Sirona Cares Foundation – Haiti

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  • Track of Hurricane Matthew, a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

  • Installation of first SunBlazer in Haiti in 2011. Photo by ISV

In the Caribbean country of Haiti, only one in seven people have access to electricity. IEEE Smart Village partners with the Sirona Cares Foundation, which, in 2011, began deploying IEEE Smart Village community charging stations. The partner franchises local entrepreneurs in rural communities of Haiti, who then lease portable battery kits to homeowners for lighting and cell-phone charging. The SunBlazer was found to be able to support lighting for up to 83 homes in a community, and the monthly fee to the homeowner is less than the cost of candles and kerosene (and/or fuel to run small generators), making electric home lighting easily affordable to people making $1-2 per day. In this way, With the franchise model, the only up front investment required of the customer is a 2-month security deposit of $12.50 USD for the battery kit.

In June 2011 Sirona Cares initially deployed renewable-energy solutions in six villages and expanded to 15 villages in 2012 serving 1200 homes or 7200 people. After that, Sirona Cares expanded to serve another 2,200 homes reaching an estimated 20,000 people. At that time, 10 more homeowners join the waiting list to receive portable battery kits for every home that was lit. Leveraging IEEE Smart Village’s initial seed funding and business model, Sirona Cares was able to attract additional funding of $1 million from international donors to expand its capacity by a factor of three.

A university contracted for a field impact analysis of the work in Haiti concluded,“access to electricity … fostered entrepreneurial growth and allowed villagers to increase their productivity. When villagers no longer had to rely on the polluting fuels of diesel and kerosene, observable health improvements were possible and there was less harm to the physical environment. Villagers believe that lighting has improved their lives through healthier living from a smoke free environment, better educational opportunities for their children due to the extended day for studying, additional opportunities for leisure activities such as radio and television, and increased opportunities to expand their work, and earn a better living. Several villagers expressed that the effect on their quality of life outweighed any money they could hope to generate or save by using the solar kits. One of our participants commented that ‘now I feel like a human being’ after being given electricity.”

Sirona Cares – Haiti

The first iteration of Smart Village SunBlazer systems were deployed in Haiti in 2011, in cooperation with Sirona Cares Foundation, beginning a global program now a part of IEEE Foundation’s Priority Initiatives. At the time, the SunBlazer concept was called “community charging stations”. These portable, systems-on-a-trailer provided local entrepreneurs the charging equipment and local battery packs for up to 83 homes in a community. The local entrepreneurs would provide the battery packs for a small security deposit and then recharged them each time the homeowner brought them to the charging station. This provided cash flow for the entrepreneur to maintain the charging station. The battery packs could power homeowners’ lights and recharge their cellphones for less than they were spending for batteries and kerosene. This effort proved the business model that small solar power charging stations were financially viable in the remotest areas of the world.

The 2011 seed-funding enabled the Sirona Cares Foundation to deploy renewable energy solutions in six villages. Expansion in 2012 allowed another 1200 households across an additional 15 villages to receive portable energy in the form of Smart Villages’ innovative Portable Battery Kit. Due to the success of these initial efforts, Sirona Cares was able to attract an additional $1M from international donors, increasing its capacity to serve by a factor of three.

Haiti is a mountainous island in the Caribbean where only one in seven people have access to reliable electricity. The economic hardship of Haitians has received world-wide attention after a massive earthquake hit in January, 2020. The SunBlazers were timely solutions to a true humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, Hurricane Mathew devastated the island in 2016. This was the first Category 5 hurricane since 1964. With winds recorded at over 160 miles per hour, the effects were devastating to the entire island, especially the local power grid.

PostScript 2017: In October 2016 Hurricane Matthew decimated the island with winds of 145 mph causing total destruction of whole villages and wiping out the entire Sirona operation concentrated in villages along the western peninsula south and north coasts. Recovery plans are still hampered by the ensuing chaos.

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