From National Geographic, a report on how solar energy can make, and is making, a difference as Haiti recovers from the earthquake that occurred in January.
[A]t night, even though the shaken city had no electricity, there were bright islands of light—beneath the solar-powered street lamps … installed at two sports fields. People were drawn to the glow and began to set up camps there.
[Haitian businessman Alex] Georges believes that solar energy can do more than provide temporary refuge for Haitians; he thinks it can be a permanent boon to the impoverished Caribbean nation.
As the co-founder of ENERSA (Energies Renouvelables S.A.), a three-year-old Port-au-Prince business that has manufactured and sold more than 500 LED solar streetlights with battery storage in 58 towns and villages throughout the island, Georges is one of a group of advocates and entrepreneurs pushing for greater use of solar, renewable, and other small-scale energy in the rebuilding of Haiti.
The use of solar energy can not only make a long-term difference in Haiti—where electricity delivery was deficient even before the earthquake—it can also have more immediate benefits for crisis-stricken Haitians.
The tent camps … have turned to solar energy for yet another pressing need—security. Soon after the quake, renewable energy access specialist Richenda Van Leeuwen, of Washington, D.C., organized a donation by the Good Energies Foundation of 6,500 solar light systems that can be used now in tents—and later transferred to new homes.
Van Leeuwen, now working on relief in Haiti, says that the lighting has been vital in addressing the issue of assaults. Only last week, Amnesty International reported that sexual violence against women and girls was widespread in the camps, and called for more action from emergency responders and authorities. At least 35,000 solar lamp systems have been distributed to improve lighting in the camps so far, and Van Leeuwen says the International Organization for Migration is ordering 30,000 more to help with protection of women and girls in particular.
One organisation that has been working to provide solar energy in Haiti, even before the earthquake, is the Solar Electric Light Fund, which has allied with Partners in Health to bring solar-powered electricity to clinics and healthcare facilities around Haiti. Find out more and learn how you can make a donation to help SELF’s work.
But Georges, of ENERSA, and company co-founder Jean-Ronel Noel, believe that what Haiti needs beyond donations of finished solar products is the money to build up its own capacity to make and install solar systems. The pair, after studying engineering, business administration, and solar fabrication in Canada, have trained 18 young men as solar technicians and are training a group of 10 more in hope of expanding their work force.
ENERSA workers have not only manufactured solar panels, lamps, charging stations, and streetlights, they’ve taken them to villages so remote that the equipment had to be hauled by donkey. “It is life-changing for people who did not have electricity whatsoever” to have the access to solar light, says Georges. “Children can study, and parents can meet and just socialize after dark. You can change the life of the community, instantly.”
ENERSA’s factory, which was damaged in the earthquake, is set to resume manufacturing this week.