EarthSpark International

EarthSpark expands access to high-quality energy solutions in off-grid areas of Haiti.
Dec 19, 2016

Update on Hurricane Matthew

When Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti via Les Anglais, EarthSpark's team, grid, and customers were at the very center of the storm. In the days before the storm, we prepared the grid the best we could. We let the community know in advance that we would have to shut down the grid so that they could charge their phones and radios, we placed sandbags at the generation site, shut off the grid and found safe spaces for our staff. Aside from preparing immediately before the storm hit, we had built a high-quality system. Our solar panel array was rated for a category 4 storm.  We had also made sure not to connect houses to the grid that were in precarious locations. One area of town that we didn’t connect to the grid, Bo Lagon, was sadly wiped away before the storm even hit.

After three long days of radio silence, we were able to re-establish communication with our team and confirmed that all EarthSpark and Enèji Pwòp team members were safe and accounted for.  Most Les Anglais homes and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged. Trees have been reduced to stumps and many crops lost. We don't yet know the full toll of casualties. So far, people are taking the situation in stride, sheltering where they can, and relying on well water.

The EarthSpark microgrid fared comparatively well. We lost ~40% of the solar panels, but the generation system is largely intact. Most of the homes and businesses connected to the grid were destroyed, so we will plan in tandem with reconstruction efforts to re-establish the poles-and-wires distribution system of electricity for the town.

EarthSpark works on energy, not relief. So in the days immediately after the storm we reached out to various relief organizations to offer to retool the generation system quickly to support their relief work near the generation site. However, in the hierarchy of needs in the aftermath, electricity wasn’t high up there. Food, shelter, and clean water were at the top of the list. We kept asking what people needed us to power but no one was biting. After about a week the community let us know that they needed cold drinks and a way to watch football matches, which was a welcome sign that life was slowly going back to normal.

As relief took place, we saw how lack of infrastructure and planning – poor roads and lack of stored food supplies to name a few, made reaching those in need more difficult. To break from the difficulties of systemic poverty, infrastructure is so crucial. We see integrated electrification as part of a bigger picture of 'integrated economic and environmental resilience' that links to other sectors like roads/transportation, communications, and building materials/practices.  We need to be building sustainable, long-term infrastructure, including sustainable energy services that can unlock economic potential with higher levels of power so that we aren’t always just meeting basic needs in developing countries.    

EarthSpark is working on getting our microgrid powering homes and businesses as and when the community rebuilds. It’s not easy and there is a lot of risk involved, but our work also holds so much potential for not only solving energy access in Haiti but also unlocking deeper economic security and quality of life for the regions we serve. Thank you so much for your support. Many of you also donated on Giving Tuesday, increasing your impact through matching funds. We couldn't do our work without great supporters like you.

Sep 19, 2016

De-risking by doing: gaining market knowledge

Researcher Training in Les Anglais
Researcher Training in Les Anglais

EarthSpark frequently talks about its goal of building 80 community microgrids in Haiti in the next 5 years, but what does it take to actually get those grids built? Critical elements of a microgrid development plan: knowing where those grids should go, what they should look like, and who the local champions will be.  Other than hearsay and satellite imagery, however, there was very little credible data upon which to base such a plan in Haiti. EarthSpark’s recent undertaking – a national microgrid market study for Haiti – has illuminated the details of demand for electrification in rural Haitian towns. 

EarthSpark International, Energy and Security Group, and The Haiti Energy Institute recently completed a countrywide market study of the potential for town-sized, solar-powered microgrids across Haiti. The study was conducted for EarthSpark’s Haitian social enterprise spin-off, Enèji Pwòp, S.A. in order to facilitate a fundable plan for microgrid development. Following a desk study of un-electrified Haitian towns, field research was undertaken in 89 rural towns from July-October of 2015.

Research Parameters
The study sample targeted towns with no or limited grid access. With the list of towns finalized, the surveys were designed with input from anthropologists, microgrid consultants, and energy policy advisors with a background in the Haitian cultural and energy contexts and focused upon the following research parameters:

·       Energy demand / energy expenditures
·       Private generation and appliance ownership
·       Current political situation
·       Strength of community organizations
·       Town infrastructure and ease of accessibility (police station, bank, wire transfer services, roads, ports, etc.)
·       Economic drivers and market activity
·       Key crops
·       Geographic distribution of buildings, town size / density
·       NGO and Diaspora presence

Field Team
The field research team consisted of 20 teams of two researchers, hailing mostly from Haiti, Canada, and the US. Thanks to partnerships with three local universities, Université Quisqueya, Université d’Etat d’Haïti, and Enstiti Travay Sosyal ak Syans Sosyal, 30 Masters level Haitian students were recommended by the deans of their respective universities for research positions.

The partners ran a weeklong training session, or “microgrid bootcamp,” in Les Anglais, Haiti, home to EarthSpark’s first microgrid. The training included a multi-disciplinary curriculum on electricity, solar generation, survey methodology, and practice interviews.

Survey Methodology
Each research team used two Android tablets to undertake surveys of businesses, households, community leaders, and politicians. Based on their interviews and observations, the teams delivered qualitative and quantitative reports for each town. The survey questionnaires were uploaded using Open Data Kit software, to ease the collection and maintenance of data.  

An in-house geospatial analysis of each of the towns was undertaken to determine the following: estimate of potential connections, building density, and flood risk. GIS tools used for the study were Google EarthEngine API and QGIS. This project also included a desk study of relevant laws, regulations and decrees relevant to micro-grid development and operation in Haiti, outlining opportunities and challenges. 

Overall Results
Based on the survey information and geospatial analysis, towns were ranked based on their suitability as sites for solar microgrids. Rankings were based on scores in four categories: business energy demand, overall energy demand and fuel use, economic potential, and accessibility. Figure 1 illustrates the town rankings, with larger circles in green representing the towns with the highest potential score for microgrid suitability (and smaller, red circles representing towns with the lowest score). These results will help to inform the future of off-grid electrification in the country.

Town-Specific Results
Additionally, write-ups for each town based on all of the survey and mapping data were compiled as part of the final report for the study. Individual maps for each town, assessing the number of potential connections, the density of buildings, and the density of energy demand have been put together, where the relevant information is available. Figure 2 is an energy density demand map of Acul du Nord and Figure 3 is building density in Anse à Foleur,

Next Steps
With this information in hand, EarthSpark and Enèji Pwòp are ever closer to reaching the goal of building 80 microgrids across Haiti.  However, process risk remains high for microgrid development in Haiti. Best practices for microgrid development remain anecdotal, and, while EarthSpark and others have gained some experience in the development of energy access microgrids in Haiti in recent years, there remain many gaps in the standardization of development and operation processes. From logistics to customs to legal structures, technology, and community engagement, many problems were encountered throughout the development of the recent microgrids in Haiti, and likely more unknown issues remain to be discovered during the development phase of the next grids. More good examples of successful microgrids in Haiti are likely necessary before developers will be able to attract investment capital to achieve microgrid development at scale. 

To address these risks, EarthSpark is currently seeking grant funding to build upon its experience in Les Anglais by developing 3 additional microgrids. The next grid will be in the fishing town of Tiburon, less than an hour’s drive from Les Anglais. EarthSpark hopes to secure funding in 2016 and launch the Tiburon grid by July 2017. EarthSpark has secured a concession from the municipality of Tiburon for grid development and operations and has already conducted significant customer and infrastructure mapping.  

Beyond Haiti, EarthSpark is now well positioned to leverage its research methodology and survey experience to undertake or facilitate similar market studies in other countries seeking visibility into microgrid development potential.

 

Figure 1: Town Rankings
Figure 1: Town Rankings
Figure 2: Energy Demand in Acul du Nord
Figure 2: Energy Demand in Acul du Nord
Figure 3: Building Density in Anse a Foleur
Figure 3: Building Density in Anse a Foleur
Jun 22, 2016

Customer Spotlight: Meet Acholo Maurice!

Acholo Maurice
Acholo Maurice

We’d like to take a moment to introduce you to one of our microgrid customers in Les Anglais.

Meet Acholo Maurice, an unmissable face in Les Anglais. Though her large hat and beautiful smile make her recognizable, she is most well-known for her homemade spaghetti ice-creams, locally known as “krem”. Born on September 15, 1964 in the neighboring town of Tiburon, Acholo is her “ti non”or nickname. Her real name is Antonica Maurice. She moved to Les Anglais, her mother’s hometown, 50 years ago. She started the spaghetti cream business 8 months ago, about four months after the micro-grid was inaugurated. Acholo finds that her most dedicated customers are school children who find the cold dessert an ideal snack to cool down with on a hot sunny day.
 
Acholo would not have been able to start this business without electricity. In fact, she bought all the required electrical equipment right after she became a grid customer. Every morning during school season, she wakes up early to pack her cream before setting out for the day. Then, around 4pm, she meticulously starts preparing this little dessert by following a recipe she got from another ice cream vendor. With her blender, she mixes some boiled spaghetti with other ingredients. Besides her blender, her freezer is another important asset. Acholo freezes the blended mixture for at least 14 hours until she is satisfied that the product is up to her standards. Her daily output can be as high as 100 ice creams on a school day which she sells before classes around 8 a.m., packed in small plastic bags. She also has three regular retailers who buy in bulk from her and then go around town shouting “Krem! Krem!” a sound everyone living in Les Anglais now knows well!
 
Preparing and selling spaghetti ice-cream is an important part of Acholo’s life. It is her own source of income which makes her an independent woman and helps her run her household. Her husband, Anfrane, became blind a few years ago which prevents him from having a job. This does not stop him from helping Acholo to sell goodies and sweets in his wooden trunk (“bak”) while seated on his veranda. This additional business helps them when there is no school and the cream doesn’t sell out easily. 
 
For those who are not able to come to Les Anglais to taste it, Acholo has graciously shared her spaghetti cream recipe for those who want to try it at home:

Recipe for Acholo’s spaghetti cream

Ingredients:

2 packs of spaghetti
8 small Bongu milk cartons (condensed milk)
Cinnamon
Sugar to taste
Flavoring
Coloring (optional)

Steps:

  1. Put water to boil. Add the spaghetti and cinnamon.
  2. When spaghetti is boiled leave to cool.
  3. Once at room temperature, blend the spaghetti.
  4. Add the milk and sugar to taste and some flavoring.
  5. Add some food coloring if you want.
  6. Pack in small plastic bag and freezer overnight.
  7. Once the cold cream has solidified, sit back and enjoy.
Cherry and breadfruit flavored krem
Cherry and breadfruit flavored krem
 
   

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