by Arthur Jacquiau Chamski
LES ANGLAIS, HAITI — On November 20th, 2012, EarthSpark International launched Haiti’s first pre-pay microgrid. Called EKo Pwòp (short for Elektrisite Kominote Pwòp, or “clean community electricity”) the grid enabled the 14 pioneer customers to light their homes, charge their phones and listen to music for an average US$1.50/month. Given that most households had previously been paying ~$10/month just to light their homes with dim and sooty kerosene. This first tiny grid offered customers significant savings while greatly increasing their quality of service. The grid also enabled EarthSpark to prove the viability of efficient lighting and pre-payment for electricity in rural Haiti.
Leveraging EarthSpark’s work developing clean energy retail networks, EKo Pwòp customers could get updates on their consumption and top-up their energy account in the local “Clean Energy Store”. This payment system gave them the same flexibility as buying kerosene daily or paying a neighbor to charge their phones, while enabling cost recovery for EarthSpark.
In October 2013, EarthSpark expanded grid coverage to a total of 54 customers including a school and several local businesses. With this first expansion, EarthSpark started offering higher levels of service and introduced a new, automatic communication system and custom-made smart meters to improve billing and payment collection. The new service levels partially addressed the higher consumption needs of clients who had previously relied on expensive individual diesel generators or paid battery charging from a neighbor’s diesel generator.
Thanks to built-in load control and energy efficiency, these 54 customers only required about 1KW of power, powered by excess capacity from the nearby telecom tower thanks to a partnership with the telecom company Digicel.
With over 30 months of operation, these two initial grid developments allowed EarthSpark to accumulate significant feedback on its model – on social impact, financial sustainability, and social acceptance. The 54 residential and small business customers grew accustomed to reliable, 24/7 electricity and paid regularly for the high-quality service they received. Others in the community soon started joining the waiting list for expanded grid service.
On April 26, 2015, EarthSpark expanded service to 430 households and businesses, which represent most of Les Anglais downtown area, thanks to a “USAID Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development” grant. The newly installed grid is powered by a state-of-the-art hybrid generation system including 90 kWp of PV capacity, 400 kWh of battery capacity and a small diesel backup generator. EarthSpark has also developed a town-scale distribution system, including a medium-voltage line to ensure quality of electricity and future expansions, a standard electrical installation and our next-gen smart meters provided by EarthSpark spin-off metering company SparkMeter, Inc.
This town-sized, solar-powered, smart grid is transforming Les Anglais, unlocking economic and social potential while serving as a model for EarthSpark to replicate in future grids in Haiti.