Sustainable energy for all? Reducing energy poverty in rural Haiti

An Enèji Pwòp solar light sits on top of the planning map for the microgrid in Les Anglais in Haiti. Photo by: EarthSpark International

We find ourselves in the decade of “Sustainable Energy for All,” as declared by the U.N. General Assembly. But meeting the needs of the 1.2 billion people on the planet who lack access to electricity is no small task, especially since 85 percent of the world’s unelectrified population lives in rural areas.

As the International Energy Agency predicts, 40 percent of new electricity connections will result from microgrids, rather than traditional grid extension projects or distributed household-sized generation.

EarthSpark International has a vision for providing affordable, reliable, clean electricity to Haitians within this microgrid framework. Currently, 75 percent of people living in Haiti lack electricity access, relying instead on dirty, expensive fuels such as kerosene for cooking and lighting.

With the recent unveiling of Haiti’s first solar-powered, prepaid microgrid in Les Anglais, EarthSpark and its Haitian social enterprise spin-off, Enèji Pwòp, S.A., have created a model for leapfrogging past traditional grid extension solutions. This model may be scaled up, electrifying rural populations across the rest of the country and in other parts of the developing world.

In the words of Marc André Chrysostom at the energy unit of the Haitian Ministry of Public Works, “This solar hybrid grid is the first of its kind in Haiti. It is a very good model and should serve as a pilot to allow Haitian students and technicians to strengthen their capacities for rural electrification and microgrids."

The Les Anglais microgrid has four characteristics that make it particularly effective and that should serve as guidelines to others working in the energy access field: Efficient and complementary domestic and commercial uses of electricity, renewable (solar) generation, battery storage, and prepaid smart meter technology.

The effectiveness of the town-sized microgrid in Les Anglais, currently serving about 2,000 customers, arises from the ability to marry both domestic and commercial uses of electricity to manage demand. With over half of the population of downtown Les Anglais employed in the agricultural sector, increased electricity access can lead to higher quality post-harvest processing.

Microgrid electricity is far cheaper per kilowatt-hour than candles or kerosene and also less expensive than diesel generator alternatives for local businesses. A hybrid-renewable setup means that most of the electricity produced in Les Anglais is now fuel-less, insulating the consumers from the whims of fluctuating global energy prices. Additionally, solar energy is “clean,” eliminating soot and making the air healthier to breathe.

This Les Anglais microgrid has battery storage, which allows residents to have access to electricity 24/7 — not just when the sun is shining. Battery storage is crucial, allowing businesses to stay open longer and residents to read or study in the evenings by electric lighting. Storage ensures that electricity is not just available and affordable, but also reliable.

The final important component of the Les Anglais microgrid is the development of smart meters by a spinoff of EarthSpark called SparkMeter, Inc. The development of these meters allows residents of Les Anglais to prepay for electricity, allowing residents to have control over their electricity expenditures and the grid operators to more efficiently manage grid operations.

On May 21, 2015, at the U.N. Sustainable Energy for All Forum, EarthSpark and Enèji Pwòp, S.A. announced a joint commitment to build 80 microgrids in Haiti by the end of 2020. A feasibility study of 100 towns across rural Haiti will first be completed with funding from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

In the words of EarthSpark President Allison Archambault, “The point of what we're doing is to prove out a viable business model that can be scaled and replicated throughout Haiti and the rest of world."

Indeed, the residents of Les Anglais now have access to cleaner, cheaper, healthier energy. With this model in hand, it is time to stamp out energy poverty for many of the remaining 1.2 billion people who are still in the dark.

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About the author

  • Alexandra Fisher

    Alex Fisher is a professional working in energy access, with a particular focus on microgrid solutions for rural electrification. Currently, she is working with EarthSpark International and Enèji Pwòp, S.A. to complete a 100-town microgrid feasibility study in Haiti.

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