By Jean Thaylord and Andy Bilich
On August 14, 2021 Haiti’s Southern Peninsula was hit with a magnitude 7.2 earthquake which caused thousands of deaths and tens of thousands more to be displaced or isolated as buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure collapsed in communities across Southern Haiti.
Critical community services and infrastructure like telecommunications, and particularly health clinics and hospitals were directly impacted by the earthquake itself and then further limited by massively constrained supply chains and logistics for things like diesel fuel for their generators. Most facilities lost power and/or had to alter or curtail service providing a grim reminder of the need for strong resilient local power systems and infrastructure to support communities in Haiti.
EarthSpark’s existing microgrid communities in Les Anglais and Tiburon were impacted, but fared better than other towns in the region. Even still, in the wake of the earthquake, the EarthSpark truck served as an ambulance helping transport people to the health clinic in Les Anglais and the larger area hospital in Port-Salut. In Tiburon, the small health center “Dispensaire Roger Paradis” saw its independent solar system go dark the day of the earthquake, likely because the quake shook components, that, already-old, were nearing the end of their use.
When the Tiburon facility manager called EarthSpark to request help, the team acted quickly, repurposing an inverter from EarthSpark's inventory to fix the small solar system and restore power. This small repair was EarthSpark’s first step into powering health care.
For reasons we will explain in our next blog, no EarthSpark microgrid has ever been connected to a health facility. When the earthquake struck, it became clear that the team should find a way to support the local health centers. Though the Tiburon health center is not yet connected to the Tiburon microgrid, EarthSpark's replacement of the solar inverter is part of a new strategy of engagement with the health facilities where EarthSpark has or is planning microgrid services. This new strategy is being launched in partnership with the GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Development Fund. By early next year, we hope to have a larger and more reliable solar + battery system installed in the health center capable of powering both the health facility and the neighboring Digicel telecommunications tower in the event of another natural disaster that might disrupt normal microgrid operations.
Just as microgrids are generally more resilient to natural disasters than are larger grids with long strung-out transmission and distribution lines, on-site solar+storage embedded in a microgrid can offer even greater energy assurance -- capable of still delivering reliable and fuel-free energy even if the microgrid's central system or distribution system has been damaged.
These new distributed energy resources have the potential to increase electricity quality and reliability at health facilities, help enable operational efficiencies of the microgrids, reduce costs (especially for diesel fuels where clinics use them), and ensure long-term sustainable and resilient energy service to the clinics. With many technical and financial details still needing to be solved, we are anxious to see these microgrid-connected solar+storage sites powering critical community services as part of a new standard design process for future microgrids. Stay tuned!