Dec 30, 2013

#Solar Micro-Grid Aims to Boost Power and Food in Haiti

On Haiti's southern peninsula, the town of Les Anglais rises alongside a snaking river prone to seasonal swells. Some 400 homes and businesses form the downtown core within a wider community of roughly 30,000 people.

Most of them are among the 75 percent of Haitians, and the 1.2 billion people around the world, who live without access to electricity. But a new model for connecting homes and businesses to clean, reliable power using smart meters, solar panels, and a small, independent power grid is being put to the test in Les Anglais. The idea is to combine these ingredients into a recipe for sustainable economic growth—in part by supplying power to process local crops that would otherwise rot before arriving at markets.

Led by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit EarthSpark International, the project is one of a dozen initiatives awarded a total of $13 million in funding this month from the U.S. Agency for International Development and its partners under a program calledPowering Agriculture: A Grand Challenge for Development. EarthSpark and the 11 other winners, chosen from 475 applicants, are to use the money to design and deploy market-based projects that integrate clean energy technology into the agriculture sector in 14 developing countries. EarthSpark also is a grantee in National Geographic's Great Energy Challenge initiative.

As the world's population throttles upward and demand grows for middle class diets and lifestyles—at the same time that climate change exacerbates pressure on resources—scientists, policymakers and aid groups increasingly are recognizing links between food, energy and water. These new grants touch on part of that nexus, aiming to help farmers and agricultural businesses in low-income countries gain access to renewable energy technologies as a way to increase production and add value to their goods. 

We spoke with EarthSpark president Allison Archambault about the group's work and vision for Les Anglais and beyond. The following excerpts from our conversation have been edited for length and clarity.

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Also See related story: "Five Surprising Facts About Energy Poverty."