By Rachel McManus
With a small, nimble team, EarthSpark has always been able to embrace opportunity and rise to meet challenges. After opening the first Clean Energy Store in Haiti in 2010, EarthSpark expanded the Enèji Pwòp brand (‘Clean Energy’ in Haitian Creole) to train and serve over 100 clean energy entrepreneurs across Haiti. A lot has changed since then!
As we work on expanding microgrid electricity alongside our retail efforts, our model is evolving.
EarthSpark has been working on energy access in Haiti since 2008, facing many challenges and successes along the way. Small and flexible, we have been able to meet these challenges and adapt our strategies quickly.
From starting with the lone Magazen Enèji Pwòp in Les Anglais in 2010 we altered our distribution strategy in 2012 to a fluid network of entrepreneurs across Haiti selling high-quality, 3rd party tested solar lights and efficient cookstoves. To date, Enèji Pwòp SA has sold over 14,000 products. This has been one of our greatest successes.
While developing the retail side, EarthSpark also saw the potential for micro-grid development as a way to deliver grid-quality electricity to towns, leap-frog traditional diesel-based energy access straight to clean, renewable smart-grids. In 2012 we turned on a tiny pilot grid – generously powered by the telecommunications company Digicel’s diesel generator. That grid was Haiti’s first pre-pay microgrid. In April 2015, we launched Haiti’s first town-sized solar-powered smart grid.
The Les Anglais grid is one of our proudest accomplishments and also what we see as our most important contribution to the energy sector in Haiti. The years of research, planning and implementation of the grid have provided us with invaluable experience and training on a business model that we think can change the way in which homes in rural Haitian towns are electrified. We are still refining our operations and procedures but believe we are really on to something that is replicable.
In recent years EarthSpark and Enèji Pwòp, as well as other solar product distributors in Haiti and around the world, have seen increased competition and market spoilage from low-quality solar lamp manufacturers. While it is good that there are more solar distributers out there, we fear that low-quality products will cause consumers to lose faith in solar products at a time we are already struggling to compete.
At the same time we also believe that we have found our niche in microgrid development. We are not leaving our retail side behind, but we are doubling our focus on grid development and the ensuing operation and maintenance of microgrids. Enèji Pwòp took over daily operation of the Les Anglais grid in June 2015, and we are working out the processes of running a utility company as we plan future grids. Enèji Pwòp is still selling solar lights and cookstoves and will continue to do so. In fact, we see microgrid operation as an excellent way to address an important piece of the expensive ‘last mile distribution’ problem in rural solar distribution. Having energy-savvy staff in the grid-powered towns will enable us to share resources across grid and non-grid efforts. Solar lights are an excellent way to build brand recognition in communities which will be sites for microgrids and will continue to be the best solution for the enormous population that will remain off-(micro!) grid for the foreseeable future.
As we continue down this path, we look forward to new challenges and successes and, as ever, we are grateful for your support!