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Renewable energy for health care in Sri Lanka, during COVID-19 and beyond





Nurses in Sri Lanka attend to their work. Photo: Dominic Sansoni/World Bank

The COVID-19 pandemic is prompting a fresh look at options to ensure reliable power for health facilities , including the Vavuniya General Hospital in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. In line with an overall push to boost the share of renewables, the government of Sri Lanka is pursuing new power solutions for Vavuniya and about 20 other hospitals across the nation.

The World Bank is assisting as part of a multi-sectoral pandemic response in Sri Lanka. Similar initiatives are underway in other countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Madagascar, and Nigeria, to name a few.

Parts of a solution

Distributed photovoltaics (DPV), installed on rooftops or open spaces near buildings, are proliferating as a low-cost option for emergency power supplies.  Many developing countries already use DPV as a long-term primary or secondary power source for health care facilities in rural and urban settings. While operating costs are minimal, average investment costs are dramatically lower today than even a few years ago, making DPV more economically attractive. When coupled with batteries, which are also becoming cheaper, DPV systems can contribute to reliable power around the clock.

With these solutions, diesel generators can become more of a last resort, instead of being the main or only source of essential back-up power when the grid is unavailable. Less use of diesel generators helps avoid the high cost of fuel, vulnerability to shortages, and toxic emissions.

Diverse technology options are available for distributed renewables. They range from individual components to pre-packaged “box” solutions which combine DPV, batteries and generators of varying sizes, including up to mini-grid level for larger sites. Under the auspices of the Energy Storage Partnership facilitated by the World Bank, a survey of suppliers has found that significant inventory is available despite logistics disruptions.

Electrical devices are also increasingly available in more energy efficient models, which can help avoid oversized power systems in new health care units. Correct system sizing is crucial where financial resources are limited, but many variables need to be considered.

For example, the electricity needs of intensive care units (ICU) differ greatly depending on how many beds are occupied: temporary ICU wards need significant power, but only for a limited time period. Another key factor to consider is that electricity demand from certain medical services may drop while stay-at-home measures are in force. For instance, some hospitals are deferring elective surgeries during the crisis. System sizing strategies need to examine such factors when addressing the health care sector’s power needs in response to the pandemic.

Bringing the parts together

Given all the options, what tools are available to design power solutions for hospitals without full grid electricity?  One resource is the HOMER Powering Health Tool, a free online model to help simplify the design process for distributed generation systems for health care facilities.  Standing for Hybrid Optimization Model for Multiple Energy Resources, HOMER is a leading resource for mini-grid analyses.

Originally commissioned for USAID’s Powering Health program, the HOMER Powering Health Tool has recently been updated to reflect typical COVID-19 response needs with support from the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). Users enter the electrical needs manually or select default values for pre-listed devices from one of four health facility tiers as a starting point. The tiers include, for example, a small rural dispensary that would typically screen and refer serious cases to larger facilities such as a district hospital. Based on user inputs, the tool calculates least-cost combinations of batteries, PV, and diesel generators sets – including as back-up to grid electricity if this is available for some hours each day.

The tool runs entirely online and can be used an unlimited number of times with no need to sign in or to download a software. It’s kept simple for non-specialists to use without requiring special training. This comes with limitations, of course. For certain advanced needs, other products are available, such as the full, licensed software of HOMER Energy by UL or the free System Advisor Model (SAM) of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The latter is especially useful for systems that may feed DPV power to the grid when it is not needed on site. In Sri Lanka, the World Bank is applying these tools to optimize solutions to strengthen power for Vavuniya and other hospitals.

From one to many

With a standard lifetime of 20 years, DPV systems can supply clean energy to the national grid. They can also become the backbone of community mini-grids. The value of both options goes well beyond the pandemic. DPV can help not only the consumers who host the systems but also a power system that it feeds. DPV can reduce grid congestion and energy losses for utilities. It can also displace more costly generation from wholesale sources while promoting resilience.

Sri Lanka has already been promoting DPV such as through its Rooftop Solar Power Generation Project, in partnership with the Asian Development Bank. Nationwide, rooftop installations are on track to reach a total of 200 megawatts capacity by the end of 2020, equivalent to around 7 percent of system peak demand. Northern Province alone has added over 3 megawatts since 2017, including 17 projects in Vavuniya for businesses and households. Consumers with DPV can choose to feed some or all the power generated into the national grid through the utility providers. In all cases, the DPV significantly reduces consumers’ bills while providing clean energy to the system at a lower cost than fuel-based generation for grid.

Sri Lanka’s initiative shows that solutions to the current crisis can also address longer-term challenges. With a strategic approach, health care facilities can be well-positioned to combat COVID-19 while preparing for the “new normal.” 

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One city held a mass passport-getting event

A New Orleans congressman organized a way for people to apply for their passports en masse.



While the number of Americans who do not have a passport has dropped steadily from more than 80% in 1990 to just over 50% now, a lack of knowledge around passport requirements still keeps a significant portion of the population away from international travel.

Over the four years that passed since the start of covid-19, passport offices have also been dealing with significant backlog due to the high numbers of people who were looking to get a passport post-pandemic. 

Related: Here is why it is (still) taking forever to get a passport

To deal with these concurrent issues, the U.S. State Department recently held a mass passport-getting event in the city of New Orleans. Called the "Passport Acceptance Event," the gathering was held at a local auditorium and invited residents of Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District to complete a passport application on-site with the help of staff and government workers.

A passport case shows the seal featured on American passports.


'Come apply for your passport, no appointment is required'

"Hey #LA02," Rep. Troy A. Carter Sr. (D-LA), whose office co-hosted the event alongside the city of New Orleans, wrote to his followers on Instagram  (META) . "My office is providing passport services at our #PassportAcceptance event. Come apply for your passport, no appointment is required."

More Travel:

The event was held on March 14 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. While it was designed for those who are already eligible for U.S. citizenship rather than as a way to help non-citizens with immigration questions, it helped those completing the application for the first time fill out forms and make sure they have the photographs and identity documents they need. The passport offices in New Orleans where one would normally have to bring already-completed forms have also been dealing with lines and would require one to book spots weeks in advance.

These are the countries with the highest-ranking passports in 2024

According to Carter Sr.'s communications team, those who submitted their passport application at the event also received expedited processing of two to three weeks (according to the State Department's website, times for regular processing are currently six to eight weeks).

While Carter Sr.'s office has not released the numbers of people who applied for a passport on March 14, photos from the event show that many took advantage of the opportunity to apply for a passport in a group setting and get expedited processing.

Every couple of months, a new ranking agency puts together a list of the most and least powerful passports in the world based on factors such as visa-free travel and opportunities for cross-border business.

In January, global citizenship and financial advisory firm Arton Capital identified United Arab Emirates as having the most powerful passport in 2024. While the United States topped the list of one such ranking in 2014, worsening relations with a number of countries as well as stricter immigration rules even as other countries have taken strides to create opportunities for investors and digital nomads caused the American passport to slip in recent years.

A UAE passport grants holders visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 180 of the world’s 198 countries (this calculation includes disputed territories such as Kosovo and Western Sahara) while Americans currently have the same access to 151 countries.

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Fast-food chain closes restaurants after Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Several major fast-food chains recently have struggled to keep restaurants open.



Competition in the fast-food space has been brutal as operators deal with inflation, consumers who are worried about the economy and their jobs and, in recent months, the falling cost of eating at home. 

Add in that many fast-food chains took on more debt during the covid pandemic and that labor costs are rising, and you have a perfect storm of problems. 

It's a situation where Restaurant Brands International (QSR) has suffered as much as any company.  

Related: Wendy's menu drops a fan favorite item, adds something new

Three major Burger King franchise operators filed for bankruptcy in 2023, and the chain saw hundreds of stores close. It also saw multiple Popeyes franchisees move into bankruptcy, with dozens of locations closing.

RBI also stepped in and purchased one of its key franchisees.

"Carrols is the largest Burger King franchisee in the United States today, operating 1,022 Burger King restaurants in 23 states that generated approximately $1.8 billion of system sales during the 12 months ended Sept. 30, 2023," RBI said in a news release. Carrols also owns and operates 60 Popeyes restaurants in six states." 

The multichain company made the move after two of its large franchisees, Premier Kings and Meridian, saw multiple locations not purchased when they reached auction after Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings. In that case, RBI bought select locations but allowed others to close.

Burger King lost hundreds of restaurants in 2023.

Image source: Chen Jianli/Xinhua via Getty

Another fast-food chain faces bankruptcy problems

Bojangles may not be as big a name as Burger King or Popeye's, but it's a popular chain with more than 800 restaurants in eight states.

"Bojangles is a Carolina-born restaurant chain specializing in craveable Southern chicken, biscuits and tea made fresh daily from real recipes, and with a friendly smile," the chain says on its website. "Founded in 1977 as a single location in Charlotte, our beloved brand continues to grow nationwide."

Like RBI, Bojangles uses a franchise model, which makes it dependent on the financial health of its operators. The company ultimately saw all its Maryland locations close due to the financial situation of one of its franchisees.

Unlike. RBI, Bojangles is not public — it was taken private by Durational Capital Management LP and Jordan Co. in 2018 — which means the company does not disclose its financial information to the public. 

That makes it hard to know whether overall softness for the brand contributed to the chain seeing its five Maryland locations after a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Bojangles has a messy bankruptcy situation

Even though the locations still appear on the Bojangles website, they have been shuttered since late 2023. The locations were operated by Salim Kakakhail and Yavir Akbar Durranni. The partners operated under a variety of LLCs, including ABS Network, according to local news channel WUSA9

The station reported that the owners face a state investigation over complaints of wage theft and fraudulent W2s. In November Durranni and ABS Network filed for bankruptcy in New Jersey, WUSA9 reported.

"Not only do former employees say these men owe them money, WUSA9 learned the former owners owe the state, too, and have over $69,000 in back property taxes."

Former employees also say that the restaurant would regularly purchase fried chicken from Popeyes and Safeway when it ran out in their stores, the station reported. 

Bojangles sent the station a comment on the situation.

"The franchisee is no longer in the Bojangles system," the company said. "However, it is important to note in your coverage that franchisees are independent business owners who are licensed to operate a brand but have autonomy over many aspects of their business, including hiring employees and payroll responsibilities."

Kakakhail and Durranni did not respond to multiple requests for comment from WUSA9.

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Industrial Production Increased 0.1% in February

From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization
Industrial production edged up 0.1 percent in February after declining 0.5 percent in January. In February, the output of manufacturing rose 0.8 percent and the index for mining climbed 2.2 p…



From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization
Industrial production edged up 0.1 percent in February after declining 0.5 percent in January. In February, the output of manufacturing rose 0.8 percent and the index for mining climbed 2.2 percent. Both gains partly reflected recoveries from weather-related declines in January. The index for utilities fell 7.5 percent in February because of warmer-than-typical temperatures. At 102.3 percent of its 2017 average, total industrial production in February was 0.2 percent below its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector remained at 78.3 percent in February, a rate that is 1.3 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2023) average.
emphasis added
Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up from the record low set in April 2020, and above the level in February 2020 (pre-pandemic).

Capacity utilization at 78.3% is 1.3% below the average from 1972 to 2022.  This was below consensus expectations.

Note: y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change.

Industrial Production The second graph shows industrial production since 1967.

Industrial production increased to 102.3. This is above the pre-pandemic level.

Industrial production was above consensus expectations.

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