Empowering Entrepreneurs: Smart and Clean Microgrids in Rural Haiti Enable Productive Uses of Electricity

Only 90% of rural Haitians can access electricity, stunting economic growth. EarthSpark’s solar microgrids unlock entrepreneurial potential.

Photo of Allison Archambault
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

EarthSpark International

Year founded

2009

Initiative stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages and is growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $500k - $1m

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 50,000 - 100,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City

Washington, D.C.

Location(s) of impact

Haiti: Les Anglais, Tiburon, 22 other towns across the Southern peninsula

Website

www.earthsparkinternational.org

Facebook URL

https://www.facebook.com/earthsparkintl/

Twitter URL

@earthsparkintl

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

In Haiti, 90% of the rural population lacks access to electricity. In rural Haiti, lack of electricity is worse than inconvenient – it is a hindrance to economic development, food security, and delivery of basic services. Access to electricity is key to unlocking Haiti's rural potential, but energy alone is useless without the services it enables. As EarthSpark builds solar-powered electricity grids in rural towns, we are also working with local entrepreneurs to bring machinery and equipment that energize enterprise.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

EarthSpark builds solar-powered smart electricity microgrids in rural Haitian towns. The first grid achieved impressive results, with nearly 99% up-time in its first year and 24/7 operation serving 450 households and businesses. A direct hit by a category 4 hurricane in 2016 damaged this grid, but full rehabilitation will finish this year. EarthSpark will build its next grid in nearby Tiburon by the end of Q1 2018 as it builds an investable plan for a total of 24 grids across the southern peninsula of Haiti over the next 3 years

Precisely because there is no existing infrastructure, EarthSpark is leapfrogging current energy delivery systems by moving right to solar energy, efficient consumption, and smart meters. In particular, innovations in smart metering – demand management, time-of-use-pricing, specialized tariffs, and pre-pay service – drive down costs while keeping reliability high. This expands energy access, empowers local entrepreneurs, and boosts livelihoods.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

High quality rural microgrids can fundamentally alter the “power dynamics” of the rural/urban divide. Affordable and reliable energy services can increase productivity, income, and quality of life for rural dwellers. Direct beneficiaries receive electricity directly from the grid, including agricultural and non-agricultural businesses, community organizations, and individuals. Indirect beneficiaries buy electricity from batteries charged by the grid or are customers of businesses that benefit from or exist because of the availability of reliable electricity.

A typical microgrid with 500 customer connections and 5 individuals per household has 2500 direct beneficiaries, and again as many indirect beneficiaries. EarthSpark's ultimate goal is 80 planned microgrids that will benefit 200,000 directly, and 400,000 indirectly.

Solar grid power displaces harmful kerosene lamps and diesel generators while saving customers 50-80% of their pre-grid energy expenditures.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Grants from donors such as USAID, USTDA, and UNEP are supporting EarthSpark on its first few grids. Experience gained will "de-risk" the business model, opening funding opportunities from social investors, institutional funders, and favorable insurance providers for subsequent grids. Once operational, grids are sustainable from an operations and maintenance standpoint. For the next tranche of 20 grids we will be using a blended finance approach of grant (30%), debt (40%) and equity (30%).

An annual basis for EarthSpark costs currently is as follows:

1. Individual donations or gifts 2%
2. Grants 90%
3. Corporate contributions 3%
4. Earned income 5%
5. Other - 0%

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

EarthSpark's approach is to match innovative business models with deep community engagement. Smart meters, customized tariffs, efficient appliances and productive uses of electricity to deliver affordable, reliable, clean energy services.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

EarthSpark began in 2008 when founder Daniel Schnitzer received an e-mail from a diaspora group that would change many lives. A Haitian-born man living in the U.S. wrote him for help in building a wind turbine to power streetlights in his town back home. In response, Dan developed a survey tool, took two weeks off from work, and went to Les Anglais, Haiti. There, he surveyed community members on preferences around ten energy projects and products. After about 250 surveys, seventy percent of the choices were “I want lighting for my home”. Starting with a $25,000 donation from Frontier Utilities, a Texas-based retail electricity provider, Dan founded EarthSpark International and began importing and selling solar-powered lamps in Haiti. Over the following years, EarthSpark’s mission evolved and expanded to focus on building 80 microgrids in Haiti.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Upon recommendation from others

2 comments

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Photo of Ramy Elmery

Good luck Allison! There are other Solar panels manufacturers out there, but engaging the community and getting the local populace blessings is a key to success.

Photo of Allison Archambault

Thanks Ramy Elmery ! We agree!