by Ian Muir
LES ANGLAIS, HAITI — On a mild January day, Blaise Heromme is going house to house in the southwestern Haitian town of Les Anglais, marking mounting locations for future customer’s smart-meters. While a Les Anglais native, until recently, Blaise had been living in Port-au-Prince due to a lack of opportunities back home. Then late last summer, he received a text message from an excited cousin saying that EarthSpark was hiring certified electricians in Les Anglais. He jumped at the opportunity to be back with his family and, in no time, had an interview scheduled and was on a bus heading south. Fast forward to today and Blaise is part of a team of local electricians responsible for wiring homes and businesses in preparation for start-up of the expanded Les Anglais microgrid.
For some perspective, since late 2012, EarthSpark International, with its local affiliate, EKo Pwòp, has provided affordable electricity to a small but diverse group of residents in Les Anglais. EarthSpark and EKo Pwòp, which stands for Elektrisite Kominote Pwòp (“clean community electricity” in Haitian Creole), have had tremendous success with this pilot microgrid. With access to reliable electricity, eligible households switched from smoky kerosene lamps to efficient light bulbs which are safer and cheaper to operate, while offering much higher quality light.
Then in late 2013, the system’s success resulted in a grant from USAID for the expansion of microgrid coverage to the entire Les Anglais downtown area and support for the electrification of local agricultural processing. It was clear that such a system would require a sizeable new generation source mated with new distribution infrastructure that could bring power to customers farther afield. So the EarthSpark team set out to design a system that would generate, store, and deliver electricity to the townspeople in an affordable, reliable, and sustainable manner.
Today, the expanded microgrid is nearing completion. Over the past six months, installation crews have built out a near-100 kilowatt solar photovoltaic array and, in parallel, a first-class distribution system that will soon be transmitting electricity to some 450 homes, small businesses, and public buildings—each wired by Blaise and his team. The new microgrid will be the first of its kind in Haiti, generating power almost exclusively from the sun and employing batteries for storage and smart meters for both maintaining system stability and allowing pre-pay capability.
For the vast majority of customers, this will be their first time with a grid connection, and everyone is excited to witness the positive impacts that electricity–such a versatile energy source—can have here. Many customers will simply power lights and charge phones, but others will leverage this electricity to run small businesses. The project will also continue to provide employment to Blaise and other motivated individuals thanks to ongoing needs on the electrical, security, and maintenance fronts.
Start-up of the expanded grid is scheduled for early February, with full ramp-up in mid-March. And the entire EarthSpark team is excited to share updates with our benefactors as these milestones approach and beyond. We are exceptionally grateful for all the support we’ve received—financial, moral, and logistical. And we hope you’ll remain engaged as we work to make energy poverty a thing of the past in Haiti.