Most of us hunker down when a storm is on its way. Will Heegaard and his team at the Footprint Project aren’t like most of us.
That’s when they get to work, readying their equipment, collecting supplies and contacting relief agencies to determine where their self-built mobile microgrids can do the most good providing power. It’s not a glamorous job and can involve navigating a lot of mud and sleeping anywhere they can rest their heads. Sometimes they’re away from home for months.
A small nonprofit based in Minneapolis, Minn., Footprint Project has helped keep the power flowing in Louisiana following Hurricane Ida, during Winter Storm Uri in Texas, and for medical facilities for asylum seekers on the US/Mexican border during the COVID outbreak — to name just a few of its recovery missions.
Footprint — along with New Use Energy, another organization that deserves recognition — has also been channeling solar, batteries, inverters and microgrids to Ukrainians since the start of the war with Russia, which is taking aim at Ukraine's electric grid.
Heegaard is the operations director at Footprint Project and the face of the organization. He started as a paramedic working for the International Medical Corps and found his way to clean energy after "spending too much on diesel" before discovering the value of solar refrigeration during an Ebola outbreak in Guinea. (Watch this video around 31:30 to hear him tell the story.)
Footprint’s quick response means a lot to people who have no power for medical equipment, refrigeration, water, internet, heat or air conditioning during a disaster. But Footprint’s operation is small and it can reach only a fraction of those in need during a power outage. So more recently Heegaard has been putting a plan into action to scale the approach and “build back greener” — Footprint’s motto. Under the model, a permanent solar microgrid is built in a disaster prone area with mobile microgrids attached that are at-the-ready to detach and travel into surrounding communities during a power outage.
Footprint Project always needs donations of money and equipment, and its work is attracting a growing number of supporters and partners. Time magazine recently recognized Footprint Project, along with partners Schneider Electric and Microsoft, by placing its mobile solar microgrid on Time’s List of Best Inventions of 2022.
While Footprint Project's work is important, resilience is ultimately achieved by all of us being vigilant to the needs of neighbors, said Heegaard, speaking earlier this year at Microgrid 2022.
“The way to be resilient? It’s community,” he said. “Resilience is about people. People knowing their neighbors. Who is on a ventilator in your three block area? That person needs that suitcase battery. You can save that person’s life if you get that battery from your house to your special needs neighbor.”
Heegaard has made his neighborhood very big. For his work using clean microgrids to help those suffering during power outages — and inspiring others to do the same — we name Will Heegaard as Microgrid Person of the Year 2022.
Join us for Microgrid 2023 May 16-17 in Anaheim, California