by Allison Archambault
In the 1980's in the US, to buy a personal computer was to hire a talented integrator who would buy specialized components - a hard drive, a motherboard, memory cards, a monitor, etc. - from diverse suppliers and then fit together a customized, hand-built system.
In the early 2000's in the US, to buy a residential solar system was to hire a talented integrator who would buy specialized components - PV modules, racking, an inverter, etc. - from diverse suppliers and then fit together a customized, hand-built system.
Today, to build a town-sized, solar powered smart grid for energy access, is to hire (or employ) several teams of talented integrators who source specialized components to build several custom systems (a generation system, a distribution system) that can fit together to make pieces of a grid. While managing the process, logistics, and integration of the generation and distribution systems takes time, there are still other gaps to be filled. In EarthSpark's case, we needed to hire local electricians to install home wiring, and we needed to develop a whole new metering technology (and spin off a whole new company!) to fully realize the 'smart' part of smartgrid for our customers. Eventually, and soon, we will arrive at a customized, hand-built system.
There is a trend: Things get easier. Technology gets standardized. Processes get streamlined, but the early bits are lumpy.
EarthSpark is fortunate to have a world-class team working extremely hard with ever-changing variables in challenging environments to get this first smart solar grid expansion going. We are also lucky to count enormously talented and committed companies, organizations, government bodies, and individual supporters as teammates in this effort. Even so, the Les Anglais grid has taken longer to get online than we had planned. It has taken more time, more money, and more grit than any of us had envisioned.
This is the hard work of pushing through a first process. This is why EarthSpark emphasizes that while we are expanding energy access, the core of our work is doing the 'research and development' on the models that can eventually spin off and scale to solve energy access. We are, of course, not alone. Others are working on microgrids, and others are working in Haiti. But, together, we are very much still in the early days of streamlining how everything needs to fit together for this sector. The Les Anglais grid is an early actor in a long and well-known story of innovation and implementation, and this grid is almost on. The next one will be easier. The 10th grid will be easier still.
Building a world-class solar powered smart grid in rural Haiti comes with some real challenges. We'll spare our readers (and our suppliers) the agony of airing the details here. The stories will be better when they have neat resolutions and happy endings. While our initial 54 customers are still enjoying 24/7 electricity, our next customers are still waiting. Our new tentative turn-on date is the end of April. We'll be posting updates on this page as things progress.