In their letter, nuns who run a Puerto Rican halfway house explained that the girls in their care have weathered Hurricane Maria in good health, thanks to a solar-charged battery pack sold by a Pocatello technology company, Inergy Power Solutions.
The nuns purchased the Pocatello company’s flagship product — a 19.5-pound Kodiak battery pack — shortly after the hurricane wiped out power throughout the island last September. Jared Grover, vice president of sales with Inergy, said the nuns mailed Inergy photographs and a description of how they used the unit to keep a small refrigerator running, thereby preserving critical medicine for the girls.
Grover said the letter was the catalyst for Inergy’s extensive involvement in providing humanitarian aid throughout Puerto Rico, as well as an upcoming campaign, #EmpowerPuertoRico, to restore power for some of the nation’s approximately 11,000 residents still without electricity.
“Health care, commerce, education, lights, refrigeration — all of that relies heavily on power, and if we can bring that to these rural areas that have been overlooked, that’s accomplishing our mission we have wanted to do from the beginning of Inergy,” Grover said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency named Inergy as a primary supplier of solar-powered generators to Puerto Rico following the disaster, but the declaration failed to result in any units reaching people in need for bureaucratic reasons, Grover said.
Ultimately, a philanthropic organization founded by the late Rev. Billy Graham, called Samaritan’s Purse, purchased 100 of the units and distributed them to Puerto Rican families.
Furthermore, through July 22, Inergy has vowed to donate a Kodiak to victims in Puerto Rico for every unit it sells. Grover and the company’s CEO, Sean Luangrath, plan to take some staff members to Puerto Rico later this summer to distribute the units.
Inergy’s co-founder, James Brainard, invented the Kodiak about six years ago, getting the idea after studying a battery pack used to jumpstart cars. He approached his boss at the time, Brad Barrott, owner of Big Dog Satellites and its solar energy division, for funding toward research and development. Barrott went on to become a co-founder.
Brainard said Inergy now employs about 20 full-time workers and should add 10 more employees within the next few months. He said the company has grown by 30 to 50 percent each month throughout the past two years and has become “stressed because we don’t have the manpower to do the things we need to get done.”
Kodiaks are most popular among RV owners and have also been used extensively in powering tiny houses that are located off of the grid, Brainard said. He explained the company’s financial successes have enabled Inergy to increase its involvement in humanitarian aid.
“In Puerto Rico, there were a whole number of deaths to people on oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment, who died because they didn’t have the power to operate their equipment,” Brainard said.
Inergy hopes to donate at least 200 Kodiaks to Puerto Rican families through the ongoing promotion.
Luangrath — a former refugee who fled Laos following its Communist takeover in the 1970s — understands from experience how challenging it is for people to live without power.
“Most people can’t imagine living without power for one day, but in Puerto Rico, it has been 290 days,” Luangrath said in a press release.
Elsewhere in the world, Brainard said Kodiaks are being used to power an orphanage in Ghana and a hospital in Haiti. He said a medical team from Pocatello was the first to respond to Nepal following a devastating earthquake in April 2015, and they brought Kodiaks to power medical triage tents. The medical team, led by a Pocatello nephrologist, Dr. Fahim Rahim, plans to return to Nepal soon, with more Kodiaks to power a planned remote hospital.
Inergy, located at 880 N. Fifth Ave., received a $20,000 grant through Pocatello Development Authority to renovate its current location. Idaho Commerce awarded Inergy a $200,000 grant, through its Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission program, to partner with University of Idaho on developing the next generation of inverters.
Brainard explained the resulting product, to be called K2, is 99 percent efficient — about 10 to 15 percent more efficient than the best inverters currently on the market — and it should pack 25 percent more power than the original Kodiak. Furthermore, the inverter will be separated from the battery, enabling users to charge several batteries in a stack at once.