Microgrids and community electricity
Port-au-Prince electricity rates are some of the highest in the world for service that is erratic. Power outages are a daily occurrence. High operating costs and low payment rates mean that EDH, the state electricity company, runs at a loss, recouping only 35 cents on every dollar spent. In small towns that have their own grids, outages are even more frequent and cost-recovery is just as elusive.
EarthSpark has a bold idea: electricity should be affordable, reliable, and good for the environment.
In partnership with the Government of Haiti, local officials, and the UN Environmental Program, we have launched an exemplary micro-grid in the town of Les Anglais, Haiti, that provides affordable, reliable, and environmentally sensitive electricity service through EKo Pwòp – EarthSpark’s micro-utility enterprise.
The Les Anglais microgrid was launched in November 2012 with just 14 customers. After an expansion to 54 customers at the end of 2013, EarthSpark launched an expanded, town-sized solar-powered smart grid serving 440 households on April 26, 2015. The newly installed grid is powered by a state-of-the-art hybrid generation system developed by EarthSpark partner ZeroBase Energy LLC, including 93 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 expandability. Smart meters developed by EarthSpark spin-off company SparkMeter, Inc. are enabling streamlined pre-payment, billing, monitoring and metering.
Most importantly, the grid is replicable and within five years dozens of small towns will have access to locally-generated affordable, reliable, and sustainable power.
As we continue to do the research and development on a scalable model, that can bring sustainable electricity to many towns, the EarthSpark micro-grid highlights the following:
Just as most Haitians purchase credit for mobile phone minutes (with pre-pay scratch cards or direct mobile top ups) many electricity consumers around the world purchase credit for electricity service in their homes and businesses. Large lump-sum utility bills are problematic because they do not fit with the way that people can afford to pay. Prepayment allows customers to purchase electricity as they purchase kerosene – in small quantities and as they need it. Read more about the pre-payment technology on the Les Anglais grid by visiting SparkMeter, the website of EarthSpark's recent spin-off metering company.
“The most cost-effective energy unit is the one that never needs to be produced.” So goes the motto of efficiency advocates. Deep system efficiency – encompassing end-use, grid management, and power generation – enables high-quality energy services with low generation costs. Many micro-grids are crippled by the cost of oversized generators that power inefficient consumption. A classic example of end-use efficiency is replacing a 100 watt incandescent light bulb with a 3 watt LED light bulb. The LED uses just 3 percent of the other bulb’s required power but provides the exact same lighting service. Reducing the required electricity at the points of use reduces the amount of electricity required on the generation end. There is a virtuous cycle of efficiency that enhances affordability for customers and cost-recovery for service providers.
COLLABORATIVE BUSINESS MODELS
EarthSpark worked with Digicel, Haiti's largest telecommunications company, to leverage the excess capacity from a diesel generator powering their Les Anglais antenna to also power the first phase of the microgrid. EarthSpark is also working with community organizations to select clients and to form customer agreements and working with local businesses to facilitate prepayment hotspots. Focusing on productive uses of electricity with local entrepreneurs, EarthSpark is working closely with local entrepreneurs in Les Anglais to find ways to grow local businesses through access to electricity. (Read more on EarthSpark's approach to integrated rural electrification.)
EarthSpark has worked closely with the Government of Haiti to secure a formal letter of support from the Minister of Public Works and coordination with the national central utility, EDH. Collaboration with the local mayors, senators, deputies, and community groups have all played integral roles in EarthSpark's grid development. Read updates about the Les Anglais microgrid expansion on the EarthSpark blog.
Microgrid highlights from the blog
EarthSpark featured in The Economist film "Solar Frontiers"
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. Read More.
On May 21, 2015, Rachel McManus stood at the podium of the United Naitons General Assembly to announce the EarthSpark and Enèji Pwòp joint commitment to build 80 microgrids in Haiti by 2020. This commitment, made as part of the U.N. Sustainable Energy for All forum, will bring electricity to over 200,000 individuals.
Going from one grid to 80 grids is no small challenge, but the EarthSpark and Enèji Pwòp teams are looking forward to working with the Government of Haiti, local mayors, and a variety of local partners to get it done.
"The point of what we're doing is to prove out a viable business model that can be scaled and replicated throughout Haiti and the rest of world," says Allison Archambault, President of EarthSpark. "That model is: deliver affordable, reliable energy services to homes and businesses in small towns with town-sized, solarized smart grids. We are optimizing for lowest levelized cost of electricity - when we do that, the generation is heavily renewable. Obviously these are site specific, but in many of the towns we envision for next steps, solar is a fantastic resource." Read more.
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. Read more.