Life-saving medicines are Direct Relief’s stock in trade, but some of those meds require refrigeration or they go bad and must be thrown away. The nonprofit saw 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s refrigerated medicines suffer that very fate when the island lost power for months after Hurricane Maria. There, Direct Relief worked with Tesla to get key health facilities powered up again and able to provide medical care to residents. Direct Relief then brought that technology back to its headquarters by the Santa Barbara airport.
“Direct Relief can never afford to lose power,” spokesperson Tony Morain stated of the international medical-aid group. Not only would it spoil temperature-sensitive medications, like insulin, but the emergency that took it offline would mean that Direct Relief would be unable to respond to that very natural disaster, he said. Most recently, the Thomas Fire disrupted Santa Barbara’s power supply intermittently for several days. Power-provider Southern California Edison had expressed worries in 2014 to the Public Utilities Commission that if wildfire or rainfall-triggered landslides compromised its transmission towers in the mountains above the city, the area could be without power for weeks.
To prevent a worst-case scenario, Tesla has built a microgrid at Direct Relief’s 150,000-square-foot pharmaceutical warehouse with 320-kilowatt-generating solar panels to capture sunlight, a 676 kW battery system for the hours of darkness, and diesel generators as the final backup source. The system is leased from Tesla at $3,150 per month, Morain outlined, and 10 cents per kilowatt. Smart software from Tesla switches the power sources as conditions require, sending excess power to battery storage or the power grid. Morain estimated Direct Relief could remain running and its cold-chain meds protected, even if power is knocked out for months.