While NUE is a young company, our work in disaster relief and recovery operations goes back to at least 2018. At that time, one of our founders, Will Heegaard, responded to the call after Hurricane Maria. In 2020, we deployed our portable solar generator equipment in Paradise and the City of American Canyon during the worst fire season on record in California.
Since that time, members of our team have been actively supporting Footprint Project and other NGOs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Texas, California and Puerto Rico. Our prototype SunCanopy even helped power the first solar-powered COVID clinic in Matamoros, Mexico!
The Need for Portable Power During Disasters
We know the need exists. We’ve seen and heard it from emergency managers, firefighters, volunteers and pretty much anyone who’s ever had to use a portable generator. Portable generators have long been standard equipment for remote construction crews, firefighters, outdoor event organizers, campers, first responders and NGOs working in disaster relief and recovery.
Most of these individuals don’t realize there is now a clean, quiet and affordable alternative to fossil fuel-powered generators. Their reaction upon learning about our SunKit and other solutions is one of the things that motivates us to do what we do. They instantly get it!
I’ll paraphrase a member of CalFire upon seeing and helping set up our SolarCanopy. “You mean we don’t have to fall asleep listening to that stupid generator AND this “solar tent” IS the generator?” Several of his colleagues asked us if we were selling stock in the company (more on that later…). The bottom line was, we just had to show them the product, and they ran with it.
NUE In Action During Wildfire Season
In 2019, one of our prototypes powered the Paradise Revival Festival put on by survivors of the Camp Fire.
The Camp Fire in Paradise, CA was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history. It was the most expensive natural disaster in the world in 2018 in terms of insured losses. It covered an area of 153,336 acres and destroyed more than 18,000 structures. Most of the destruction occurred within the first four hours. The towns of Paradise and Concow were almost completely destroyed, each losing about 95% of their structures. The towns of Magalia and Butte Creek Canyon were also largely destroyed.Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Fire_(2018)
In June of 2020, Pacific Gas & Electric pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
NUE Answers the Call
The organizers of the Paradise Revival Festival had intended for it to be a rallying point to convince other survivors to come back and rebuild their community. Ironically, a few days before the event, PG&E informed the Community that they were going to shut down power for up to a week. They claimed it was part of the Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) intended to prevent forest fires!
One of the organizers of the event put out a distress call. We heard about it through the grapevine and offered our support. The night before, I cancelled a trip to Washington DC and instead hitched up one of our solar trailers and headed to Paradise. After a successful weekend powering the event, we left the trailer there for several weeks to power an Ecosystem Restoration Camp. This camp eliminated the need for about 70 volunteers to run a generator over that period.
A Long, Drawn-out Wildfire Season
But the 2019 wildfire season in California was not yet over. That October, the City of American Canyon used the same trailer to power an emergency management center. Months later, while cleaning out an equipment box, I discovered a crumpled hand-written note.
Dear Ben (Ben is our NorCal volunteer who deployed our trailer)
Thank you so much for your support and assistance! The rent.solar [trailer] at least doubled our electrical charging capacity during our almost 3 day power outage during the PG&E 10/26/19 PSPS event. We went from 60 charging outlets to 160 with your support. By 4PM we had actually served more than 60% more people than we did on the previous day.
Thank you again,Creighton Wright (Parks & Recreation Director)
That totally made my day!
But the story continues. In October 2020, our T5 next generation solar trailer spent two weeks powering the evacuation center at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair. This is where many of the evacuees from the Santa Rosa fire found themselves. This year, who knows where we’ll be in a few weeks or months. All we know is that as sure as summer and wildfire season are coming, we will be deploying our equipment.
Our challenge is that relatively few people have even heard of us or our products. This particularly includes those who stand to benefit the most. For those of you who read this, please keep us in mind should you know, or happen to meet, someone who thinks that a noisy, polluting fossil fuel powered generator is their only option when the grid goes down. Help us #BuildBackBetter!