Even before this year’s devastating earthquake destroyed much of Haiti’s infrastructure, the country was plagued with energy problems.
Only 25% of the country had access to the meager energy resources, and nearly half of that electricity was being stolen.
Those citizens that were able to afford it paid a hefty premium: On average, Haiti pays about four times what electricity users in the United States pay.
That could mean up to 30% of a Haitian’s earnings were spent on rudimentary power — mainly candles, kerosene, and timber. And since wood serves as the country’s principal energy source, Haiti has clear cut over 98% of the nation’s tree cover.
So, to say that Haiti has a serious, long-term energy emergency on its hands would be an understatement.
One company is seeking to take that fractured situation and provide the framework and software solutions to achieve 100% renewable energy in the country.
That company is Colorado-based Green Energy Corp. They have been pioneers in the smart grid market for over 25 years, providing software and engineering services to over 100 utilities.
The firm has also developed what they say is the first universal plan designed to provide developing nations with renewable power.
They have dubbed the pilot project the Global Energy Model, or GEM.
When company founder Daniel Gregory witnessed Haiti’s devastation first hand as part of a philanthropic envoy, he decided that it was an ideal place to launch GEM’s first pilot project. That one trip eventually led to the partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), with the goal of developing a GEM Working Group to make the project a reality.
The island nation has a number of unique characteristics which make it an ideal location to launch and implement GEM. What Haiti lacks in infrastructure, it makes up for with natural resources…
“They have the sun, wind and water that can be used to generate electricity in a renewable way,” Green Energy Corp. CEO Peter Gregory told me in a recent interview.
GEM would operate something like this…
Let’s look at the hard hit capital of Port au Prince. Instead of building one 120MW coal plant to feed fossil fuel power around the area, GEM imagines twelve 10MW solar plants surrounding the city, each feeding into a smart grid. And because Haiti is a mountainous country, the differential in elevation makes pumped hydro storage a clean and efficient supplemental energy option.
The model also incorporates a biomass plant, a wind farm, and vehicle-to-grid generation. By focusing efforts on a distribution model that would link smaller-scale renewable sources together closer to the load, Green Energy Corp claims that they can reduce the costs of transmitting energy. Plus, the model offers an opportunity for Haitians to set up small wind or solar farms, creating jobs and energy.
And since the pumped hydro storage needs man-made lakes to store water, villages could be constructed around the lakes — providing improved irrigation and an attractive alternative for displaced Haitians.
The conceptual figure below shows what Port au Prince could look like under GEM (click image to enlarge).
Enter the Green Energy Corp’s software platform — GreenBus — which promises to coordinate the generation from all of these renewable sources.
What makes the software revolutionary is that it’s open source technology that can be used on any control system. While traditional control systems are complex and use proprietary software for control functions and communication, GreenBus is based on open standards and all of the software is published to an open-source community.
“Let’s say that if before you had 25,000 control centers in the US, you’d have another 25,000 different software configurations. It’s simply not efficient,” Gregory said. “We need a ubiquitous solution so everyone can plug and play.”
Gregory is the first to admit that this is an ambitious project. But the company has found partnership in all the right places.
“Haiti just has that charisma that we need to get people off the dime. We have the ear of everyone that can make a difference there,” Gregory added.
In addition to the CGI, the GEM Working Group consists of some big names — both public and private — including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the UN Environment Programme, Duke Energy, and EarthSpark International.
When I asked him how long such an endeavor would take, Gregory admitted that it was hard to say. The plan now is to phase in the project beginning with an 8-hour daytime power and gradually build up to a 24/7, 100% renewable energy system.
If successful, Green Energy Corp. hopes Haiti will serve as a model for other developing countries — places like Ethiopia, Sudan, Pakistan and the Congo.
“My personal belief is that, five years would be too long. But it needs to happen, there are so many issues in the world today, it’s life and death, it’s water… it’s humanity,” Gregory stressed.
“These things need to happen, and nothing should be holding us back.”