As many of you know, we are partnering with Messiah College to carry out a solar project in Haiti.  An existing non-profit, Partners in Development (PID), has had a defined presence in Haiti and Guatemala for over twelve years.  We held our first annual charity bike ride last year, Ride Solar, to raise necessary funds to carry out this project.

Two years after the earthquake, progress is still slow.

Last week I was in Haiti along with a Trevor Smith, a senior engineering student at Messiah, and Liam Tanis, a Messiah engineering alumnus acting as an advisor to the project.  Our task was to gather information on the proposed site and to get an assessment of how we would deal with project logistics.  With so many unknowns in a project of this scale, it was critical that we see first hand the challenges that we would be up against.

Leaving Newark for Port au Prince. (Left to Right: Chris Byers, Liam Tanis, Trevor Smith)

We arrived amped up to investigate the school that Gail, the President of PID, identified as the location for our solar installation.  In the States, we are accustomed to tight schedules, strict time management and deadlines; in Haiti, not so much.  It took us two days of waiting at PID to actually get to the site because of a lack of clarity in who would drive us there and who actually knew their way around.  This is really nobody’s fault, it’s just the way things happen Haiti and part of the reason why we scheduled a week to be down there.  When we finally confirmed the location of the school, we were a little shocked.  The structure was not as permanent as we would like and there would be little to no guarantee that the parts of the solar system would not be stolen.  On top of that, who knows if those people would actually build a permanent town in that exact location.  It seemed that a lot of other development would need to happen first, and we knew that our plans needed to shift, so the three of us returned to the PID’s location with the reality that our plans needed to shift.

Not what we expected. The school had more problems than opportunities for solar.

PID has walled in area where the main building is the hub for a variety of programs.  They provide free medical care in their clinic, run a child sponsorship program, facilitate the construction of homes for select families, and offer a micro-finance model with small business training available to its participants.  Additionally, inside this walled campus is a bunk house where groups from the States stay and help with any of the programs that PID is running.  While we were there, we saw a group of nursing students based out of a medical clinic in Maine help a staff of medical professionals from California run the clinic.  Some of those people would peel off and help in the digging of a foundation of a home that PID was building for a local family.  There was also a couple from Minnesota who were running children’s programs.  In a week’s span, I saw PID affect close to 2000 people through all of their initiatives and volunteer support.  Such an organization needs to be strengthened (and commended), and as we asked more questions, one way for us to do that was to address their own on-campus energy problems, many of which we were not made aware of prior to this trip.

A group effort. So many people across the US serving with PID.

The energy delivery system, or lack there of, in Haiti is horrible.  You pay a one time fee to get hooked up to the grid and you can use as much power as you like, but the power company will randomly come around and ask for money for “repairs or system upgrades”, but nobody knows the real reason why and often families cannot afford these sporadic expenses.  In the end, they are forced to choose go without electricity because they need that money to feed their children.  Electricity might be out for an hour, or it might be out for 8 days.  Nobody knows.  The grid will also push too much power through the lines and blow up anything connected to it.  This means anything from light bulbs to computers are at risk of destruction.

So, the clinic is unable to rely on the grid.  They can’t have the necessary medical equipment in the clinic because it will only get fried the moment the grid decides to spaz out.  A generator owned and operated by the clinic helps to provide consistency in times of need, but it costs about $400 a month in fuel and it lit on fire once.  We were seeing a real need to help mitigate these energy issues, and the concerns we had about security and longevity at the school were not and issue here at PID because of the walls around the clinic and also because of the permanency of the buildings.  The wheels began to spin…

Main building at PID faces south and as little to no shading issues making it ideal for solarThe long and short of this is that we are going to put a system on the clinic.  It is hands down the best application for our technology.  I like it because it strengthens what remains and helps an existing organization improve their services.  It will also free up some money that they are spending on equipment replacement and fuel, further adding to the benefit of solar.

There is more to tell you as we progress, so stay tuned for more updates.  Next step: system design.