The vast majority of people in Latin America and the Caribbean—over 96% of them, according to most estimates—have access to electricity. In some corners of the region, it may not yet be as reliable, affordable, sustainable, or modern as it should be, but as a rule, people can turn on the lights. That is not the case for most people in Haiti. With 60% to 70% of the population still without electricity, the government is pursuing an “aggressive” strategy to overhaul the power sector and improve access and quality throughout the country.
The task will require transforming an “underdeveloped, unreliable, and expensive” electricity generation system based on fossil fuels into a modern, sustainable system that relies on diverse sources of power, including domestic renewable energy, according to Evenson Calixte, Managing Director of the Energy Regulatory Authority of Haiti (Autorité Nationale de Régulation du Secteur de l’Energie, ANARSE).
At the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), Calixte talked about some of the steps the Haitian government has been taking in the energy sector. The first “big breakthrough,” he said, came in February 2016, with the adoption of a new legal and regulatory framework that ended the public utility’s monopoly on producing, selling, and distributing electricity, and opened the door to private investment.
The government is now pursuing a three-pronged electrification strategy. It plans to strengthen and expand the metropolitan grid that serves the area in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince; expand and refurbish the isolated regional grids that serve other urban areas; and deploy off-grid solutions, including microgrids and solar home systems, in more rural and remote areas.
Currently, only about a dozen cities in Haiti have electricity around the clock, Calixte said in interview. In some cases, these are the result of electrification efforts carried out over the years with support from donors, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
In Port-au-Prince, which is home to about 1 million of the country’s 11 million people, electric power is available for an average of 10 hours a day. The plan is to supplement the metropolitan area’s power supply with a 300 MW natural gas-fired plant and solar photovoltaic (PV) plant with storage technologies, as well as to add substations and transmission lines.
Haiti also intends to offer concessions to private companies to expand and strengthen eight regional grids and add generation capacity, including small-scale gas-fired plants and solar PV. (The country does not have a national grid, and creating one is not contemplated in the short or medium term.) In the case of three regional grids, bids are underway to find a private operator to replace the public utility (Electricité d’Haiti). ANARSE has published the results of the prequalification on its website (www.anarse.gouv.ht)
For dozens of smaller communities, the idea is to put solar-powered microgrids in place, with diesel gensets for backup power. ln December, the fishing town of Tiburon, on Haiti’s southern peninsula, obtained 24/7 electricity through a microgrid, in a project carried out by EarthSpark International and supported by donor funds. It was the first microgrid project approved by ANARSE.
The regulatory agency, which grants licenses and concessions in the energy sector, hopes to have 51 microgrids in place over the next two years, Calixte said. Seven projects were awarded under a first request for proposals (RFP); ANARSE is now revising the RFP to try to attract more investors. Through a mechanism known as results-based financing, developers would be able to benefit from donor subsidies for the initial capital expenditure, contingent on the number of connections to the microgrids.
This effort has received considerable international technical support and financing, including from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank. A $20 million concessional loan from Taiwan is expected to help fund local distribution networks in places where microgrids will be built.
Last year, Haiti and the World Bank established the Off-Grid Electricity Fund—with an initial $17 million in funding from the global Clean Technology Fund and the Scaling up Renewable Energy Program—to support access to electricity in remote areas.
For the most isolated parts of the country, especially in the mountainous areas, the short-term plan is to provide households with solar home systems that generate enough electricity to power lights and charge phones. So far, a pilot project has been done to serve some 10,000 households, but this approach has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people, Calixte said. This program will be subsidized by the government, and the service will be structured under a “pay-as-you-go” model.
Even the most basic amount of electricity can have a big impact on people’s lives, Calixte explained in the interview. It means that schoolchildren can do their homework after dark without having to breathe toxic fumes from kerosene lamps. It means not having to walk several kilometers to the nearest phone-charging business, a chore that usually falls to the woman of the household.
Having reliable electricity can also be a game-changer in more urban areas, Calixte said. Think of the fish vendor who has to sell the day’s catch at rock-bottom prices because it won’t keep, or the entrepreneur trying to sell cold drinks or operate a neighborhood disco. “We believe that by bringing electricity, we would create wealth,” Calixte said.
He hopes that the recent ECPA ministerial meeting will lead to new opportunities for collaboration and technical support for Haiti as it seeks to provide access to electricity for more of its citizens. The current government is motivated and determined to change the energy picture, Calixte said.
“We are moving in the right direction,” he said. “We need support to realize the aggressive agenda we have now.”