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 t up 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. Since then, Sirona Cares has been expanding to serve another 2,200 homes reaching an estimated 20,000 people. For every home that is lit, 10 more homeowners join the waiting list to receive portable battery kits. Leveraging IEEE Smart Village’s initial seed funding and business model, Sirona Cares was able to attract d 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.”
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.