Energy companies and equipment suppliers to the power generation industry have been at the forefront of efforts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Utilities have suspended shutoffs of services to customers impacted by the economic crisis, and have instituted protocols to maintain proper staffing levels to ensure the reliable delivery of electricity during a time when many workers—and students—must operate from home.
These same companies are supporting the medical community by using 3D printers to create masks, and manufacturing or refurbishing ventilators. Some with construction capabilities have stepped in to help build field hospitals in areas hardest hit by the coronavirus. Others have organized community food drives, in effect operating food banks to deliver needed supplies to those most vulnerable to the virus.
Five U.S. national laboratories, with the help of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), are harnessing the power of supercomputers to combat COVID-19. The labs—Argonne, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Sandia—are part of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium. The group is a private-public effort led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the DOE, and IBM, designed to bring together federal government, industry, and academic leaders. Those involved are volunteering free computing time and resources on their machines, providing COVID-19 researchers with access to powerful high-performance computing resources.
Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, in discussing the effort last week, said providing access to “the world’s most powerful computing resources” would accelerate research and discovery capabilities in the fight against the coronavirus.
GE Team Using 3D Printing to Make Shields for Masks
GE Renewable Energy on April 2 noted how its wind turbine factory in Pensacola, Florida, is using a 3D printer to build plastic shields for protecting disposable N95 masks. Caroline Shaw, a sourcing manager at the factory, needed a way to supply a team of GE workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), in order to help keep those workers safe as they screened other factory employees for signs of fevers or other illness.
Shaw, in an article published by GE on Thursday, said a message posted by a friend on Facebook on March 22—a message about using a 3D printer to make those plastic shields—made her realize her plant could do the same. Shaw knows additive manufacturing, another term for 3D printing, because the Pensacola factory has an industrial-grade 3D printer to make tooling and custom-made gauges, and prototype wind turbine components.
Shaw made a plastic prototype of an N95 shield the next day. An on-site nurse tried it out that afternoon. The following day, Tiffany Craft, an engineer at the factory, began printing the shields, and gave them to her emergency response team, taking time to deliver a few to a local hospital.
Craft has been testing several materials, and making prototypes of full-mask designs. According to GE, she’s “helping build a design library where GE teams from around the world planning to 3D-print personal protection equipment can go for insights.” GE said those teams include personnel from GE Aviation, GE Research, and GE Power, both in the U.S. and Hungary. At present, it takes about 40 minutes to make each shield, though the teams are working on a process that could reduce that time to five minutes for each mask, using laser or die cutting.
FirstEnergy Helping Food Banks as Part of $2 Million in Donations
The FirstEnergy Foundation is donating $500,000 to 42 food banks and hunger centers in communities served by FirstEnergy’s utility companies in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and New Jersey. The company this week said more than 150 organizations have benefited from $2 million in contributions from the foundation, which said it is accelerating about $1.5 million in matching contributions to 116 United Way agencies throughout the company’s service territory during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lorna Wisham, the foundation’s president and FirstEnergy’s vice president for community involvement, said, “The pandemic requires an urgent and strategic response from the philanthropic community, and fast-tracking funding to our United Way agencies for operational and program support is a way FirstEnergy can help.”
The FirstEnergy Foundation matches its employees’ donations and distributes funds to the United Way on a rolling basis throughout the year.
NextEra Energy Pledges $1.5 Million in Community Assistance
NextEra Energy was among the first power companies to announce a community assistance package. The company in mid-March pledged $1.5 million in funds from the NextEra Energy Foundation and Gulf Power Foundation. NextEra said the money would be distributed to partner organizations during the coronavirus pandemic to provide “critical support” to the most vulnerable people.
“As the world’s largest clean energy company, we’ve responded to countless crises over the years and understand how vital it is to be there for our communities when we’re needed the most—and COVID-19 is no different,” NextEra Energy Chairman and CEO Jim Robo said in a statement. “We are steadfastly committed to doing everything we can to assist the most vulnerable in our communities as we all work through this unsettling and difficult time together. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and I strongly encourage other businesses to join this effort.”
NextEra Energy oversees companies operating in 45 states, including Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility. It began its program with a $100,000 donation to the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin counties.
Exelon Donating $2 Million to Illinois Fund
The Exelon Foundation, along with Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and Exelon Generation, on March 27 announced a $2 million donation to the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund to help Illinois residents impacted by the pandemic. This donation adds to the more than $1.15 million Exelon Corp. and its family of companies previously donated to national and local relief organizations in the communities they serve. Previous donations include $250,000 to the United Way of Metro Chicago and the Chicago Community Trust’s COVID-19 Response Fund to support their efforts to provide essential services during the pandemic.
“We are committed to supporting our customers and communities in their time of need. This donation will assist Illinois charities and relief organizations with much-needed resources to address hardships caused by this pandemic throughout the state,” said Chris Crane, president and CEO of Exelon, and chairman of the Exelon Foundation. “As a provider of critical resources and infrastructure, we recognize our foundational role in responding to this crisis for as long [as] it takes our communities to recover. We will continue to provide assistance to our neighbors experiencing health or economic challenges, while ensuring access to reliable energy services.”
Exelon subsidiary PECO, Pennsylvania’s largest electric and natural gas utility, said it is contributing a total of $500,000 to United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey’s PHL COVID-19 Fund. PECO said it also is donating money to other nonprofit and community organizations to support their efforts to provide essential services during the pandemic.
“Amid the continuing spread of this pandemic, we remain committed to helping support the communities that need us most,” said Mike Innocenzo, PECO president and CEO. “Our donation aims to provide essential resources to organizations supporting the most vulnerable during this period. As a provider of critical resources and infrastructure, we understand the gravity of our response to this crisis and will ensure that our customers experiencing health or economic challenges due to COVID-19, will maintain access to their electric and gas service.”
Bruce Power Nuclear Donates PPE
Bruce Power, Canada’s only private nuclear power generator, is donating 600,000 pieces of PPE to Ontario’s provincial government. The company announced the donation of gloves, masks, and gowns on April 1, and said it is intended to supply health care workers across Ontario.
The Major Component Replacement project at the Bruce nuclear plant, designed to extend the facility’s operating life, has been scaled back to only essential tasks. Bruce Power said that move will allow the company to focus on generating electricity, and production of cobalt-60 for medical sterilization.
Georgia Power Offers ‘Thank a Lineman’ Program
Georgia Power for the past eight years has had a program enabling customers to thank utility workers across the state. The company on April 1 said its 2020 Thank a Lineman initiative—customers can say “thank you” by signing a digital card on a company website—is particularly important due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now more than ever, our teammates are rising above the challenges we face and showing their dedication to work as safely as possible to keep the lights on for our 2.6 million customers across Georgia,” said Pedro Cherry, executive vice president of Customer Service and Operations for Georgia Power, in a news release about the program. “We are proud to thank them and show our appreciation for the critical work they do not only this month, but throughout the year.”
Bloom Energy Refurbishing Ventilators
Silicon Valley-based Bloom Energy is refurbishing ventilators at its site in Sunnyvale, California. California Gov. Gavin Newsom toured the site on March 28, along with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
Bloom, which produces a fuel cell Energy Server platform, is refurbishing ventilators that the state has kept in storage. Newsom on March 27 asked Bloom CEO KR Sridhar whether the company could refurbish ventilators, and Bloom workers had 24 ventilators ready to go the next day. The company this week is beginning refurbishment work at its plant in Newark, Delaware.
Bloom told POWER “the company estimates it could refurbish hundreds of ventilators a week, helping to meet the anticipated high demand.”
Companies Partner to Support Ventilator Manufacturing
Digi-Key Electronics, a global electronic components distributor, and Z2Data have partnered to offer priority support and component data for companies making ventilators and testing solutions during the pandemic. Digi-Key is offering the services at no cost, in order to help medical device manufacturers source components quickly and ramp up production.
Z2Data in the partnership is offering no-cost access to its database of more than 1 billion electronic components through its Part Risk Manager and Supply Chain Watch tools, enabling better part selection decisions and inventory tracking.
“Revamping older designs for ventilators and testing equipment, or creating new designs, requires selecting electronic components and alternatives as soon as possible. To ramp up production, multiple supply sources and component data are required. Z2Data’s tools and database help engineers and supply chain professionals make critical decisions enabling the organizations at the forefront of this crisis to get to market faster,” said Mohammad Ahmad, president of Z2Data.
Jim Ricciardelli, executive vice president of digital business at Digi-Key, said, “Digi-Key’s inventory-rich model has been a huge asset during this unpredictable time. We are looking forward to helping more organizations innovate to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic with our extensive support and same-day shipping, as well as the deep component data provided from this partnership with Z2Data.”
Gas Flaring Tech Powering Cloud Computing
Crusoe Energy Systems is using its digital flare mitigation (DFM) technology, used to convert flared natural gas into electricity, to power on-site modular cloud computing, as part of the fight against COVID-19. The company as part of its response to the pandemic is donating computing power to Stanford University’s crowd-sourced computing laboratory. The Stanford lab models proteins that could have therapeutic value, and that could help find coronavirus antibodies. The initial target application for the technology has been bitcoin mining.
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).