How the Renewable Energy Community Can Help Haiti

The tragedy of Haiti continues to unfold, painfully and inescapably, in front of us. The need couldn’t be clearer, and there are two things we in the renewable energy community can do to help in the aftermath of last week’s devastating earthquake.

First, we should respond as any and all of us can by contributing to disaster relief and aid organizations.  Whether that’s the American Red Cross, UNICEF or Partners In Health (PIH) doesn’t matter. Maybe you’ve already donated.  If you have given, give again. If you haven’t, give twice as much as you think you should.

Second, if you want to do more and you prefer to do so as a member of the renewable energy community, you can.  Ours is a community known for taking a long-term view, and such a perspective can well serve the people of Haiti as rebuilding efforts begin in the weeks and months ahead.  After immediate relief needs are addressed, mid- and long-term reconstruction will begin.  Renewables can — and should — play a part.  It is early yet to say just what applications make sense to put in the mix, but at least one application, solar health care, is ready to take the lead. 

The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is already using the sun to power health care in Haiti and is primed to expand its work with Partners In Health (PIH), the NGO co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer (he’s on the ground there now; you may have seen him Sunday night on “60 Minutes.”).  When the earthquake struck last Tuesday, SELF had 13 kW of photovoltaic (PV) panels in a warehouse in Haiti, waiting to be installed in two PIH clinics next month.  The plan now is to divert those 13 kW to emergency field hospitals that are being set up near Port-au-Prince, the area hardest hit by the quake.

SELF is a 20-year old nonprofit organization that brings solar electricity to impoverished people throughout the world.  We have worked with PIH since 2006 to electrify health clinics in Africa and, just five months ago, electrified a clinic for the organization in Haiti’s Boucan Carre, three hours from Port-au-Prince.  This is the first of 10 PIH centers we plan to electrify in Haiti through the SELF-PIH Solar Health Care Partnership.

Once the crisis is over, the country will still have large power-supply needs.  While Haiti is tormented with many urgent problems, one thing it is blessed with is an abundance of sunshine.  Renewable energy can be the backbone of a new Haiti, improving the health and well-being of its citizens.

Few organizations are as effective as Partners In Health or as highly regarded.  Think of what can happen if we are able, quickly, to complete the electrification of these 10 PIH clinics.  Despite the fickle and fast-moving news cycle, there will be many eyes on Haiti’s reconstruction in the coming months and even years.  Think of the benefit — for the people of Haiti and for the world — if one of the best examples is the restoration and expansion of health care, powered by green technology.

The solar energy community in particular is in a position to help fulfill many of the country’s needs through donations of:

  • Cash; to buy equipment and pay for design, installation and shipping; or
  • Equipment; including solar panels, batteries, inverters, charge controllers, cable, racks, and any additional balance-of-system components.

Last year, SELF created its Array of Life program to partner with companies donating solar equipment and/or funding to support this work.  Sunpower, Dow Corning, Good Energies, SolarWorld, Solar Liberty, Bosch Solar, Solar Outdoor Lighting and Trojan Batteries are among those already stepping forward.  We need more to join us.

Let’s not allow the tragedy in Haiti to pass us by without getting involved.  Let’s rebuild this nation, power it with renewable energy and show the world that hope for a sustainable planet can be a reality.  Amidst the global financial crisis, staggering global rates of unemployment and failed Copenhagen talks, the renewable energy industry remains a beacon of hope for the future.  Together we can let Haiti light the way.

Please donate now to rebuild Haiti.

Thank you.

Robert Freling is Executive Director of the Solar Electric Light Fund, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that delivers solar solutions to rural villages in the developing world. He has pioneered the use of solar power for a wide range of applications, including household lighting, school electrification, drip irrigation and wireless Internet access.  SELF has completed projects in 20 countries, making it a leading nongovernmental provider of cost-effective renewable energy alternatives for the developing world.

A native of Dallas, Texas, Bob received a B.A. in Russian Studies from Yale University and an M.A. in Communications Management from Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California.  

[Editor’s note:  SELF’s project in Haiti is a finalist for the Excellence in Renewable Energy Awards in the Distributed and On-site Renewables Category.  It is also a finalist for a Reader’s Choice Award.  You can vote for SELF, or any of the Reader’s choice finalists, by clicking here.]

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