January 2007

Bill Young Conducts Solar Workshop in Haiti

Bill Young conducting a workshop
Bill Young conducted a program on photovoltaics for tourist industry representatives in Haiti.

In 1981, the state of Florida created the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas (FAVACA) to help Caribbean countries by providing multi-faceted consulting and technical expertise in such areas as agriculture, public health, environmental sustainability, disaster management, trade, elder care and youth issues. This was part of the state’s close association with many of the Caribbean countries and a way to direct volunteer resources to aid those island nations.

Several years ago, Bill Young, a senior research engineer with FSEC, was asked by FAVACA to provide educational and consulting services related to the use of solar energy in disasters. This contact has resulted in trips to several island countries, most recently to Haiti, one of the poorest counties in the Caribbean.

He explained that “During a visit in 2003, we first discussed the possibility of offering an educational workshop to teach resort owners about energy efficiency, conservation measures and solar energy. The Association Touristique d’Haiti, an organization comprised of resorts, hotels, restaurants and transportation services that represents and promotes the tourist industry in Haiti, asked FAVACA to support such a mission. We’ve been working with them and as a result, a one-day workshop was conducted last month for members of the resort association who were interested in learning about state of the art solar technology and design criteria in order to evaluate feasibility for implementation into their operations.”

Bill presented sessions on photovoltaics and former FSEC staff member Mark Thornbloom discussed solar thermal energy for 17 workshop attendees. All sessions were translated into French during the program. To determine actual energy needs and viability, site visits were made and data collected on resources, energy consumption and present energy efficiency measures.

Young pointed out that “Haitian resorts obtain most of their electrical power from diesel generators at their facilities. The country’s climate does support the potential use of solar radiation. Education in solar energy would provide the knowledge and understanding needed for change by government, business and the general public. Implementation of energy efficiency technologies and conservation measures would help reduce energy loads at resorts. This would ultimately result in reduced costs and allow smaller solar systems to be used.”

One of the major problems limiting economic development in Haiti is that utility-supplied electricity is unreliable, of poor quality and expensive. Much of the country does not have utility power, and those areas that do only have power for several hours a day. Utility distribution lines are not properly maintained and residential connections to the grid contribute to poor power quality. No fossil fuels are found within Haitian borders so propane, diesel and gasoline are imported and expensive. Gasoline is about $5.40 a gallon and electricity is about 32 cents a kWh, making commerce very difficult.

Bill Young and Philippe Villedrouin standing on a hill in Haiti with the ocean in the background.
Philippe Villedrouin, right, gave Bill Young a tour of the PV and wind-powered Ranch Le Montcel Resort in Haiti.

In addition to putting on a number of presentations, he visited several PV sites in the country. “On our second day there,” he said, “we started with an interesting bus trip through Port-au-Prince, a city of over 500,000 people, which has only one working traffic light. We traveled along winding, bumpy roads through the mountains to the top of Montcel Mountain at 4500 feet to Ranch Le Montcel Resort, an eco-resort 60 miles south of the capital city. Philippe Villedrouin, resort director, believes this is the only ecological resort in Haiti. The 40-bedroom hotel features Swiss chalet-style architecture and a beautiful view of the valley from the restaurant’s balcony. Local farmers grow almost all of the food used at the resort and a small, man-made pond collects rainwater for processing into drinking water. The resort is powered by PV, wind and a diesel generator, of which PV and wind provide 90 percent of the resort’s energy needs with the diesel generator used for festivals and other large social events. Three arrays totaling 60 modules at 6,600 watts provide power. Near the resort entrance, a 10-module array powers the water system and utility building. Another 10-module array is housed on the lobby and conference building, with the largest array on the restaurant, which has 5 freezers for food preservation. Two 600-watt wind generators are integrated with the PV on the utility building and the lobby.”

Another hotel visited on the trip was the Norwich Mission House where Bill met with Matt Marek, Director. The mission’s sponsorship comes from the Dioceses of Norwich in Connecticut. They support two orphanages, a health program and two schools in the area of Port-au-Prince. The ten bedroom building also houses offices, volunteer training classrooms, volunteer quarters and an art shop. Missionaries and church volunteers for the Dioceses stay at the hotel when working in Haiti. Haitian students, parents and other relatives bring art objects to be sold in the mission shop as a means of income. Bill explained that the Norwich Mission House “has installed four AstroPower 110-watt PV modules along with a 3600-watt inverter and 630 amp-hour battery pack in a storage room. The PV system provides power when utility power is out, which is about half the day and partly into the night, as the Haitian utility company supplies power on the average of 4 to 6 hours a day. They have a gasoline generator, but choose not to use it unless necessary because of the high cost of fuel. They use utility power when it is available and to charge their inverter’s battery pack. When the utility power goes out, they use the energy stored in the batteries to get several more hours of electricity.”

“It’s clear from our work in Haiti that the problem is quite serious in terms of disaster preparedness and recovery, so the use of alternative energy systems are essential. Our workshop showed a number of hotel, restaurant and government officials how solar energy can give them emergency power as well as on-going reliable power systems. I look forward to working more with them in the future.”