Harnessing solar power at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

The issue

Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust set itself an ambitious target to be net zero by 2030, supporting the wider NHS’s plan to become the world’s first carbon net zero national health service.

As one of the organisation’s main hospital sites, Castle Hill Hospital in East Yorkshire has almost 400 beds and provides cardiac and elective surgical facilities, medical research teaching, day surgery facilities, a breast surgery facility, and outpatients department, as well as the regional the centre for oncology and haematology.

The Trust’s Head of Sustainability, Marc Beaumont, acknowledges:

“When you consider the size of the Castle Hill Hospital site and the amount of activity that goes on here, that’s a huge amount of power that’s required to keep it running.”

The solution

In May 2022, the organisation celebrated a milestone: solar panels it had installed in a nearby field now capable of generating enough electricity to meet Castle Hill Hospital’s entire daytime running needs during the summer months.

Alex Best, head of capital at Hull University Teaching Hospitals, said: “We were lucky enough to receive a Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme grant from the Government in November 2020 which enabled us to embark upon an ambitious project to install solar panels nearby.

“Our aim has always been to generate enough electricity to make the hospital site self-sufficient in the summer months when the days are longer.”

And that’s not all. By working with a local shepherding family, a flock of 51 sheep are being used to manage grass cutting on the field where the solar panels are located, which cost one sixth of what it would cost mechanically, enhance biodiversity, and show how renewable technology can work with traditional farming.

A photo of solar panels in a field with sheep walking around and underneath them.

The impact

The 11,000-panel solar farm – funded through a grant of £4.2 million – means that during the summer the organisation was saving about £250,000 a month in energy bills. The panels will generate more than 4.2 million kilowatt hours every 12 months, approximately the same as powering 1,400 UK households a year.

The electricity generated is enough to meet the daytime running needs of the entire hospital.

Alex Best added: “It’s incredible to think that the power used to support many
life-saving surgical procedures, and to keep our intensive care unit running, is all completely self-generated, green electricity.”

The Trust has also introduced combined heat and power technology at Castle Hill to capture and use the heat created as a by-product of the electricity generation process.

Together, these schemes have helped reduce the amount of imported emissions from electricity and, for large periods over summer, actively export energy to the National Grid.

What’s next

The Trust, which also runs Hull Royal Infirmary, is taking a holistic approach and is also looking at reducing its usage of nitrous oxide, a gas used in anaesthesia that has a high environmental impact.

The Trust is also replacing gas boilers with air source heat pumps as part of the move away from fossil fuels.

Additional cycle storage for 200 cycles, together with changing and shower facilities, will soon be installed to support staff choosing more sustainable travel options.

The Government’s £635 million Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme opened in October 2022 and supports public sector organisations, including NHS hospitals, to invest in more low-carbon heating and energy innovations like solar panels, heat pumps, LED lighting, building fabric improvements, and renewable energy sources. The goal is to help achieve the UK’s carbon reduction targets, while reducing energy costs and supporting energy resilience.

Find out more at our blog.

For more information on the solar panels at Castle Hill Hospital visit Hull University Teaching Hospital’s website.