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Saving Lives with Solar

South Staffordshire Community Energy (SSCE) have launched a new share offer in partnership with a University Hospitals of North Midlands and the national charity Beat the Cold that will see solar panels improving the welfare of local residents living in fuel poverty. It’s the first scheme of its kind and really is joined up community benefit thinking.

400 deaths as a result of cold
A typical winter in Staffordshire may result in 400 deaths as a result of cold alone and 3200 hospital admissions with cold as the underlying factor. Many of the patients are from ex-mining and pottery areas susceptible to respiratory diseases. This is exacerbated by many living in high levels of deprivation and fuel poverty, which is significantly above national averages. Patients are often elderly and will be constantly referred to A&E becoming what the medical profession calls “high impact users” or “frequent fliers” with a cost impact of £2.3 million a year for local hospitals. The A&E team do an amazing job of looking after these patients only to discharge them back to poorly heated, draughty, damp homes where symptoms soon return, which results in further visits to A&E.

Joined up thinking
SSCE have been working with University Hospitals of the North Midlands (Royal Stoke University Hospital and County Hospital, Stafford) and Beat the Cold to try and break the cycle. This is how it works. SSCE install solar panels on the roof of the hospital with investment from local people. The hospital reduces its long-term energy costs that can be invested in improved hospital services. The income from the solar panels from the Government Feed-in Tariff is used to pay back investors – at 4.5%IRR over the 20-year lifetime of the project – and the surplus is invested in a community fund. In turn, this fund supports the work of Beat the Cold to alleviate fuel poverty, targeting the most vulnerable patients. And, voila, the cycle is broken.

Beat the cold
Mrs J is a case in point. She lives alone in a 1980s two-bedroom bungalow. She has kidney cancer, liver disease and an on-going chest infection. She had to give up her job because of her health and has consequently struggled to pay her ever-increasing fuel bills. She was referred to Beat the Cold who helped her access help to improve her situation by doing benefit checks, looking at best tariff switching, securing a Warm Home discount and negotiating debt relief. The result was her weekly income was increased by £139 and she received £140 warm home discount; her faulty bedroom radiator was replaced through the emergency health scheme; and her fuel debt was cleared. Not only does she have a warmer, healthier home but from her savings she has now managed to afford a mobility scooter to get out and about. These simple things have changed Mrs J’s life and reduced her impact on local health services.

Beat the Cold started in the mid 1980s as multi-agency campaign to tackle hypothermia and cold-related illnesses amongst the most vulnerable in North Staffordshire. Since it started, the agency has provided support to 40,000 people across the UK – 1409 of whom where in Staffordshire over the last year. It now has over 1000 front line staff understanding the issues and problems related to fuel poverty.

Solar saving lives
It’s win, win, win…. 1089 solar panels on unused hospital roof space can potentially save lives and, what’s more, 2337 tonnes of CO2. In layman’s terms that’s the equivalent of 10,645 MRI scans or 44 million cups of tea! That’s positive investment for you!

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