By Jamie Trahan
October 26th marked 6 months of operation of the solar powered smart microgrid in Les Anglais. Each month has been full of learning experiences that are invaluable as we prepare our future endeavors in rural electrification in Haiti. With the grid in its infancy, we are developing and streamlining processes for smooth daily operation and tackling a few technical hurdles. We are not just learning about the community’s needs but are learning together with the community. And we are not the only ones who are excited! Though the grid launched with 430 clients in April, we now have 440 customers, and over 30 residents have signed up and are eagerly awaiting a new installation for their home or business. We are also working on plans to extend the current footprint of the grid to include an additional street in Les Anglais, which should be completed before the year’s end. Bon bagay! (Haitian Creole for “good stuff”!)
A particularly novel feature of our microgrid is the use of a smart meter technology developed by EarthSpark’s own spin-off company SparkMeter. These high-functionality, low-cost meters were developed to meet the special needs of grid operators in expanding electricity access to low-consumption customers. One of the most salient SparkMeter features is its prepayment system, allowing customers to buy energy when they need it and as much as they can afford, in the same way that they currently pay for cell phone credit and kerosene. This obviates a high monthly electricity bill that is often more than they can afford and ensures cost recovery for the utility company. Among many other customizable applications, the smart meter also allows for time-of-use pricing. This functionality enables EarthSpark to charge a lower price for electricity during the middle of the day when the grid has extra low-cost solar-powered electricity and incentivizes consumption when energy costs are lower. While the grid is 24 hours/day, electricity is more expensive to deliver when the electricity is coming from the grid’s batteries.
With the smart meter technology in place, we can monitor electricity consumption across the entire grid and down to the level of each individual household. The data can then be used to manage loads, to educate clients on energy efficiency, and to evaluate and resolve technical problems that may arise. Technical issues will not repair themselves, and EarthSpark was thrilled to be able to expand its team this summer. Reozi Meisson is a resident of Les Anglais and a trained electrician who is now serving as the Grid Technician. On any given day, you may find Reozi climbing a ladder to repair a transformer, testing the circuits of a client’s home, or working with our Grid Ambassador Rosane on theft detection. Electricity theft is a major challenge for utilities across the world, and must be addressed diligently and carefully to ensure that all customers are aware of the consequences of theft for the community and for the grid. Eko Pwòp, our local grid brand, is not impervious to these challenges, and we are working on technical and non-technical solutions to manage theft.
EarthSpark is looking forward not just to powering the people of Les Anglais but to empowering them. We are exploring solutions in which electricity from the grid can be used to promote business development and can facilitate replacement of fossil fuel powered machines with emission free technologies. We hope to expand our business model so that we can service other rural towns in Haiti, and hope you will join us in this journey.