The island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean is a perfect candidate for sociologists to study. On the eastern end is the Dominican Republic, which has a robust economy made possible in part because virtually every household and business is connected to the electrical grid. On the western end is Haiti, which is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. Less than 40% of Haiti’s 11 million residents has access to the electrical grid. Even those who do find it unreliable with frequent outages.
Haiti has been the victim of an unending string of natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. Thanks to the effect of a warming climate, the severity and frequency of major storms are both increasing. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew wiped out agricultural farms in South Haiti, which prior to that year brought 74% of the country’s new jobs. Haiti’s plight prompted president Donald Trump to show off the full extent of his ability to feel compassion for other human beings last year when he included Haiti in his list of “shithole countries” whose citizens should be banned from entering the US.
Against this backdrop of misery and pain, one entrepreneur is seeking to build a system of sustainable solar power for the island. Sandra Kwak is the founder of 10Power, an organization that is promoting a collaborative public/private partnership approach to solar energy. “Our goal is to provide affordable, reliable renewable energy that will save businesses money and create jobs. Distributed renewable energy has the potential to increase resiliency, prosperity, and power sustainable development,” says Kwak.
The government is fully supportive of the effort to bring renewable solar power to the country. Last September, parliament eliminated all import duties and tariffs on solar equipement, Forbes reports. Economy and Finance Minister Jude Alix Patrick Salomon stated in an interview with Haiti newspaper Le Nouvelliste, “we wanted to encourage, as part of this budget, the acquisition of equipment from alternative sources of energy.”
Like most Caribbean nations, Haiti is a prime location for solar power. A study by Worldwatch calculated that Haiti receives about the same amount of sunlight annually as Phoenix, Arizona. Much of Haiti’s electricity comes from diesel generators. With the high cost of imported diesel and the access to financing that 10Power makes possible, solar costs less than electricity from the grid the first day it is installed.
“Haiti has the potential to quickly become a renewable energy powerhouse,” says Kwak. “The steps that are being taken in this direction are encouraging.” She estimates the addressable market for commercial scale solar in Haiti is currently over $500 million. Her organization already has $100 million in solar projects it is promoting. “Our goal is to provide affordable, reliable renewable energy that will save businesses money and create jobs,” says Kwak.
Since being founded in 2016, 10Power has financed and installed solar power for two water purification centers which provide clean drinking water to surrounding schools and communities. It has also supported more than 600 micro-enterprises, most of them led by women. It is currently working with an unnamed international NGO on a large-scale solar energy installation that should be announced later this year.
The Haitian Ministry of Public Works, Transportation, and Communications is working with the World Bank to develop sustainable mini-grids. “It is exciting to see private sector and international development partnerships taking off,” says Nicolas Allien, a senior energy specialist at the ministry. “We are implementing well-targeted financial instruments and policy measures in order to attract private sector investments in both on-grid and off-grid renewable energy solutions.”
Like Africa, Haiti has the ability to leapfrog the fossil fuel industry and the construction of traditional electrical grids on its way to energy independence and economic stability. “Distributed renewable energy has the potential to increase resiliency, promote prosperity, and power sustainable development,” says Kwak. Reliable and renewable solar power could lead to the desperately needed political power that has been absent in Haiti for decades.