On my first night in Haiti more than a year ago, I walked out into the clear night to the parked SUV that would whisk me safely back to my quaint hotel nestled in the hills overlooking Port au Prince. As the driver opened the door for me, I noticed a small leg protruding from under the vehicle. The leg belonged to a young child, fast asleep, sheltered under the protection of the front bumper. My host roused the homeless boy, who wearily stood up, naked from the waist down, and then vanished into the unlit city.
Observing my obvious distress, my host simply said “wait until you see Boucan Carré”.
The Boucan Carré region in Haiti’s Central Plateau can’t be called a forgotten land; it is a stretch of rocky earth where few live and most people never knew existed in the first place. Even in the context of Haiti, a poor country, Boucan Carré is an impoverished place.
But Boucan Carré is blessed with two things: bountiful sunlight and an industrious people --ready, willing and able to improve their living conditions if provided the tools to do so. That is why President Bill Clinton, Dr. Paul Farmer and a host of aid experts and energy executives traveled to Boucan Carré a few weeks ago to see what could be achieved when you equip a naturally energetic people with even a modest dose of solar power.
President Clinton’s delegation visited clinics and hospitals with vital medical equipment powered by the sun. Keep in mind, that for a young woman or girl enduring a difficult labor at night in Boucan Carré, “vital medical equipment” often means light. They were entertained at rural schools able for the first time to plug into the world of information courtesy of the sun. They inspected a fish farm that was in the process of increasing its production by 500 percent as a result of solar powered aeration and pumps, creating employment for many new Haitian subsistence fisherman along the way. Everyone walked away impressed by how so much good had been achieved with so little solar power. But there is so much more that we can do.
Distributed solar technology, where it is being deployed in Haiti, is helping Haitians grow a sustainable economy; alleviate hunger; reduce crime against women; and improve public health, education and the environment.
But wait, there’s more. There’s the potential for solar business.
Solar power installed in Haiti to date largely has been a result of charitable donations, like the projects I described above donated by my company, NRG Energy. But solar power has a bright future in Haiti in the private sector as well. In Haiti and across the Caribbean, electricity is generated disproportionally by diesel generators burning expensive (and dirty) fuel oil. Haiti provides both a local market of reasonable scale and cost effective regional fabrication and distribution hub.
Two years after the devastating earthquake struck, Haiti is on the upswing. Progress is being made, but much remains to be done and the enormous potential of some 10 million Haitians living just off our eastern seaboard remains to be harnessed. At NRG, we are keen to stay involved in Haiti on both the charitable and “for profit” sides of our business.
For the solar industry in the United States, Haiti is our showcase. Haiti is the place where we make a statement about what the clean energy revolution can mean to all people in every economic circumstance. If we apply even a modest measure of our collective solar resources, leavened with the creativity, entrepreneurship and zeal that is endemic to our industry, Haiti will rise and the world will take note of the power of solar energy.
Fish farms in Haiti powered by solar
David Crane is President and CEO of NRG Energy, a Fortune 300 power generation and retail electricity company with headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey.