Imagine a world where only a quarter of the population has reliable access to electricity. And half of that is illegally obtained. Now imagine that electricity is prohibitively expensive because it has to be imported. Throw in an earthquake that has left behind crumbling buildings and a devastating loss of lives. Add a history of poverty.
It might sound like a story board for a Mad Max film, but it isn’t. It’s Haiti. Haiti has historically struggled to power its homes and businesses with fossil fuels which cost the country four percent of its gross domestic product. But the expense of keeping the lights on does not mean that everyone has the lights on. Most rural Haitians have little or no access whatsoever to modern energy. Farmers and small businesses routinely fall back on faulty and polluting diesel generators. Overall, Haiti has less access to modern energy than any other country in the western hemisphere. And Haiti’s dependence on imported oil means that the country is extremely vulnerable to oil price hikes.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that Haiti represents an almost perfect palette for renewable energy opportunities. Anton Energy travelled to Haiti last month to see for ourselves. We didn't only see a country with a history of misery and poverty, we also saw a land of opportunity for distributed solar power that is mostly or entirely independent of monopolistic utility companies.
While Haiti’s government-owned traditional utility provider, L’Électricité d’Haïti, falters in its mission to power homes and commerce, clean energy in Haiti has come to the rescue from a very unlikely source: a hospital. That’s right. L'Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais has been outfitted with 1800 solar panels that generate an overflow of energy. That excess power goes straight into the Haitian grid.
Meanwhile, in Les Anglais, a southern town in Haiti, four hundred homes have been wired up to a micro-grid. These homes are now powered by a diesel/solar hybrid technology, thanks to EarthSpark, a non-profit group with a mission to eradicate energy poverty.
Currently, the high cost of energy hurts Haiti’s productivity and economic growth. Projects such as the EarthSpark grid and the hospital have tremendous potential to transform Haiti into a prosperous nation no longer dependent on imported or strangled by energy poverty. Research conducted by the WorldWatch Institute shows that, if Haiti harnessed all its renewable resources, it could meet fifty-two percent of its energy needs through the year 2030. Haiti gets plenty of sunlight, but it will also need to harness wind, hydro, and geothermal energy.
It will take a combination of factors for Haiti to realize this potential. The good will of non-profit organizations like EarthSpark will be essential to an energy rich Haiti because the cost of renewable technologies is prohibitive to most Haitians. Simultaneously, the Haitian government must have a bold vision for the future and a willingness to commit financial resources up front in order to ensure the country’s energy stability. Commercial solar and wind turbine manufacturers and installers will also need to create innovative solutions that make the cost of a clean energy infrastructure affordable to individual Haitian families and small businesses.