EarthSpark Wins Grant to Expand Microgrid in Les Anglais, Haiti

USAID and its partners recently announced EarthSpark International as a winner of its Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development” program. More than 475 organizations from 80 countries applied to the Powering Agriculture Grand Challenge in this inaugural round, offering market-based, clean energy innovations for the agricultural sphere in developing countries. Twelve winners were selected.

The $1.1 million in grant funding will enable EarthSpark to expand its existing microgrid in Les Anglais to a town-sized, solar-diesel hybrid, smart grid to serve both residential and commercial customers, including agricultural processing facilities. The funding also supports local entrepreneurs in evaluating upgrades to existing and potential agricultural processing facilities in Les Anglais. 

In Haiti, 75% of the country’s population lacks access to electricity, and farmers frequently lose the value of their crops for want of infrastructure and processing equipment. Where processing facilities do exist, they are typically diesel-powered and expensive to operate. This imposes a severe limitation on farmers’ ability to process agricultural goods, capture the value of their products, and improve their livelihoods. 

According to EarthSpark, the organization will expand its existing electricity system in Les Anglais, adding solar generation and expanding smart controls to deliver affordable, reliable, clean energy to community members, farmers and businesses in a financially sustainable way. By providing technical guidance and facilitating access to financing for local partners, EarthSpark says it will assist agribusinesses with upgrading to efficient electric mills to modernize local processing for rice, sorghum, coffee, and corn. 

The project will specifically focus on highly nutritious breadfruit crops that typically rot due to lack of processing. Converting the fruit to flour or chips extends the shelf life by months and significantly increases the value and marketability locally, nationally, and abroad. 

By reducing agricultural waste and enabling value-added processing, the project is seen as boosting agribusiness incomes as well as providing surrounding residents with access to electricity, utilizing pre-pay smart meters. According to EarthSpark, the project will demonstrate a sustainable business model for the local microgrid, for agribusiness’ upgrading to efficient electric mills, and for breadfruit processing. 

Proving Out the Business Model

“The point of what we’re doing is to prove out a viable business model that can be scaled and replicated throughout Haiti and the rest of world,” says Allison Archambault, President of EarthSpark. That model is: deliver affordable, reliable energy services to homes and businesses in small towns with town-sized, solarized smart grids. We are optimizing for lowest levelized cost of electricity – when we do that, the generation is heavily renewable. Obviously these are site specific, but in many of the towns we envision for next steps, solar is a fantastic resource.”

EarthSpark has been running the grid project in Les Anglais since November 2012. The organization launched Haiti’s first prepaid microgrid with just fourteen customers and has now expanded it to fifty-four – all of whom are now using second generation smart meters which are now being further developed by SparkMeter, a technology company that EarthSpark recently spun off to specifically focus on smart meter hardware and software.

“We were looking for pre-paid meters with a low price point and a high degree of functionality,” Archambault says. “We wanted to do things like change load limiting and remote connect / disconnect. There was nothing on the market that met our needs, so we developed our own.” The grant received by EarthSpark will allow them to expand the project to approximately 400 customers, and to solarize the grid. 

“Right now the microgrid in Les Anglais is simply using diesel, which was never the long term plan,” Archambault adds. “It was a simple way to get started, as we were collaborating with the local telecom company that was already using diesel for their communications tower.” 

“Once the viability of the business model is proven, it should be able to be replicated elsewhere. Looking forward, we would not do a phased approach – we would go in and do a community / load assessment, alongside the government and local leaders, and design a town-sized energy system from the beginning.” 

EarthSpark’s notable innovation is its effort to pair residential and commercial loads in a viable business model through prepaid smart meters, seeking to provide demand management on a town-size scale in a way that makes the whole grid more efficient. After the Les Anglais project has proven out the business model, Archambault sees the integrated town-scale approach as replicable and attractive to investors.

“Basically, we are taking one hundred years of people’s experience managing power systems — the lessons learned and the technology available now – and building the best possible system in these developing areas,” she adds. “There is no incumbent infrastructure where we’re building these grids. We’re leapfrogging to the next generation, similar to what mobile phone operators did in these kinds of countries.” 

Source: EarthSpark