Haiti, a nation that has suffered from devastating natural disasters and deepening poverty, has one of the lowest electrification rates in the world-meaning that many use dirty fuels for lighting, with negative health and environmental effects. While limited access to electricity is holding back economic growth, an innovative solar-diesel system is set to provide reliable and affordable electricity for up to 1,600 households, or 8,000 people, in Haiti's rural south-west.
The $4.6 million UNEP-coordinated project-funded primarily by the Government of Norway in addition to USAID, the Inter-American Development Bank and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) International Foundation-aims to improve access to modern energy services and increase economic development in three coastal towns in the South Department, about 250 km from the capital Port-au-Prince.
'We are all waiting impatiently for electricity,' said Albert Tessono, a 30-year old lineman working on the installation of the hybrid mini-grid and a native of Roche-à-Bateau. 'My wife is living in Port-au-Prince because there is no work here, but she will come back with our son when the electricity is turned on. I am going to set up a small shop that she can manage, and I hope to also continue to work on the grid.'
US not-for-profit NRECA International Ltd. is installing the mini-grid, which is scheduled for completion in June 2015. The grid will allow communities to set up small businesses such as bakeries, convenience stores and ice-makers. The grid includes 23 km of line (that will connect Roche-à-Bateaux, les Côteaux and Port-à-Piment) and pre-paid metering systems. NRECA's partner organization, the Solar Electric Light Fund, is implementing the solar PV system as well as streetlights-80 of which will have batteries for all-night lighting and 150 of which remain lit until 10 pm.
With the support of NRECA, the three communities have set up a member-owned cooperative, the Cooperative Eléctrique de l'Arrondissement des Côteaux (CEAC), which will operate and manage the electricity system in the long term.
'We had to teach people in the communities what a cooperative in the electricity sector was all about,' said Rithot Thilus, General Manager of CEAC. 'But now other communities are asking how they can copy the cooperative idea, and that is even before the electricity is turned on. Everyone wants electricity and is fed up of living in the dark or using dirty fuels like kerosene that are bad for your health.'
To support a possible expansion of the project, in 2015 UNEP will be guiding the development of a regulatory framework for mini-grids.
UNEP's involvement in the energy sector in Haiti is part of a broader programme in the South Department -the Côte Sud Initiative- that has been operational since 2011 working with the Haitian government, civil society and other UN partners