One year ago today, the storm surge from Hurricane Matthew began to pound the shores of Les Anglais, Haiti. Through the night, Matthew would pummel the town – shooting trees, buildings, and debris left to right, then, after an eerily quiet respite as the eye passed, relaunching debris from right to left as the bottom of the storm slowly moved north.
Les Anglais was devastated. Smaller towns and places higher in the mountains even more so. The road had been washed away. Buildings and crops were gone. Almost everyone had lost their homes.
Before the storm, Les Anglais had served as a testing ground for EarthSpark’s novel, nearly 100% solar-powered electricity grid. After the storm hit, electricity was not the priority in Les Anglais; shelter, water purification tabs, food, and health care were all more pressing needs. The electric grid that had served the town had suffered downed power lines and lost about 40% of the solar panels to wind and falling structures. Even had we had the funding to immediately repair the distribution system, repairs would have initially been impossible because, sadly, most clients had lost their homes and businesses and needed to rebuild before electricity could be safely restored.
There's a difference between disaster response and resiliency planning. In our experience, immediately after Matthew, stand-alone solar lanterns and solar home systems were still working, easily deployable, and helpful for the basic needs of lighting and phone charging. The town grid’s solar array was damaged, but it was relatively straightforward to get about half of the array back online. Even without the poles-and-wires distribution system, the solar plus battery storage was able to serve community needs and businesses with higher levels of power directly from the generation site. We are just now starting the process of repairing the distribution system.
This year, the EarthSpark team is watching with heavy hearts as other places get pummeled. We've been spared so far this hurricane season, but our hearts are with those who have been hit by the recent storms. It's awful to see all of the destruction and to know these scenes are going to become more and more common throughout the Caribbean, so it's a good time to work toward real resilience for all of these communities in the face of these climate disasters.
One island over from Haiti, Puerto Rico's power grid is not likely to be restored for many weeks or months. El Puente, a local organization with climate organizing roots is working to get small-scale distributed solar supplies to the families of PR. They’ve established a solar fund and could use your help.
This week in Les Anglais, the EarthSpark team is working with a local Haitian company to take the first step toward rehabilitating our grid’s distribution system, and we plan to have full service re-established soon. Even in our little grid, reconstruction has taken time, but the lesson for us is the more distributed the solar + batteries, the more resilient the system.
Haiti has yet to build energy infrastructure to serve its entire population, and it sounds like Puerto Rico and the other islands recently hit by storms will need to significantly rebuild. In both cases, where there is no incumbent infrastructure there is an opportunity to build new systems that make sense using today's technologies. As climate change drives more intense hurricanes, local, fuel-free infrastructure for critical services can truly empower vulnerable communities.
While community-scale microgrids hold enormous potential to expand energy access across rural Haiti, the process of developing these microgrids is not fully clear and not without risk. The risks can always be overcome, of course, but getting to an investable model for microgrid development is far from clear-cut - or easy!
Legal and Regulatory Risk
Just before former president Michel Martelly left office, he released three decrees related to the electricity sector in Haiti. These decrees have been a cause for debate ever since as they have the potential to completely transform the existing regulatory environment for all aspects of the electricity sector in Haiti. The decrees never fully entered into effect, and, more than a year later, it is unknown if and how these decrees will be implemented. The new president has stated that electricity will be a priority, and there is great potential for President Moïse and his government to unlock microgrid potential for rural Haiti with thoughtful electricity regulation. (More on that here.)
As much as everyone works toward integrated, plug-and-play microgrids, they are not yet the norm. For each grid, it takes several teams worth of effort to locate specialized parts, build custom systems, and employ local electricians to install necessary wiring in customer’s homes. Beyond spinning off SparkMeter, EarthSpark works closely with technology providers to ensure that their products and services will function well in the rugged and remote environment of rural Haiti. It turns out, alas, that there are no "easy parts" to microgrid electrification.
In October of 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit the coast of Haiti. The town of Les Anglais, where EarthSpark’s energy access microgrid is located, was at the center of the storm. It was a 50 year storm 1.5 years into the Les Anglais grid operations. Communication was lost with the Haiti team for a total of three days. After communication was reestablished, the scope of the devastation in the wake of the storm was revealed. 40% of the microgrid’s solar panels were lost in the storm and the distribution system was rendered inoperable. Power electronics and the battery bank managed to survive the storm undamaged. Sadly, much of Les Anglais was destroyed in the hurricane and many lost their homes along with the structure and home wiring required to safely reconnect to grid electricity.
Theft of physical assets and theft of electricity remain risks throughout the lifetime of the infrastructure. 15 cases of electricity theft have occurred since the microgrid launched in 2015. Sadly one of those cases was perpetrated by Enèji Pwòp's own (former) technician. Neither technical nor social approaches can alone solve theft, thus EarthSpark has been using a combination of both community engagement and technology to combat this problem. An energy advisory committee leads community meetings and customer checks, and totalizer meters automatically detect and approximate losses from energy theft, sending alerts in the case of any discrepancies.
Delays in the presidential election cycles caused an ongoing political crisis in Haiti which were not resolved until early 2017. Uncertainty around the national political cycle and outcomes have led to widespread hesitation on the part of international organizations and external funders as well as difficulty in gaining clarity in the regulatory environment. Furthermore, without clarity on the concession process, upholding negotiated concessions can be difficult when new municipal authorities are elected.
“De-risking by Doing”
Though these risks combined may seem overwhelming, microgrids are worth pursuing. All new technologies and new markets face hurdles. With the approach of “de-risking by doing” EarthSpark is methodically pushing through the risks and, seeking all stakeholders' input, working to establish a clear path for widespread microgrid development in Haiti. That is why right now we are pursuing the goal of establishing 3 additional grant-funded microgrids. The next grid is planned to launch in the fishing town of Tiburon, less than an hour’s drive from Les Anglais. The additional two grids will also on Haiti's southern peninsula. With Haiti's new government poised to modernize rural Haiti with thoughtful, microgrid-enabling regulation, these three grids can serve as points of practical collaboration for which the regulation and processes must work. Alongside the work developing the next three grids, our team is also building the plan for the next 20. In the long story of moving microgrids towards market for rural Haiti, we are at an exciting moment of momentum and opportunity.
The community in Les Anglais is slowly starting to rebuild. A recent survey of our customers said about 90% had some housing structure in place – you can read more about that here. One of the most pressing energy needs identified in the survey was phone charging, with over 90% of our customers saying they needed a way to change their phones. Unfortunately, even though we are hard at work planning for reconstruction, we haven’t been able to restore full service yet. However, we do have generation capacity with more than enough power to charge cell phones.
We have started to offer phone charging at the generation site to address community wishes as we get back in the swing of things. Rosane, the Enèji Pwòp Grid Ambassador is managing this. We’re starting slowly at first, just a few hours a day a couple days a week and charging rates in line with the local market and not by the kWh. We may open up charging to other items (laptops, batteries, radios, etc) if there seems to be a need. While what we really want is to be able to restore the same level of service we were providing before, we’re happy we can help out the community in the meantime!
by Wendy Sanassee
It’s been more than 3 months since Hurricane Matthew struck Les Anglais, and the community has started reconstruction by doing whatever possible to get their lives back on track. We thought our supporters would like an update on how the community is faring. The storm severely damaged homes and businesses in Les Anglais. All of Enèji Pwòp’s 450 customers were affected but to differing degrees. To assess the damage to the community and gauge when homes would be rebuilt and ready for connection to the grid, we carried out a door-to-door survey at the end of 2016. We talked to 84% of our customers to assess the level to which they were impacted and gather information on the state of remaining structures, the state of remaining electrical components, and energy access needs in the aftermath of Matthew.
Results indicated that over 85% of customers still had at least part of two rooms and a roof intact in their structure. This was either because their homes had only been partially destroyed by the storm or because they had been able to at least partially reconstruct their structures with scrap metal and donated tarps. Before the storm, most houses were made with concrete blocks and rocks for walls and metal sheets for roofs but the combination of those three materials have shown a low resistance to the category 4 hurricane. Another observation: most pf the affected houses faced the coast and had suffered either from the storm surge or were directly exposed to the wind gusts coming from the sea because of their location. About 12% of our customers were still displaced from their house at the time of the survey. Of those 12%, over 90% have the firm intention of going back to their pre-Matthew housing and about 4% will not. The likelihood of the customers returning to their previous housing appears to be directly related to the house owner’s ability to obtain the financial resources to rebuild.
Rebuilding is an essential prerequisite for customers' reconnection when grid service is restored in Les Anglais. Many people would like to rebuild with concrete to be better prepared for the next big storm, but in reality metal sheets are much more likely to be used because they are more affordable, easily sourced locally and easier to install. Because of this, most customers (72%) plan to re-roof with metal sheets compared to only 14% using concrete as the main reconstruction material.
The survey was also designed to find out how the components and materials used for connection to the grid fared. Given the extent of the storm's damage in the town, the survey results were surprisingly positive. On average, the components’ survival rate was about 69%. The remaining materials were either blown away during the storm or were intact but damaged. The most robust component of the home wiring installation was the breaker box (85.4%) and 67.5% of the SparkMeters were reported to still be in good condition. We are currently carrying out individual testing to find out which meters can still be used.
The population of Les Anglais is “thirsty for electricity”, as they phrase it. Even though phone charging stations exist, they are considered insufficient and have been identified as the greatest power needs, with over 90% of the respondents asking for this service. Ice is another commodity that is wanted but limited in Les Anglais as it requires a freezer and ultimately a generator and diesel to operate. Lighting is also an issue and solar lamps that were distributed by Enèji Pwòp proved to be the main source of lighting to many customers (37%), followed by kerosene lamps (36.1%).
"Electricity is addictive," explained one survey respondent, "Once one has access to it, one struggles without it." The Les Anglais community is struggling to adapt to the temporary absence of grid power by reverting to kerosene and candles for lighting. People are paying third parties for services such as phone charging that, with grid power, they used to have in their own homes. Customers expressed they are anxious to have Enèji Pwòp electricity back in Les Anglais. While they were initially afraid we would leave the community after the storm, these fears were assuaged when they saw the field team at work gathering downed materials and holding community meetings.
adapted from a presentation to the HOMER Energy Microgrid Conference
by Rachel McManus
EarthSpark is a US based non-profit with the mission of eradicating energy poverty. Our method is to do the r&d on business models that can spin off and scale. We’ve already spun off SparkMeter, a smart metering technology company along with Enèji Pwòp, a Haitian social enterprise. And we are now working on a business model for microgrids.
This is Haiti, where we work. Haiti is a beautiful, vibrant Caribbean country that also happens to be the second independent state in the Western hemisphere and the only born of a slave rebellion. The narrative we often hear is of devastating stories about Haiti so we want to start with the positive.
This blog will talk about our experiences during and after Hurricane Matthew but also highlight two main things: first of all that microgrids for energy access are really hard. And secondly that microgrids for energy access are essential to local resilience. Now is a really exciting time for building the models that can scale to solve pieces of very big problems!
This is also Haiti. Only about 30% of the country has access to electricity. And there are several groups working on energy access solutions there and a portfolio of technologies and products will ultimately solve the energy access problem.
Things were going well for the Les Anglais microgrid. Inaugurated in June 2015, the grid served 450 homes and businesses with electricity 24/7. Customers were saving 50-80% over what they were paying before for kerosene lamps, third party phone charging and small diesel generators. We signed a 9-year concession with our next town and had begun the process of community engagement and household mapping.
Of course though, things were not perfect. Haiti has been going through an electoral crisis and we were also dealing with theft, among many other issues (we’ll be writing more about our experience with theft protection soon!). Even to get to the point of having a grid we had to develop our own smart metering technology.
Things got even more difficult when Matthew, a category 4 hurricane made landfall in Les Anglais at the beginning of October. In the days before the storm, we prepared the grid the best we could. We let the community know in advance that we would have to shut down the grid so that they could charge their phones and radios, we placed sandbags at the generation site, shut off the grid and found safe spaces for our staff.
After the storm passed we had 3 days of no communication before we could learn what had happened. When we made contact, the information we received was devastating. Most people in Les Anglais had lost their homes; we even lost the roof of our own house. Approximately 90 people were killed though we are extremely grateful to find out that all of our staff members were safe.
Aside from preparing immediately before the storm hit, we had built a high-quality system. Our solar panel array was rated for a category 4 storm. We had also made sure not to connect houses to the grid that were in precarious locations. One area of town that we didn’t connect to the grid, Bo Lagon, was sadly wiped away before the storm even hit. In the end, the grid fared comparatively well. In terms of our generation system, we lost about 40% of our panels but the power electronics and battery bank were left unscathed. The distribution system, however, will have to be completely redone. As most of our customers lost their homes it will be a while before we can reconnect them.
It would have been wonderful to be able to say today that our microgrid was up and running and more resilient than the unreliable national grid. But when all your customers have lost their houses, it’s not that easy. Our generation system can be up any day now, but we think it will be about 6-9 months before homes are in place and the distribution system is rebuilt to provide power to our customers.
However, all of this also shows why infrastructure is so important. As relief took place, we saw how lack of infrastructure and planning – poor roads and lack of stored food supplies to name a few, made reaching those in need more difficult. To break from the difficulties of systemic poverty, infrastructure is so crucial. We see integrated electrification as part of a bigger picture of 'integrated economic and environmental resilience' that links to other sectors like roads/transportation, communications, and building materials/practices.
We have to admit that solutions even more decentralized than our grid – such as solar lanterns and small generators - met basic needs better after Matthew. Because people need energy services, not just energy access. We need to be building sustainable, long-term infrastructure, including sustainable energy services that can unlock economic potential with higher levels of power so that we aren’t always just meeting basic needs in developing countries.
EarthSpark is working on getting our microgrid powering homes and businesses as and when the community rebuilds. It’s not easy and there is a lot of risk involved, but our work also holds so much potential for not only solving energy access in Haiti but also unlocking deeper economic security and quality of life for the regions we serve.
After three long days of radio silence, we were able to re-establish communication with our team and confirmed that all EarthSpark and Enèji Pwòp team members are safe and accounted for. Most Les Anglais homes and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged. Trees have been reduced to stumps. We don't yet know the full toll of casualties. So far, people are taking the situation in stride, sheltering where they can, and relying on well water.
The EarthSpark microgrid fared comparatively well. We lost ~25% of the solar panels, but the generation system is largely intact. We're now working with multiple stakeholders on a plan to temporarily retool the energy assets to power urgent disaster relief efforts. Most of the homes and businesses connected to the grid were destroyed, so beyond relief work, we will plan in tandem with reconstruction efforts to re-establish the poles-and-wires distribution system of electricity for the town.
Many thanks to everyone who helped directly or expressed concern as we worked to re-establish contact with our team. We stand with the people of Les Anglais and all of Haiti's southwest peninsula as they work to recover and reconstruct.
Here are some more photos from Les Anglais just after the storm.
Donations will help re-establish and expand electricity service in Les Anglais and the hurricane-effected region. Please donate here now.
With generous funding from the US Trade and Development Agency and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, EarthSpark International, Energy and Security Group, and The Haiti Energy Institute recently completed a countrywide market study of the potential for town-sized, solar-powered microgrids across Haiti. The study was conducted for EarthSpark’s Haitian social enterprise spin-off, Enèji Pwòp, S.A. in order to facilitate a fundable plan for microgrid development. Following a desk study of un-electrified Haitian towns, field research was undertaken in 89 rural towns from July-October of 2015.
The study sample targeted towns with no or limited grid access. With the list of towns finalized, the surveys were designed with input from anthropologists, microgrid consultants, and energy policy advisors with a background in the Haitian cultural and energy contexts and focused upon the following research parameters:
· Energy demand / energy expenditures
· Private generation and appliance ownership
· Current political situation
· Strength of community organizations
· Town infrastructure and ease of accessibility (police station, bank, wire transfer services, roads, ports, etc.)
· Economic drivers and market activity
· Key crops
· Geographic distribution of buildings, town size / density
· NGO and Diaspora presence
The field research team consisted of 20 teams of two researchers, hailing mostly from Haiti, Canada, and the US. Thanks to partnerships with three local universities, Université Quisqueya, Université d’Etat d’Haïti, and Enstiti Travay Sosyal ak Syans Sosyal, 30 Masters level Haitian students were recommended by the deans of their respective universities for research positions.
EarthSpark partnered with the Haitian Energy Institute, which was instrumental in managing logistics of the site visits and on-the-ground interviews. The partners ran a weeklong training session, or “microgrid bootcamp,” in Les Anglais, Haiti, home to EarthSpark’s first microgrid. The training included a multi-disciplinary curriculum on electricity, solar generation, survey methodology, and practice interviews.
An in-house geospatial analysis of each of the towns was undertaken to determine the following: estimate of potential connections, building density, and flood risk. GIS tools used for the study were Google EarthEngine API and QGIS. This project also included a desk study of relevant laws, regulations and decrees relevant to micro-grid development and operation in Haiti, outlining opportunities and challenges.
With this information in hand, EarthSpark and Enèji Pwòp are ever closer to reaching the goal of building 80 microgrids across Haiti. A public version of the report is forthcoming.
Beyond Haiti, EarthSpark is now well positioned to leverage its research methodology and survey experience to undertake or facilitate similar market studies in other countries seeking visibility into microgrid development potential.
Here we feature an excerpt from the Rocky Mountain Institute's recent blog "Changing Lives with Solar Microgrids". Read the full article here.
EarthSpark began working in Haiti providing people with small solar home systems and solar lanterns, products that are life-changing tools for people without access to grid electricity. But the organization soon realized that those aren’t the solutions to which everyone aspires. “To truly unlock economic opportunity, people need access to higher levels of electricity than what a solar home system can provide,” Allison Archambault, president of EarthSpark International, told RMI.
“With the right conditions minigrids can provide energy services in a low-cost sweet spot between small levels of energy consumption that can be effectively served by small stand-alone solar systems and traditional grid extension,” according to Eric Wanless, a principal in RMI’s international practice leading the Sustainable Energy for Economic Development initiative. EarthSpark isn’t the only group focusing on microgrids. Husk Power has brought electricity to 200,000 people in the highly unelectrified state of Bihar in India, using rice husks to fuel microgrids; Powerhive, Devergy, and PowerGen are bringing power to East Africa with solar microgrids; and Gham Power is building solar microgrids in rural Nepal.
A microgrid can give residences and businesses enough power to run motors, process agricultural products, and power freezers. Plus, much of the electricity used by rural industry is seasonal, such as an agricultural mill, which is used during harvest season and on market days. “Building an energy system just for that mill would mean an asset that is under-utilized much of the time,” adds Archambault. “But with a microgrid, you can use that capacity for other uses, and everyone buys down the cost for everyone else. We like to say our system is powerful enough to energize industry, and progressive enough to serve every single customer.”
Read the full article on RMI's blog here.
Scaling Sustainable Energy for All: EarthSpark International and the Case for Micro-grid Infrastructure
By Allison Archambault
Globally, the electricity sector is changing. Two megatrends underlie the necessity of the transition: Climate Change and Energy Access. Worldwide 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity and instead spend large amounts of money on low quality energy services such as kerosene, candles and charcoal. Each year, 4 million people die due to indoor air pollution from these inefficient sources of energy and countless more remain locked in poverty.
Ironically, important innovation in decarbonizing the global energy supply may come from remote villages that have not yet seen electricity. Where there is no incumbent infrastructure, there is an opportunity to build energy systems with today's best technologies and business models. These models that leverage clean energy, storage, smart grid, and customer participation can be adapted and transferred – South to North – to inform the evolving utility business models in established markets.
Smart Meters, Scalable Solutions
Building infrastructure from scratch – where no incumbent exists – means it is possible to leapfrog directly to today’s best technologies and business models, but best practices in smart grid, tariff structures, and grid resiliency have not yet been clearly defined for the ‘energy access’ markets. Enter EarthSpark. When no low-cost, high-functionality smart meters existed on the market for EarthSpark’s inaugural grid in 2012, EarthSpark developed prototype smart meters to meet its needs. In 2013, EarthSpark spun off the smart metering company SparkMeter, Inc., which is now enabling grid operators to increase energy access and improve operations in 5 countries. EarthSpark drives practical innovation to meet the needs of the rural poor, and EarthSpark is now developing a scalable model for microgrid development and operation. Bundling technical innovation, community engagement, diverse partnerships, and novel financing, EarthSpark is building project-based change and ‘de-risking by doing.’
EarthSpark is a non-profit organization working to expand access to high-quality energy services. EarthSpark's mission: eradicate energy poverty. Our method: do the research and development on business models that can spin off and scale to address specific aspects of energy poverty. So far, we have spun off Enèji Pwòp, S.A., a Haitian social enterprise, and SparkMeter, Inc., a smart meter technology company. We have also built a first-of-its-kind, town-sized, solar-powered, smart grid in rural Haiti.
Working in Haiti since 2009, EarthSpark International has sold over 18,000 small-scale clean energy products ranging from solar lanterns to efficient cookstoves. In 2012, EarthSpark turned on a first-of-its-kind privately operated pre-pay microgrid in Les Anglais, Haiti, a small town that had never before had grid electricity. In 2015, EarthSpark expanded the grid to 430 connections, directly serving over 2000 people with 24-hour electricity powered primarily by solar energy and battery storage, cutting customers’ energy costs by up to 80% over previous energy sources. The community-scale grid is large enough to power small industry while progressive enough to offer accessible service to every single resident living within the infrastructure’s footprint. For those living beyond the grid, EarthSpark continues to support local entrepreneurs in the sale and support of stand-alone solar products.
Unlocking Potential: From One to Eighty Grids
EarthSpark aims to build eighty microgrids in Haiti by the end of 2020. With one grid up and running, EarthSpark has learned much, but to get to 80, several barriers need to be cleared. With local partners, EarthSpark has led a 100-town microgrid market assessment for Haiti and worked at several levels to clarify the Haitian legal and regulatory landscape for microgrid development and operation. Planning is one thing, executing is another, and the ‘process risk’ in microgrid development remains extremely high.
EarthSpark is seeking grant funding to build the next three grids and, in parallel, to build the experience-backed fundable plan for the next 40 grids. EarthSpark’s microgrid development experience to-date has underlined the truth that implementation of a process – the actual building of grids – is by far the best way to de-risk the process for future developments.
Integrated Electrification: Empowering People with more than Watt-Hours
Electricity in and of itself is useless. It’s what one does with each watt-hour that is truly transformative. With highly efficient appliances, productive uses of electricity, and thoughtful demand management, not only can customers make the most of newly available electricity, operators can maximize customer value and grid revenue. EarthSpark works with communities and customers to deeply assess energy service needs and opportunities. EarthSpark also takes a ‘feminist electrification’ approach to infrastructure planning, ensuring that women’s voices and roles are important throughout the planning and implementation of the electrification process.
Microgrids, Community Resilience + Sustainable Energy for All
To meet Sustainable Energy for All goals, 40% of all new connections will come from microgrids. Around the world, local governments are looking to microgrids to harden critical infrastructure and improve resiliency. Innovation is portable, and in building a model for clean, smart, transformative community infrastructure, EarthSpark is pursuing deep solutions to both energy access and climate change. Join us!