How are rural economies tied to energy flow?

On a recent trip to Haiti to evaluate an off-grid solar solution, we observed that wealth, prosperity, and the ability to earn a living are deeply tied to energy flow and access to energy.

The wealthiest are mostly living in urban environments in Haiti – places like Port au Prince, Port Salut, Les Cayes. All have fairly vibrant economies, professional jobs, and a somewhat reliable energy supply.  Most people can afford to have batteries and generators at their disposal when the electricity goes out, so they can continue to operate their businesses and enjoy the comforts of their home.
Because most of Haiti’s transmission infrastructure is concentrated in the larger cities, and along the 2 main roadways through the country, the majority of the country has little access to the supply.  If you live along a roadway, you can often secure service – however even a few 100 feet off the roadway, and it is difficult to get a line to your home.   Nonetheless, with 80% of the Haitian people (8 million people) living in poverty most cannot afford the national utility rates. Currently much of the populations uses kerosene burned in homemade tin lamps – breathing kerosene smoke is the equivalent of smoking 40 cigarettes per day.
Homemade Tin Lamp
The off-grid solution that we evaluated is provided by Sirona Cares Foundation, a non-profit with offices in California and Haiti, was affordable to even the most impoverished.  Sirona Cares delivers solar electricity via portable battery packs to residents who sign up for the service.  The service costs $6 dollars per month and is operated by a local community leader.  One SunBlazer is able to collect 1 kilowatt of power; in turn, this charges 40 home battery packs, which feeds two light bulbs and provides a USB port to charge cell phones and other electronic devices.

We did approximately 80 interviews and 2 focus groups and while we haven’t had a chance to really analyze our data, themes in key impact areas emerged.  One of the most surprising findings for us, was how much benefit came out of such a small amount of light.  There was a positive effect on health, education, socializing, but a mixed effect on income, entrepreneurship, leisure time, and the environment.

More to come in the next blog posting….

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