Microgrid Company Uses Know-how to Provide California with Ventilators

March 24, 2020
With the US facing a potential five-fold ventilator shortage, microgrid company Bloom Energy has figured out a quick way to refurbish ventilators on behalf of the state of California.

With the US facing a potential five-fold ventilator shortage, microgrid company Bloom Energy has figured out a quick way to refurbish ventilators on behalf of the state of California.

Specialists in fuel cell microgrids, the Silicon Valley company took on the task at the request of California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom approached Bloom CEO KR Sridhar on Friday after the original manufacturer said that refurbishing would take a month. With COVID-19 rapidly progressing, Newsom was in search of a quicker solution.

It took the Bloom team five hours to refurbish the first ventilator, and a day to do 24. Now they are working on another 25 at their San Jose headquarters and plan to take on similar work at the company’s Newark, Delaware plant this week.

The company estimates it could refurbish hundreds of ventilators a week, helping to blunt what could become a severe shortage. The Society of Critical Care Medicine estimates that there are only about 200,000 working ventilators available to serve a potential 960,000 COVID-19 patients who may need them.

Experts in complex machines

Meanwhile, thousands of ventilators sit idle in store rooms because they have reached their end-of-service life, according to Bloom.

The Bloom team had no prior experience working on ventilators. However, Bloom was a good candidate for the job, given that its team knows how to handle extremely complex machines, said Susan Brennan, chief operations officer. Bloom both builds and services fuel cells.

“You always think you have a great team, and you always think that they have really, really good skills and important skills and transferable skills. But I’m living daily just how transferable and important their skills are,” she said, in an interview with Microgrid Knowledge Monday.

Everything has moved so fast, Bloom Energy doesn’t have a formal contract yet with the state for the work. “I would call it a handshake, but you can’t shake hands,” she said, referencing warnings against handshaking as the virus spreads.

“We’re humbled to be able to be a small part of the solution” — Brennan

Bloom Energy is now sourcing parts for the ventilators with the goal of saving the state money, but more importantly time. As Brennan put it, “Time equals lives.”

“We’re not here to make money on this,” she added. “We’re humbled to be able to be a small part of the solution.”

Bloom Energy continues fuel cell production, service

In taking on the challenge, Brennan, a 25-year veteran of the auto industry said she views the pandemic as she’s viewed other crisis events — as a pyramid. At the base is blocking and tackling, but the innovation on top makes the difference.

She also said that the story serves as an endorsement for local manufacturing. Just 90 minutes from the state’s capital, Sacramento, the Bloom team has been able to move quickly in transferring the machines.

“Nothing had to be shipped. Nothing had to be managed that way. And the engineers that we have working on it all live within a 60 mile radius,” she said. “I think this is the value of American manufacturing right next to American population centers.”

While working on the ventilators, the company continues to maintain its line of production and service for its fuel cells. Bloom Energy has been deemed an essential service in the state. Its microgrids keep power flowing to hospitals, data centers, grocery stores and other operations facing high demand during the pandemic.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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