IEEE / Sirona Haiti Rural Electric Project Report
Between June and July of 2011 the Sirona Cares Foundation (SCF) and the Community Solutions Initiative (CSI) of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) deployed six pilot SunBlazer Solar based Battery Charging Stations and established six franchises designed to support the long term operation and maintenance of the units in the context of a sustainable business model. This is designed as a commercial endeavor that can be supported with debt and equity investment rather than on-going charity. Startup funding is being raised through charitable contributions, but unlike typical charitable contributions, the funds are put to work generating sustainable income for the unit operators and revenue for maintenance and support on an ongoing, rather than one-off, basis. The six pilot franchises were established in six different regions of Haiti and supply electricity to over 1,400 people. Two field technicians were trained to maintain the units over the long term and monitor business operations on a monthly basis. These field technicians are paid out of proceeds generated by the small businesses. The objectives of the Phase 1 Pilot were to demonstrate the viability and usability of this technology, an interest by local entrepreneurs in operating a franchise business and the interest of a local market. Michelle Lacourciere (SCF) made an unannounced site visit to each unit in late September 2011. This report will show that the objectives of the Phase 1 Pilot have been achieved and interest in this work has been generated at the top levels of the Haitian government and beyond.
(PDF Version of this report: CSI Report #2 – Followup Trip lr)
VIABILITY/USEABILITY OF THIS TECHNOLOGY
All equipment performed as anticipated. Customers and Operators are satisfied. The SunBlazer
unit does exactly what IEEE/SCF have promoted with the noted exception that a side business
has not been attached to the unit because it lacks that modification. At each location the only
issue causing disappointment is that the Operators know the 40 home kits are using a scant
percentage of the available power. At every unit the Operator requested (a) the modification to
run their side business and (b) more home kits due to demand.
INTEREST BY LOCAL ENTREPRENEURS
SCF has received more than 50 requests from potential Operators following deployment of this pilot. There is a pool of potential entrepreneurs hopeful that they may be selected to participate in this program. There is also interest from other NGOs anxious to receive units at their sites. Haiti Partners needs units to help create sustainable schools, and USAID is interested in units to supply homes near their new industrial park in the north near Lemonade.
INTEREST IN LOCAL MARKET
During our site visits we were informed that over 2,000 homes are currently on the waiting lists
for our initial Operators. Clearly this market is robust, and the 2,000 homes on this list are
located within the proximity of a pilot unit. SCF has every reason to believe that as we increase
density and expand into new areas the market will grow exponentially.
Between the dates of September 23rd and 25th all six SunBlazer units were visited by SCF. All six Operators were interviewed and customers were interviewed when possible. These visits were unannounced. There have been no incidents of theft or loss to any unit or home kit. Every franchise is operating smoothly and the field technician visits have created a sense of monitoring and stability that is unique to this program. Most Haitian projects are once off and charity based. Our regular evaluation and maintenance has given the Operators a sense of security.
All 240 homes have paid their monthly leases for three months, on time. There has been no customer turnover or situations of economic hardship that have resulted in loss of a customer. The Operators have enjoyed their new business and have all enjoyed elevated status in their communities. There have been no instances of jealousy or threats, to the contrary every Operator feels encouraged
and supported by his community.
The home kits are lasting customers much longer than we anticipated prior to Pilot 1. At each
station very few kits need to recharge each day (almost always under 10 a day). Customers are
recharging every 5-7 days, and happy with the service. Most of the Operators asked for
additional home kits because they see that there is a great deal of energy that is not being used
daily. Every Operator also asked for the modification to his unit that would allow him to run his
side business. By asking them to prepare business plans before the deployment, we instilled in
them the desire to run their own side business, and at every unit I was asked repeatedly for the
During the training seminar the Operators (5 of the 6) were confused when we brought out a
sample 12v charger. While we have repeatedly told them that they (and their customers) could
charge cell phones we have always gotten the response from Haiti that they cannot find the
chargers. During the interviews it became clear that the Operators at the seminar had understood
that, like the modification, the chargers would be provided by IEEE/Sirona. This is what they
communicated to their customers as well. It was not clear to them until our interview that they
could use any 12v plug with the home kit. I am certain that there will be a rapid acceleration in
cell phone charging and use of other accessories in the near future.
A summary of each interview is attached to this report, as are the data sheets collected at each
unit. (CSI Report #2 – Tables)
At each station SCF was able to interview customers who either arrived to collect their charged home kit or heard that we were there and gathered to thank us. The opinion of the quality is very high, and customers praise the reliability of the energy. They feel that it is superior to grid electricity for its reliability. Customers enjoy many positive impacts from the home kit. The number one thing that they appreciate is having an alternative to kerosene lamps. Kerosene fumes are unhealthy, the lamps are unsafe, and the light inferior. Many customers have mounted one light in their home and another outside to light for their neighbors. Generally customers say that they are staying up later, enjoy being able to read after dark, appreciate the light because it helps their children study, and having access to light encourages social gatherings.
In Marmelade there are many customers making money with their kits by charging phones or
providing light at events (like wakes). When Paul visited Marmelade during the deployment trip
he was able to convey to that Operator that any 12v charger works in the home kit.
Unfortunately this was not clear to the other five Operators or their customers (they believed that
special phone chargers would be provided as part of their equipment). Following our interviews
we are confident that there will be a great deal of micro-entrepreneurial enterprise generated in
the other communities.
Ownership was the one area of contention with the customers. They feel that if they pay the
lease for a given number of months they should become the owners of the equipment.
Clarification on the point that what they are paying for is the service (light), not the kit, will be
made in the contracts with new customers.
A summary of the community impact from this program is attached highlighting the positive
impact to the Operators, the customers, and the community.
FIELD TECHNICIAN INTERVIEWS
The two field technicians work out of Grand Goave and are providing excellent service. They are visiting our units in St. Etienne, Dieuxieme Plaine, Anse au Veaux, St. Helen, Jeremie, and Marmelade monthly. A solid rapport has developed between the field technicians and the Operators, and following this site visit this relationship has been solidified. Any time that an Operator needs additional parts they will be contacting the Field Technicians to bring them that month.
Because the pilot had unknown variables, specifically whether or not the customers could and/or
would pay monthly for their home kits, and the need for Operators to secure funding for start-up
costs relating to their side businesses, the Operator lease payments were waived for the first three
months of our pilot. This site visit occurred days before their first payments were due and at
each unit the Operator offered to pay his lease in cash. A bank account has been established and
following the site visit every Operator deposited their lease payment into the account ($130 US).
Operators are required to attach their deposit slip to their current monthly data sheet that is
collected each month by the Field Technician. In summary, every unit is clearly in the capable
hands of Operators geared to succeed with their business. They are all operating their franchises
The IEEE/Sirona Haiti Rural Electricity Project has succeeded in every metric set prior to its
pilot. More than fifty new Operators have applied to receive generating units and operate
businesses. Many NGOs are interested in obtaining units for their sites, and several potential
partnerships have emerged as well (USAID, Haiti Partners, etc.). The people who live within the
vicinity of a unit have indicated interest by the 2,000+ waiting list. Clearly this program
addresses a deep need, and from what SCF observed during the site visit two critical issues are
First, our customers have achieved, in their perception, equality with “town people”. They have
access to light in their home, and they are enjoying “modern” living. They no longer feel left
behind. The stories from our interviews were very touching. Rather than feel improved one
house at a time, the lucky recipients of our home kits have chosen to share their light with their
communities. There are now opportunities to gather in communities that have lived for decades
in the darkest of dark night. In addition to raised status, our customers are clearly capitalizing on the obvious assets that their light provides. Their children are able to study, their home is free of dangerous kerosene fumes and they are living a much better life than they had before. It is very clear from our customer base that we are providing a service that is badly needed, and that they are both pleased and amazed that IEEE/SCF has been able to bring them what they do not believe the Haitian utility will ever be able to deliver.
The program is rapidly gaining international attention. Both the technology and the business
plan have made this program a subject of discussion both at the highest levels of the Haitian
government as well as in United Nations planning for next years campaign: The Year of Access
to Sustainable Energy for All geared to bring sustainable energy to 4 billion people by 2030.
Our experience placed us in two working groups created to advise the Secretary General on next
years campaign (Standards and Entrepreneur/Supply Chain). Following the site visits Michelle Lacourciere was invited to participate in Haiti’s energy sector’s strategic planning process. Realizing that the population’s energy needs far exceed the capability of the existing grid, Haiti is looking to include alternative energy (wind, hydro and solar) in their planning process. The program was arranged by Rene Jean Jameau and attended by the President of Haiti, the national utility (EDH), all major funders (World Bank, Caricom, etc.) and participants from various alternative energy initiatives. While wind and hydro programs were representatives sited studies and proposals, the IEEE/Sirona Haiti presentation received much attention because our program is on the ground succeeding. The highlight of the 20 minute powerpoint presentation was the moment when Ms. Lacourciere turned on the light from a homekit. This program is ready for the next phase, in-country
assembly and commercial scale rollout.
Also, Ms. Lacourciere was invited to give a TED talk (TEDxPORTAUPRINCE) along with
other innovative, high impact initiatives like Architecture for Humanity. As in the Haitian
energy sector planning group the IEEE/Sirona Haiti Program received high aclaim and interest
from the local press. Discussions with wealthy Haitian investors and three international
development organizations are beginning. The results of these conversations will dictate the
speed and direction of the Haitian nationwide rollout. There are also discussions beginning with
other countries interested in learning more about our program and critically how this team has
created a stable, economically viable solution to rural energy poverty.
The only recommendation prior to the pending rollout is that the modification be made to
existing and future units to allow Operators to run their side business. This modification will
increase the impact on the community and create an income stream that will benefit the Operator
and allow him/her to increase their lease payment to the $200 per month required to stabilize the
One example of this benefit is an Intel grant being sought by Sirona and Tech Assist Haiti that
will enhance education in several communites by adding internet based learning at schools colocated
with our units. The SunBlazer has enough capacity to provide this service, and Intel is
offerering funding for education and equipment to launch the program.