It’s probably a safe bet that unless you live in Mole-Saint-Nicolas, located in the far northwest of the island, you haven’t seen one of our pre-pay smart meters in action before. It’s also likely that you wouldn’t know there is a utility company other than Electricite d’Haiti (EdH), the public utility. Let alone one that uses renewables, provides 24/7 power, and is saving its customers 15%-30%.
We like to remind people that we work in one of the most remote and challenging environments in the world. Our rationale being that if we can electrify 5000 people in one of the most isolated regions in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, we can do it anywhere. It’s proof of concept to the extreme, but it can also isolate us from potential customers.
So this past weekend, we packed up some demo meters, maps of Mole, and a stash of coconut cookies (because everyone likes cookies), and headed into the capital to set up shop at the first ever Haiti Energy Fair organized by the American Chamber of Commerce. The goal of the event was to bring together members of Haiti’s energy industry to share and develop strategies towards a more sustainable and energy efficient future.
In a country that relies on petroleum and charcoal for 97% of its energy needs, the interconnected issues of sustainability and efficiency are central to expanding energy access and transitioning out of Haiti’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels.
On the manicured grounds of E-Power’s generation plant in western Port-au-Prince, Sigora Haiti stood out as one of the only exhibitors not displaying an (albeit impressive) array of diesel generators.
Instead of a selection of gensets, visitors to our booth would see two Sigora smart meters installed on a false wall, each connected to a lightbulb. The glowing green consumption display on each meter showed how much money was remaining on the account after the light was switched off and how much electricity was used. This enables our customers to have real control over their energy usage, and because the system is pre-paid, they can buy as much or as little as they need, or can afford. This is particularly relevant in a place like Haiti where 59% of the population live on less than US$2/day.
In this type of environment, collecting revenue is one of the most challenging parts of operating an energy business, which is another reason why a pre-pay system works so well here.
For one, people are used to pre-paying for things like mobile phone credit, but more importantly, it is an effective solution to non-payment – a real problem in Haiti. To buy electricity from us, customers can use mobile money, a credit cards, paypal, transfer credit between accounts, international account recharges and direct purchases from our network of local street vendors. It’s easy.
You might be asking yourself, “who of your customers living on less than US$2/day has a credit card, or a paypal account?!” The answer is family and friends abroad.
The Haitian diaspora send somewhere in the region of US$2 billion a year in remittances back to Haiti. Of this, an estimated 10–25% ends up being used to pay for some form of fuel, mainly kerosene and petrol. So instead of a son, cousin, or parent abroad having to use a global money transfer service to send funds overseas to their family, who themselves have to physically go to an agent – which could be the next town over, or even further away in the capital – get the cash, then visit a local Sigora vendor and buy electricity, our system allows that son, cousin or parent to directly top-up their families account online with a credit card or Pay-Pay. No extra fees. And the credit shows up on their meter in Haiti. Instantaneously.
Attendees were intrigued, and while many came over thinking we installed residential solar panels – we don’t, but it was great to see how much interest there is in going green – once they learned that we were a micro-utility providing 24/7 power in such a remote part of the country, they were impressed.
One attendee to our booth didn’t hold back: “Where others see chaos, you see opportunity!”
In that case, bring on the chaos!