Energy poverty, a lack of access to modern energy services, is disproportionally affecting women in rural areas. EarthSpark International, a women-run enterprise, is meeting this challenge head on by approaching all its energy access projects with a gender lens, referring to this as “feminist electrification.”
Feminist electrification increases the participation of and benefits to women in rural areas across infrastructure planning, training and employment, local women-led business support, domestic energy use, and community resource availability.
- EarthSpark has sold over 18,000 small-scale clean energy products ranging from solar lanterns to efficient cookstoves benefiting over 80,000 people
- EarthSpark is now working to develop 80 microgrids in Haiti that will directly benefit 200,000 people with microgrid connections and a further 400,000 through access to businesses and services powered by electricity
- Over 19,000 tonnes of CO2 and black carbon emissions could potentially be reduced just by switching from kerosene lamps and individual diesel generators to electricity from a microgrid
- EarthSpark is working on the electrification of cooking in the microgrid context. Replacing charcoal with clean electricity will further reduce CO2 and black carbon while also dramatically improving domestic air quality and boosting microgrid electricity demand.
Photo: Marc Lee Steed
Worldwide 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity and instead spend large amounts of money on low quality energy services such as kerosene, candles, and charcoal. Each year, four million people die due to indoor air pollution from these inefficient sources of energy and countless more remain locked in poverty.
Only a third of Haiti has access to electricity and those off-grid spend 6.5% of their annual income on dirty and inefficient lighting sources.
EarthSpark is tackling energy poverty by researching and developing business models that can spin off and scale to address specific aspects of the problem. So far, EarthSpark has spun off Enèji Pwòp, a Haitian social enterprise that offers improved cooking technologies, and SparkMeter, a smart meter technology company that offers comprehensive low-cost metering solutions for everything from rural micro-grids to existing urban central grid utilities. EarthSpark has also built a town-sized, solar-powered, smart grid in rural Haiti and is working towards a scalable model for microgrid development in Haiti.
EarthSpark’s grids use smart metering that allows them to optimize grid assets through load limiting and time of use pricing. Customers pre-pay for their electricity by the kWh – as and when they can afford it, mimicking how they used to pay for inefficient energy sources like kerosene.
Helping the planet
EarthSpark grids are solar-diesel hybrid, with about 90% of the power coming from solar energy. This project has the potential to eliminate 19,000 tonnes of CO2 and black carbon emissions by reducing the need for kerosene lamps and diesel generators. The project will see additional CO2 reductions if its work on the electrification of cooking to replace charcoal is successful.
Access to electricity is a life-changing event with numerous social, economic, livelihoods and health benefits. While many electricians and technicians in Haiti tend to be men, EarthSpark has trained women in home installations and basic trouble shooting for customer issues. All major contractors working with EarthSpark must ensure that at least 20% of their workforce is women and must document wages by gender of worker.
The benefits of electrification to women are enormous. In terms of domestic energy use, clean energy reduces exposure to indoor air pollution caused by kerosene for women and their families. Burn risk – a tragic side effect of domestic kerosene use – is also reduced. Electric lighting extends leisure hours and usable work hours. EarthSpark is also piloting electric cooking on its first two microgrids. This will have an enormous impact on leisure time due to reduced cooking times and impact indoor air pollution through elimination of charcoal.
Furthermore, EarthSpark is working with women’s cooperatives to introduce new productive uses of electricity for agricultural processing. To date they have introduced an electric corn mill, a corn thresher, and an electric fryer with several more mills on the way. EarthSpark makes the upfront purchase of equipment and then offers it to the end users on a trial basis. After the vetting, EarthSpark offers purchase of the equipment with financing in line with the economic value of the equipment so that no up-front money is required.
Important innovations in decarbonizing the global energy supply are coming from remote villages that have not yet seen electricity. Where there is no incumbent infrastructure, there is an opportunity to build energy systems with today's best technologies and business models. These models leverage clean energy, storage, smart grid, and customer participation and can be adapted and transferred – South to North – to inform the evolving utility business models in established markets.
Site selection for the new grid
EarthSpark searched internationally for high functionality, low-cost smart meters that would meet their needs for a microgrid, but were unsuccessful. They ended up developing their own technology. That technology is now SparkMeter, a company that is solving problems for microgrid developers and central grid utilities in over 20 countries around the world.
For the time being, EarthSpark is focusing on working in Haiti. However, their business models can be replicated and adapted in other countries to solve energy access problems globally.