, with plans for another eight locations to go live soon. Our solar journey began in 2017 with 90 kW installed capacity in three centers (30kW each). This grew to 220 kW in 2018 with five more centers. By late 2021, the overall solar capacity installed across 17 LVPEI centers reached 741 kW. The eight new locations will add 450 kW by mid-2022, bringing the total capacity to 1191 kW (or 1.2 MWh).
The benefits of going solar: 2400 tons CO2 saved
One of the biggest outcomes of LVPEI’s use of rooftop solar panels for its energy needs is the reductions in CO2 emissions this has helped us achieve. Over the four years, LVPEI’s installed solar capacity across its centres in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana in Southern and Eastern India has cut CO2 emissions by 2,400 tons. That is the equivalent of the electricity consumption of 12,500 households in India, in one year.
The solar roof-top systems have also addressed the initial motivation behind LVPEI’s solar venture: cutting electricity costs. For example, the solar installation at the secondary centre in Paloncha, Telangana went live in January 2018. The graph below shows the overall reduction in electricity bills since installation.
 In India’s low and medium-level expenditure households, the carbon footprint is primarily driven by the consumption of electricity (0.19 tonne/capita) (Lee, J., Taherzadeh, O., & Kanemoto, K. (2021). Therefore 2000 tons of carbon saved by the installation of solar panels can be likened to 12,500 households consuming electricity in one year.
Besides investments in rooftop solar systems, LVPEI invests in sustainable practices like Electronic Medical Records (EMR) for patient data (instead of paper-based records). We also have committed tele-ophthalmology services, both for clinical care and training. We inculcate and encourage work practices that involve simple energy saving measures, such as using the stairs, online and open-air meetings among others. All LVPEI centres are well-ventilated and have abundant sunlight.
As a sector, we are beginning to understand the environmental cost of eye care delivery. We also have the opportunity to positively impact environmental outcomes by reducing carbon emissions and switching to a greener approach to ophthalmology. LVPEI is keen to learn, and to share, our experience with renewable energy so that we can contribute to this process.