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Solar Energy for Disaster Relief with Andrew MacCalla of Direct Relief





Dave Anderson

Today on the Solar podcast. Dave is speaking with Andrew McCullough, health resiliency advisor at Direct Relief. Join us as they discuss providing solar energy access for disaster response and vulnerable communities, installing solar microgrids at health facilities, and partnering with for profit solar companies for relief efforts. Let's get started on the solar podcast. Well, I'd like to welcome everyone back to the Solar Podcast. I'm Dave Anderson, the host. I'm thrilled to be joined today with Andrew McCaul. Andrew McCaula is the health resiliency advisor for a company called Direct Relief. We're going to get into that. He spent significant amount of his time during significant portion of his career working on disaster relief, emergency relief, and we're going to talk about that on the Solar Podcast. We've spent so much time talking about, know, maybe more capitalistic adventures or the entrepreneurial ventures parts of Solar. But I think this is an underrepresented topic on the Solar podcast talking about the impact particularly to the developing or to the emergency relief efforts that happen as a result of Solar and the benefit that Solar brings there.


01:11

Dave Anderson

So really thrilled to have Andrew on the podcast with us today. Andrew, welcome to the podcast. I'm sure that I missed some critical parts of your biography as part of that introduction. I'd love, if you wouldn't mind giving our listeners a little bit of an overview about who you are and some of the things you're particularly passionate about.


01:26

Andrew MacCalla

Sure. Thanks so much, Dave. It's really an honor to be here. And yeah, you made your great point at the start. I've worked for most of my career responding to what I now call unnatural disasters that occur all across the world for an organization, a nonprofit organization called Direct Relief. The third largest charity in the country, largest in California, distributes about $2 billion worth of medicine and medical supplies every year to 100 countries in all 50 US. States. And so I spent two years living in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and have pretty much been on the ground on every major disaster since. And so I think what I bring to this is the connection of natural disasters, power loss, and the impact that has on people's health.


02:24

Dave Anderson

Yeah, that's incredible. Yeah. So you're certainly world traveled, you've spent a lot of time, looks like a couple of years in Haiti right after the earthquake that really ravaged that nation, that country. And then more recently, you spent some significant time in Puerto Rico after the Hurricane Maria. How does a person find themselves working in this space at like, what's your journey? How did you arrive as a specialist in emergency response and disaster relief?


02:51

Andrew MacCalla

Yeah, good question, and I wish I had actually a better answer, but I think I was always interested in finding a way in my career that I could help people and I don't know exactly where that came from. I was a philosophy of ethics major in college and I had this really strong belief about the duty to sort of help other people, especially those that have less. And so when I finished college at UC Santa Barbara, I went and got an internship at the Peace Corps in Washington DC. Thought I wanted to join the Peace Corps, ended up coming back to Santa Barbara, and it was right after the Asian tsunami hit at around Christmas time in 2005, I believe. And I walked into direct relief and just offered to volunteer because I wanted to do something to help. And at the time, I'm a big guy, and I said, can you lift 50 pounds?


03:50

Andrew MacCalla

I said, yeah. So they put me in the warehouse, shipping out medicine and medical supplies to the places that were hit by that tsunami, thailand, et cetera. And I worked my way up. I became the warehouse manager. And then when the earthquake in Haiti hit in 2010, they said, would you go down there and open up a warehouse for us and so we can ship the vast quantities of medicine that they needed in Haiti at the time? And so I did, and it was supposed to be six weeks. I ended up kind of back and forth for about two years. And strangely, I think was my entry into this power issue, actually, because 85% of the country of Haiti doesn't have power on a regular basis. And so I saw even at the time, these very innovative solutions to power. I literally went to a barber who powered his electric razor with one solar panel connected to a little car battery.


04:59

Andrew MacCalla

And I lived in a house that had a bank of car batteries, lead acid batteries, that was powering the house at night with solar during the day. So very innovative solutions. And that was back in 2010 in a very poor country. It's also where my hatred of diesel generators came about because I lived next to one that ran twenty four seven and was constantly breaking, and it was loud and dirty and noisy, but it's what they need to operate there.


05:29

Dave Anderson

Yeah, well, fantastic experiences, I'm sure, that you've had. I'd love, if you wouldn't mind sharing with us some of the stories you've seen. I mean, when you're coming into particularly after, like, Hurricane Maria or right after the earthquake that really ravaged I mean, just ravaged Haiti, what are some of the things that you saw at the ground level and that really kind of shaped your perspective on the importance of electricity? Just having access to energy in terms of the impact both socially and economically to the people that were in those countries or in those areas, I should say Puerto Rico.


06:03

Andrew MacCalla

Yeah. So my experience ended up and again, it was Haiti, but then it was Typhoon Hay on in the Philippines, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. So not know, some were climate born, some were sort of disease, but and then in the US from Know. I started right after Katrina. And if anyone's seen or read the book Five Days of Memorial about Memorial Hospital in New Orleans that lost power after Hurricane Katrina, that's when people died in that hospital. 82 people died because the generator flooded. And it's typically how it is in our country after a disaster. It's not typically the event itself that leads to the loss of life. It's typically the aftermath of infrastructure and power loss that leads to deaths. And it was the same case in this hospital. They survived the hurricane, but then came the flooding. Generator was on the bottom floor, which they're not allowed to be anymore in hospitals lost power and the heat and the severe conditions of those people, they couldn't evacuate and the 82 people died.


07:22

Andrew MacCalla

And that's sort of my experience, is something happens, it's horrible, but it hasn't yet sort of led to loss of life. That comes later. Same thing in Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Initially the death toll was 64. And then the Harvard study that came out later was over 3000. And that again was largely attributed to power loss. And so what I kept seeing after Hurricane Sandy, to Dorian, to Michael, to Florence in Texas, to Florence in North Carolina, to Irma, to Harvey in Houston, it was this extended power loss that people who are vulnerable, meaning they're old, they're young, they're unhealthy, they're poor, we know the factors that make people vulnerable. They can't withstand those extended power outages because they need cooling, or they need a medical device charged, or they need their medicine. And that's what led to the deaths in Puerto Rico as well.


08:27

Andrew MacCalla

And so that's when Director Leaf got involved with installing solar battery micro grids at the health facilities in Puerto Rico. Because they all had generators, but that didn't mean they had power, because what's the hardest thing to get in a disaster? Fuel number one. Two, they're on an island, so it makes it even harder. And three, the generators aren't supposed to run 24/7 for months on end. And so parts started to break, fuel ran out, and they couldn't find people who knew how to fix these things because everyone was dealing with their own issues. And so when I was there, the number one thing all these health facilities said is, that can never happen again. We can never go through that experience again. Our first priority is getting reliable power. And it wasn't generators. So what's left? It's micro grids.


09:25

Dave Anderson

Yeah, I think all too often we spend a lot of our time talking about the viability or importance of solar in the context of is it financially viable? But I think that there's a whole nother component that we're talking about here, which is just grid stability, the micro grid stability, the durable grid that is electricity that's important, that we could provide clean access. And for all those people that are really opponents of anything kind of call it ESG the environmental, the social, the governance. I think that there's probably too much emphasis placed at times on the environmental and I don't know if you can put too much emphasis but I think there's a lot of emphasis put on the E part. But the social part of it, the S is so critical as part of these ESG movements and the things that we're doing. So the social impact of providing clean renewable or just clean or just any electricity, access to electricity is a critical component.


10:20

Dave Anderson

So maybe kind of just talking a little bit more about that. So are these like mobile units that you're bringing in that then leave after a disaster? Is that some of it? Or is it really more setting up an infrastructure that's going to be durable, sustainable forever for these health organizations in these either developing or areas that are often or all too often impacted by these, as you would call it, unnatural disasters? How are you sort of thinking about it in terms of direct relief and in terms of how should we be thinking about it socially?


10:52

Andrew MacCalla

Yeah, and I think you made a good point about how we've sold solar, not sold it as a financial benefit only or an environmental and financial and I think I agree with you. The social component and not recognizing the social vulnerabilities of certain sectors of our population has been a missed element. And when we talk about it, finance is less important than the sustainability aspect because medical facilities have no other choice than to be able to stay open in a disaster or all times in a grid outage because of heat waves. Right. That's happening now. We're in the july was the hottest month on records in recorded history. There was a report about if the city of Phoenix lost power because of a heat wave, they estimate 800,000 people would need to go to the Er and there's only 3000 beds in all of Phoenix emergency rooms.


11:53

Andrew MacCalla

So the point is these medical facilities and maybe uniquely, somewhat medical facilities but I'd also put elderly care facilities, nursing home facilities, these places that people who are vulnerable need to go to for cooling or medicine or charging medical devices those cannot afford to go down. And for so long generators have been the answer. And I'm not saying we get rid of generators but we add these other elements that are cleaner and more reliable to the mix. But I'm sorry, I digressed on your no, you're great.


12:33

Dave Anderson

That's exactly what I was talking about.


12:37

Andrew MacCalla

Yeah. So I think what Direct Relief is doing we started with the mobile portable. That was where we started. We actually had towable generators. I looked for years to try to find a rapidly deployable like a small micro grid you could put on an airplane and could get to another country and power like a tent clinic. It was always hard with the batteries and the flying them an ocean container, which is how we often ship medicines, is too slow in a disaster. And so we've really moved to permanent rooftop solar and backup battery on the medical facility. And so we're affixing solar and batteries and we're doing it in places where we know are one, most likely to be hit by natural disasters or power loss and two are in an area where because social vulnerabilities are tracked down to the county and census track level, these are, like I said, things like old young core.


13:52

Andrew MacCalla

If you don't speak the predominant language. And they've actually tracked it to find out that the most vulnerable areas to a medically significant power loss event which means over 8 hours because over 8 hours is when medical devices lose their power and their batteries when you need cooling if you're hot are Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and northern Michigan. And so we know the areas that are critically important to focus on. But much of the country I live in California, there's 180,000 people in California registered with an at home medical device that needs power. And we have these PSPS events, these public safety power shut offs where they turn off the power when the wind blows and there's no plan for these people at their homes, especially if then when they try to get somewhere the medical facility also doesn't have power.


14:54

Dave Anderson

No, I think you're hitting a critical point here. Just even here at home in the United States where for the most part we've been the beneficiaries of a fairly stable grid system and access to electricity is fairly abundant. We have these experiences where it's either rolling brownouts because it's just really hot temperatures, too many people are running their air conditioners, it's difficult to keep up. Or instances like you mentioned, these public safety shut offs where the wind starts to blow and leaving electricity running through those lines that ultimately can get blown over and cause fires. And the terrible tragedy that happened in Paradise, California where an entire city burnt to the ground as a result of a high windstorm that blew over and caused an electrical fire that ran rampant through the city and it was just a terrible tragedy. And yeah. And there are all of these people that it could be something as small as maybe.


15:49

Dave Anderson

And I don't want to diminish any of these medical instruments as life saving, but something like a CPAP where people need to sleep with or something more critical like oxygen machines or in some instances, even more critical at home dialysis, these sorts of things. I mean, these can be really critical things that are life saving but that's here in the United States, across the world there are as many as maybe seven or 800 million to a billion people that don't have any access to electricity or very limited access to electricity. And I think the effort that your organization goes through is critical. Maybe you can help me understand how is it funded? It's a nonprofit. How is it funded? How are the targets chosen? I mean, obviously, when there's a disaster, that's where you go. But the preemptive stuff is the thing that I think we really need to try to be focused on.


16:39

Dave Anderson

Right. So anything that we can do to make sure that when a disaster happens, that we're well prepared. How does direct relief and how do you, Andrew, sort of think about that and prioritize the limited resources, I'm sure, that you have access to right now?


16:52

Andrew MacCalla

Yeah, that's a really good question and almost nearly impossible one to answer. As you mentioned, Globally USAID, it was really during COVID recognized that there's 10,000 medical facilities in SubSaharan Africa that don't have reliable access to power or just don't have power, period. And that came out during COVID because the COVID vaccines, as everyone knows, require refrigeration, and in some cases, ultra cold freezing. And that's sort of the future. I have heard a statistic that 50% of new prescription drugs that will be coming out in the future will require what they call cold chain, which means it needs to stay temperature controlled and refrigeration. So if you're a medical facility overseas and you don't have power or you don't have reliable power, you can't maintain those medications. They go bad and they become useless. And when the COVID vaccine was rolling out to these countries, because we all recognize now, which or I hope we're starting to recognize now, that we are an interconnected society globally, like, if COVID is in China, we saw it.


18:10

Andrew MacCalla

It came here very quickly. I saw it personally during the Ebola outbreak in 2014. I came home from Sierra Leone and Liberia back to my I flew into JFK. They gave me a cell phone, and every day for the next 30 days, they'd call me, my public health department to check my temperature because it was this huge fear that someone was going to bring Ebola back home. And so we know now that we're interconnected. So we need to address this issue globally, where direct relief is funded through charitable donations. It's 100% privately funded, no federal funding. It's one of the most efficient charities there is, 100% rating on charity. Navigator has been doing a lot of this work, is doing this work in Ukraine right now with power because hospitals in Ukraine are losing power. It's one of these now instruments of war. And so actually there we're helping install batteries and solar in Ukraine.


19:15

Andrew MacCalla

We did it in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. So it kind of comes about in the aftermath of a disaster, as you mentioned. But to get in front of it is now what we're trying to do in the United States where we can say, okay, these are the areas that we can predictably, say are going to lose power, and is where the most vulnerable people in our country live. We were a part of this amazing program in New Orleans where a community organization called Together New Orleans is trying to set up what they call Community Lighthouses, which is 100 community facilities in the city of New Orleans where no one is more than a 15 minutes walk away from a lighthouse that has solar battery backup. So in subsequent hurricanes and subsequent power outages, nearly everyone who is somewhat mobile can get to one. Mostly because for cooling.


20:09

Andrew MacCalla

Because we saw after Hurricane IDA hit New Orleans, people died again because of heat. We saw it in Texas during the 2022 freeze that happened, the cold snap, 50 people died. That was also a power issue. So there's these places where we can plan for, but just the addressable market that Direct Leaf is trying to serve is like $2.6 billion would be needed to put a microgrid on all these community health centers that we're looking at. So it's a big investment, but one that's clearly yeah.


20:49

Dave Anderson

And to your mean, I think it's these natural disasters that lead us oftentimes to mobilize even from a for profit perspective. You take a look at Texas after the big freeze, as they oftentimes call it. Texas has become the number one residential solar market in the and before that they were an emerging market, but certainly not the largest. And now California and Texas are fairly similar on par with each other in terms of residential deployment. Now that being said, how does Direct Relief work with or think about these for profit organizations that are also, I think, helping socially by deploying significant amounts of solar and storage, renewable storage around the world? How does Direct Relief work with these sort of for profit organizations? Or do you I should say?


21:46

Andrew MacCalla

Yeah, I think Direct Relief partners very well with private companies. We've partnered with the medical industry for years on the receiving medical donations. We've partnered with transportation companies like FedEx to get the products around the world. We've become efficient because we try to model ourselves after private industry. I think a longtime nonprofits have gotten some pass for doing something in a worse way because they're doing it for the right reasons. And Direct, we've took the opposite approach, which is we got to do it in the most efficient way because we're using donor dollars. So we have to operate just like any commercial entity. And so we run a 200,000 square foot warehouse full of medicine that operates just like an Amazon distribution center. And so I think we look to partner with companies, try to partner with companies. Often it's on sort of the equipment or donation side of things.


22:44

Andrew MacCalla

There hasn't emerged, I would say, yet a equivalent in this industry of someone that's going to say hey, we're going to donate to you 200 batteries that you can use for your projects. Because I think the market is so tight and supply chain is so tight. You're the expert on this very much to hear what you would think. And I think old used 200 watt solar panels is not probably which sometimes do get donated. We haven't done that yet because I don't think that's a really efficient way to go. So I think there's yet to emerge what the business sort of partner on the equipment side would be. And then on the developer side, I don't think it's a competition. I think typically developers haven't focused on these nonprofit, these sort of mid to small scale commercial medical facilities that are mostly nonprofits in poor communities.


23:46

Andrew MacCalla

It just hasn't been a sought after market. I think the Inflation Reduction Act now has been this amazing change to the dynamic because they're all nonprofits, because they're in low income communities, many of them are in justice 40 communities, many of them in our energy communities. There's these rebates that are going to help scale because the costs go down.


24:09

Dave Anderson

Yeah, well, I certainly can't speak for around the world, but I can talk about it pretty extensively here at home in the United States. And I think one of the sort of areas that the nonprofits like Direct Relief are really disadvantaged like in New Orleans and some of the at home infrastructure improvements and upgrades that we're making, they're similarly disadvantaged in the same way that industry has been disadvantaged in that there's great tailwinds at the federal level, but at the local level, to deploy these things, it's really expensive and there's a lot of know. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as just saying, hey, this hospital needs new infrastructure and then we're going to be able to put it in next week. The amount of red tape and the amount of bureaucratic things that you have to go through to deploy solar anywhere in the United States, let alone at a hospital or a facility like that, is really extensive and it just drives the costs way up.


25:02

Dave Anderson

I would hope that around the world, particularly in some of the emerging markets or the developing world, that you're not facing some of those sort of same friction points from a bureaucratic perspective. But one of the things that I think is great for us to think about and I think that we, as an industry, need to give ourselves credit for here in the United States, even though we're not the largest. Solar market in the world is that anything that we do here to further the implementation of Solar here does have a benefit to the rest of the world. As we get more efficient in terms of how we make solar as we get more efficient in terms of how we make batteries and how we can distribute those things, I think that there is going to be a huge benefit to the disaster relief effort and to the micro grid effort and to the emerging markets and providing access, clean access to electricity for the developing world.


25:49

Dave Anderson

And I think we need to give ourselves some credit for that. But we also need to figure out ways to industry, continue to break down barriers, those friction points to make your effort the precious dollars that are going through the nonprofit even more efficient. Because you can deploy more solar and more batteries for less dollars if you're not having to fight the same sort of like local headwinds.


26:13

Andrew MacCalla

Yeah, that's exactly right. I've heard statistically, like, in Australia, like, rooftop solar is the same price per watt as utility scale. There's not the friction costs of the interconnection and permitting like we have here. And we have projects that we haven't heard back from the utility on the interconnection agreement since April, like over five months. And in California, there's some NEM two to NEM three backlog. But that's not an excuse. That's a ridiculous delay in slowdown.


26:45

Dave Anderson

Yeah, well, you live in California. The most expensive solar in the world is residential solar in California. Residential solar in California compared to residential solar in Australia, it's about a third the cost. Yeah, you're absolutely right. And there's some reasons for that. We've talked actually a fair bit about some of those reasons on this podcast because obviously, one of the things that we're most interested industry as well as on the not for profit, the charitable side, is trying to provide access to renewable power at a much lower cost. Even if it's for profit, we still want to provide that access to as many people as possible for as low a cost as possible. I am curious if you wouldn't mind just elaborating a little bit more on this. What are some of the sort of like social business models or some of the for profit companies?


27:37

Dave Anderson

Some of the things that you would like to see having spent time all around the world that you think are real missed opportunities for people that maybe are looking for running a for profit business but want to have an impact. What are some of the big opportunities you think are being missed around the world?


27:54

Andrew MacCalla

That's a good and hard question. I think, I mean, I think looking at, I guess focused in our country, looking at ways to develop solar well, I think we're missing the resiliency point quite a bit. But that's what I'm focused on. And so I'm thinking about things that we must keep powered because people's lives depend on it. And so the idea of more micro grids, I think one thing I'm thinking a lot about is this idea of portable mobile power. And I know a lot of that's coming out, but we're fixing or just take my house, but or take the health centers. We're working my little Chevy bolt, all electric Chevy bolt that I love. And I'm thankful that they're keeping manufacturing it's sitting next to my little power wall in my house. And it has, what, nearly five times the capacity and kilowatt hour of my powerwall at some point.


29:02

Andrew MacCalla

There's no need for both. Right. So to your earlier question, we might not permanently affix batteries to a medical facility because maybe if you can drive it to them and plug the clinic into it and then they can use it as a medical they all have mobile medical vehicles anyway, so maybe there's a way that you don't need the permanent battery. You'll have a way in an outage to just drive your vehicle there as long as you have a fleet within sort of 50 miles. So I'm kind of curious your take on where you see if you see it going that way.


29:42

Dave Anderson

Yeah, we've interviewed a lot of people in the EV space and on the solar space on this channel. Obviously, those two industries overlap. I mean, you're talking about production of energy and you're talking about powering your live and your home with energy. And I would say that's a glaring inefficiency in our entire grid system. Right. And the same thing with me. Like at my house, I have 150 kilowatt hours of batteries in my garage that I don't have access to. Now, there's a lot of sort of considerations, right, like what's the negative impact to the batteries. But if I have my car at work that I can charge at very low cost power and then take that somewhere that needs access, I mean, 150 kilowatt hours of batteries will run my home for an entire week. And that's independent of the solar that's on the roof that's generating.


30:35

Dave Anderson

So with the solar that's on the roof and the batteries in the car, essentially I could go off grid if the home had been wired such and you had the bi directional charging that would be required in order to be able to do that. And a lot of car manufacturers are trying to solve for that. But the trade off for them right now is what's the impact to these batteries? We're trying to sell more cars and if we materially degrade the efficiency and effectiveness of the batteries. Where one of the number one reasons people say that they don't buy electric cars is because of range anxiety or the loss of range or the batteries having to replace the batteries at some significant cost in a short period of time. Those are some of the challenges that need to be addressed. But without a doubt, there are inefficiencies in this marketplace, and that's one of them.


31:18

Dave Anderson

Right. So the fact that you have to have batteries for your backup, for your home and for your business and then different batteries to power your car and solar at your house, that you can't benefit at your work and solar at work that you can't use to benefit you at the house with being able to take batteries that you're kind of dragging back and forth between work and home is certainly an inefficiency. I love the concept that. You're talking about here, where if you had a bunch of Rivians Teslas bolts that you could pull into a hospital, that would be a life saving sort of donation that you could make to a hospital. I love the concept of that. The idea that, hey, we need power here to save lives. I love the idea of that. And I don't think that we're very far from being able to implement a solution like that.


32:05

Dave Anderson

It's a fantastic thought.


32:09

Andrew MacCalla

To a nod to our humanity. It seems true. Every place I've ever been, there's always more people that are wanting to help in a disaster than we even know how to put them to good use. And so if you can help by as simple as driving your electric car to a location and somehow use just drain the battery, what a fantastic way to put people to work.


32:39

Dave Anderson

Yeah, well, electric buses, I mean, you could fill in the blank in terms of the opportunities there and yeah, it's one that I certainly hadn't thought of. What are some other emerging technologies or business models that you think excite you in this space, either on the for profit side or certainly that helps with the emergency disaster relief sector.


32:55

Andrew MacCalla

I mean, one thing I already mentioned is this idea of a flyable, portable, rapidly assembling micro grid. Again, you can get on an airplane on a pallet and land somewhere and someone on the other end can just plug the combined solar panel cord one side into the battery and it can just work and power stuff. And I think I've seen a few attempts at it from different companies. None of them seem perfect quite yet. It's almost like you have inverter companies, you have battery companies, some of them are integrated, often they're not. And then you have solar manufacturing companies. And so this all in one quick, ready to go solution, at least. Again, I'm coming from a perspective of having to get something somewhere and powered quickly, which is a different need than I think we often think about, is one I've been trying to find for a while.


34:04

Dave Anderson

Yeah, without a know. I got into the solar space originally. I grew up well documented on this podcast and other places. I grew up in a coal mining town in eastern Montana. And I thought that the electricity that coal fired power plant in my hometown was providing was life saving and critical. And I think it is, and it was. And it's been a critical component to the way that we've sort of been able to sort of develop as a country and develop as a world. And that being said, fast forward some handful of years later, leave my hometown, start a business in the solar space. And I think I got into it because I was trying to solve a need that I thought was important to solve, which is trying to provide lower cost electricity to more people at homes, particularly in California, where energy costs have been surging over the last couple of decades.


34:58

Dave Anderson

And it's really been over the last handful of years, the last decade. I should say that I've really, in some ways, I have to admit, accidented into the fact that we're working in an industry that is one of the largest employers, not just here in the United States, but across the country. Energy and providing access to energy is a huge employer across the country. And as the renewable energy distribution happens, more and more people are being hired. That's a fantastic thing. Secondarily, it's a renewable source of power, which obviously, again, fairly unintended. My entrance into it was the impact that it has on climate. But more recently, I've become particularly passionate about this idea of the social benefits of providing access to power. You can just imagine something as simple as refrigeration, something that we certainly take for granted, providing this access to more people.


35:47

Dave Anderson

And that's been one of the real sort of like highlights in my career, is realizing that anything that we do in solar is furthering those causes and benefiting the developing world. And anything that allows people to have better access, not just access, but better access to the life saving medicine, the life saving facilities that we've taken for granted for far too long, probably here at home, I think is just something that's really exciting. So it sounds like your original entrance was a little bit maybe just trying to find a job, but you've become passionate about it. So that being said, I work in the solar space. I'm very dedicated to it. You work emergency Relief, you're very dedicated to it. But for the layperson and a lot of the people that might be listening to this podcast, what are some things that you sort of, like, encourage people to do or things that they can do to try to help?


36:39

Dave Anderson

Drive change either whether it's with climate resiliency or whether it's trying to drive change in terms of the social benefits that are associated with the causes that you're associated with right now. What are things or advice that you give to people if you're just out talking to them at a park or a club?


36:56

Andrew MacCalla

I think the first thing I try to start with is we don't live in a level playing field, in a level society. I remember personally and my family, even though I'd responded to a number of disasters for my life around the world, were evacuated from a big fire in my hometown, the Thomas Fire, in 2017, in December. And we used the bigger car, not the bolt. We had to load the golden retriever in the car, the two kids, whatever we could grab, because we saw the flames literally coming over the mountainside from the window right here. And what I realized from that is we had a car, period. We had a car, we had gas in the car, thankfully, because there was a power outage. And if we didn't have gas in the car, we couldn't have gotten gas because fuel pumps don't work when there's a power outage.


38:01

Andrew MacCalla

So my other advice to everyone is never leave your gas tank. Go below a third of a tank because you never know when you might need to drive somewhere. So we left, we evacuated, we drove 50 miles to a hotel that was also without power and we had money to pay for the hotel. So I did some looking into that and I found less than 50% of people in our country have like $500 in the bank to be able to quickly leave their home or have a car in the first place to do it. And so these things, these events, they affect people differently. And I think first to your point, like recognizing that and these lower cost of power or higher reliability of power, anything we're doing, especially in affordable housing or nonprofits or health facilities, these are things that are actually not a climate thing necessarily.


39:03

Andrew MacCalla

Although it's also that it's not a cost savings thing necessarily. Although it's also that it's improving the social benefits to people who just have less in our communities. And so the first thing is, I think, to be able to recognize that and to be able to put yourself in someone else's shoes and say, wow, if you don't have a car, you can't go anywhere. If you don't have money, you can't pay for a hotel, so what do you even do? And you brought up the Paradise Fire earlier, there were like elderly people in elderly homes that just couldn't leave. And so I don't know, we have to know where those people and places are, which we actually do. We have maps of these things that tell us where the highest vulnerabilities are and then make really strong improvements in those areas for those people. There's a quote from a mayor of Mississippi, Greenville, Mississippi, who what I love called we're all in the storm, but we're not in the same boat.


40:07

Andrew MacCalla

And so I think if we can sort of internalize that and then you can make choices about what you want to do about.


40:18

Dave Anderson

Feel. So spent most of my career actually in California more recently, and I'm actually at the time of the recording of this podcast, I'm in Salt Lake City area. And Salt Lake is very much so a prepper community. It's a community that values and understands the importance of community generally and then has a real sort of like preparation sort of mindset, which I think is fantastic. I think one of the great parts about solar, and when people talk to me about solar, they're oftentimes talking to me about it from the context of preparedness, which is a little different than a lot of the parts of the country. Most people are thinking about it in the context of financial savings and that's great too. And for the most part, when I'm talking to people that are talking about it in financial savings, I also say, yeah, but there's also this real preparedness.


41:05

Dave Anderson

It's taking strain off the grid. It's providing resiliency to the grid. It's providing renewable power. And I'm having to sort of sell that here. It's a little different. And one of the nice things about working with hospitals and working with these medical centers is that, yes, you're providing preparedness in this situation where the grid goes down or there's grid instability, whether through unnatural or natural disasters or it's just because of a grid instability. But there's also sort of a long term financial benefit. All the electricity the solar panels are producing on a daily basis is functional, it's usable. And that's one of the things that I've had to stress a lot since being here in Salt Lake City, is that, yes, there is a preparedness component to solar, but there's also just a daily utility where you can provide or where you're actually getting access to the energy that's coming from the Sun Bountiously, and that you can harness a portion of that and use it to sort of charge your home and to power your life and to move your vehicles and to be a soccer mom or to be a commuter to work.


42:03

Dave Anderson

And whatever it is, that energy is just essentially untapped and we have the opportunity to tap into it, but also to be able to have this preparation. So when you're working with these medical facilities, are you oftentimes just sizing the solar and the storage just to meet that sort of emergency preparedness situation? Or are you sort of like helping them realizing that, hey, listen, you can actually power the hospital or significant portions of the hospital with this? Normally you'd think about this as preparation. Most people aren't going to run a generator to power a hospital, or hopefully they're not. I mean, I would imagine in some parts of the world that is the case. But there is an actual way to just actually power the hospitals. Well, how much of what you're talking about with them is centered oriented around that and helping them understand that there is, in fact, an ROI to it?


42:53

Andrew MacCalla

Yeah, it's a lot of education. Again, this is new. Solar panels are not new. Batteries are relatively new. Microgrids are fairly new. So it's a lot of education and actually mean a few months ago, this is how new it all is. The center for Medicaid Services, which governs all medical facilities that take Medicaid, said that a hospital can meet its backup power requirement by having a micro grid in lieu of a generator. So for the first time ever, they are saying they are reliable enough, if not more reliable, I would argue, than a generator. We found 35% of generators didn't work after Hurricane Sandy, and many, if not most, didn't work in Puerto rico after Hurricane Maria. They are a daily use. Obviously solar is spinning their meter backwards every day. Battery is charging and discharging every day and then it's there in an off grid environment.


43:52

Andrew MacCalla

So the power goes out immediately, switches to the battery. The amazing part of a battery, especially in a medical facility, is there's no downtime. So a generator can take a few seconds to kick over. So if you're in the middle of a procedure or something that can cause problems, a battery is instantaneous and then we size it typically to power the entire load. If it's a very large facility, we'll do critical loads, but then the generator is in the backup position so that if the battery dips down to 20% of charge, the generator will then kick on and charge it up. It's kind of the most efficient way to use a generator, just directly feeding the battery. And if it's a small facility and they don't already have a generator, we're not adding one. It's just solar battery and we can typically tell them on a normal day.


44:44

Andrew MacCalla

Again, it's harder because we're sizing it for their peak load times 4 hours and then the solar is recharging it if there's clouds or it'll affect that length of resilience. But we're at minimum trying to give them a four hour full load which is going to accommodate most typical power outages. And to your point earlier about Salt Lake, I agree. I think this idea of energy independence should be the most nonpartisan issue there is. Right? Everyone likes that it works every day and then you also aren't reliant on it in an outage. You can control your own. Like preppers would feel good about any families with kids. I mean, it doesn't now, not to get too political, but this thing in Ukraine and with like energy prices, it's now a national security I mean, it has been a national security issue, but I think we're realizing it now.


45:49

Andrew MacCalla

Energy prices in Europe have spiked like 400% because one guy chose to go to war with another country. And so that can no longer be allowable. I think we need to better control our destiny.


46:07

Dave Anderson

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Yeah. Andrew, it's been absolutely fantastic talking with you. To get a real expert, someone that's been working certainly in the background but also at the ground in terms of deploying and driving. Some of the things that I've become fairly passionate about over the last handful of years in terms of being able to provide access to energy, life saving access to energy to people in the most critical of times, I guess. Thank you for coming on and thank you for sharing your experiences. I would love to hear what are the things that sort of like give you hope or what are some of your hot takes for the industry and for emergency disaster relief or just some of the things that really keep you excited as some sort of parting thoughts here.


46:55

Andrew MacCalla

Well, I'm hopeful, again, not political, but I'm hopeful that it seems like at least this administration has realized the need to further prioritize and incentivize this stuff. Especially in the communities that I work and care about in our country, which are these low income energy communities, forward fossil fuel communities. There seems to be at least currently a recognition that there needs to be additional incentives in certain communities, probably like the one you grew up in that has lost jobs because of this transition. And so the idea that we need to have a just transition to this clean energy, we need to train way more electricians, a million electricians, but there's programs and incentives to do that. That the fact that of the projects we're looking at, over 2000 locations can get a 50% direct payment from the IRA to take half the cost off the project is a huge change after nonprofits were sort of left out of that rebate ability or the tax credit ability for so many years.


48:10

Andrew MacCalla

I wish it had gone further, but I mean, this is something and then there's the cost of everything coming down. I think as Bill McKibben said, cheapest way we can create power now is to take a big sheet of glass and point it at the big ball of sun in the sky. And that was come from the space program in the 50s when it used to cost $10,000 a watt or whatever. So now it's not even an argument about cost, I don't think. I think it's just a fact that this is the cheapest way we can do it. To your point, interconnections speed, need to get better, permitting needs to get better. So there's still issues but I am very hopeful in where the trajectory is, you know, thanks to you and you're being a part of this industry for a long time.


49:02

Dave Anderson

Yeah. Again, Andrew, thanks so much for coming on and talking with us about these critical items and critical issues. And really I think it's a new and better perspective that each of us in the solar industry need to hear and to be reminded of. And I'm not saying that because I want people just to feel better about being in the solar industry. There's plenty of reasons to feel good about being in the solar industry. But it is great for us to understand that the things that we're doing here in the United States have a big impact in the developing and emerging markets. And in terms of disaster relief, solar and storage are critical components and that we're all playing a small portion or a small part to help the proliferation of that and the access to the energy for the people that are in dire need of it in those really critical times.


49:46

Dave Anderson

So Andrew, thank you so much for coming on. It's been a pleasure to speak with you today.


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