By Madie Sturgess and Allison Archambault
With lights gradually coming back on across Les Anglais, ground broken for the new microgrid in the neighboring town of Tiburon, and fundraising for future grids underway, we hope our readers can understand how it’s taken us until May to write our first blog post of 2018. We’re excited to share with you our progress over these last several months.
Long-awaited re-launch in Les Anglais
In the slow but steady recovery from Hurricane Matthew, 50 homes and businesses have now been reconnected to the repaired electricity grid in Les Anglais. A team of local electricians are hard at work installing home wiring for the next batch of customers to be re-connected. Residents are eager to re-register for service, and vendors are back in business selling plop plop (energy credits) to those customers with grid connections. In coordination with the Haitian government, we are planning with a local engineering firm to replace damaged racking and solar panels on the PV generation site which will further expand the available electricity output of the system.
“The long wait for repairs has been difficult for everyone. One silver lining was that we were able to incorporate lessons learned into design improvements for the grid. It is now extremely gratifying to be reconnecting customers,” says Adam Eberwein, microgrid operations manager in Les Anglais.
As our electricians reconnect each subnetwork to the grid, we’re careful to consider the impact of the customer load on the battery and inverter system after 18 months of minimal load. A rebuild plan is underway to build back stronger. From solar panels to re-installed home wiring, no single aspect of the microgrid re-launch is complete yet, but – at last – we are finally switching service back on and feeling great momentum.
Ground-breaking for Microgrid # 2
A fishing village located approximately 45 minutes west of Les Anglais, Tiburon has become the second town to partner with EarthSpark for energy access. After an exhaustive RFP process that attracted 25 bids, we’re proud to have contracted Haitian engineering firm DigitalKap to build the Tiburon solar hybrid generation site. DigitalKap broke ground in Tiburon in January. Racking is now complete, and the installation of solar panels is expected to begin next week. Several open issues stand in the way of the new generation system actually powering the homes and businesses of Tiburon. At the time of this writing, the government of Haiti has committed to repairing the town’s distribution network which was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. The legal and regulatory process for microgrids in Haiti is also in flux in a way that jeopardizes EarthSpark’s ability to connect the generation site to the customers.
At the time of project design, the municipalities had the legal authority to grant concessions, but a national decree followed by the establishment of a national regulation body has now introduced a new layer of approval authority which has not yet fully established its processes. With a slow sigh to how progress often happens with some steps forward and some steps backward, we are both frustrated by what feels like a setback and also appreciative of the opportunity to use this grid as a vanguard project in what can become a much-needed clear legal and regulatory process for establishing and operating microgrids in Haiti. Hooray for stakeholder collaboration and ‘de-risking by doing!’
Getting Started on “Starter Grids”
Haiti’s rural south is scattered with rural municipalities, towns, and villages of all sizes. We look forward to a future where reliable electricity is a reality in each community. To start serving towns smaller than Les Anglais and Tiburon, we are in discussions with two small communities near Les Anglais. We have begun fundraising for 2 “starter grids”; small modular grids that can power approximately 50 homes each and can be easily expanded to serve more customers and higher levels of demand once established. From stand-alone solar lanterns and solar home systems for extremely remote households, to ‘large’ microgrids, many shapes and sizes of clean energy solutions can solve energy poverty. Developing a portfolio of these different solutions continues to be central to EarthSpark’s commitment to “proving what is possible” for energy access in Haiti.
Beyond the Les Anglais and Tiburon grids and two ‘starter grids’, we are working towards four additional microgrids that can deliver affordable, reliable, clean electricity to an additional 4 communities within a year. In order to mainstream microgrids in Haiti, it is critical to continue pushing through the processes, clarifying the policies, and building the track record that can become investable for the next 20 grids. At times, finding the stepping stones to our ultimate goal of enabling 80 microgrids in Haiti feels like a leap into the dark, but as the light returns to homes in Les Anglais we're reminded that progress is possible.