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FEATURE STORY

Addressing Haiti’s Energy Challenges: a Key Priority in the Years to Come

September 25, 2012

Often people have to use candles because of poor energy supply.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Only 25% of the population in Haiti has energy supply.
  • A project seeks to improve access and strengthen Haiti´s national provider.
  • Two years after the earthquake, there is a need to reduce the gaps in terms of basic services.

The student who studies in the evening and the hospital that must operate around the clock have one thing in common: they need electricity. More than two years after the 2010 earthquake, Haiti's energy supply remains a significant challenge.

EDH van kouran, EDH pa fe kado kouran” (EDH sells electricity, EDH does not give away electricity) can be read on the shirts of participants at an awareness-raising activity in Cayes on the need to pay electricity bills. Haiti’s electricity company [L’Electricité d’Haïti EDH], the largest State-run enterprise, which constitutionally has a monopoly to sell electricity, is trying to explain to Haitians that the EDH is a commercial enterprise that risks bankruptcy if it doesn’t generate revenue.

“This is a sales office of the EDH, but the clients don’t understand this,” explains Mr. Balde, manager of the Pétionville office.

In order to provide ongoing service to citizens, the State must subsidize the EDH with about US$200 million per year. The shortfalls in the enterprise’s revenues have a disastrous effect on the maintenance and much needed expansion of the networks.

Since 2006, the World Bank has sought to improve the quality of electricity supply and strengthen the financial and operational management of the EDH through the Electricity Loss Reduction Project (Projet de Réduction des Pertes du Secteur Electrique PREPSEL).

PREPSEL is expected to be strengthened by the end of the year through substantial additional World Bank assistance to the energy sector.

Strengthening a business approach to reduce losses

Energy is one of the five “Es” of the government’s program (along with Environment, Employment, Education, and Establishment of the rule of law) and it needs resources to boost investments and the reconstruction effort. In this context, PREPSEL seeks to improve the output of the EDH through better business management and a client-centered approach.

Since 2011, PREPSEL has facilitated the establishment of a computerized Business Management System (Système de Gestion Commerciale SGC) at the company’s headquarters and at each sales office in the metropolitan area. Long-distance communication via the Internet is helping to improve client service, reduce the processing time for requests, and correct problems more quickly.

“Because of the SGC, clients’ monthly bills can be generated in real time rather than every two or three months, as happened under the old management system,” confirmed Mr. Balde.

The work on the ground is, however, a long-term undertaking for which staff is expected to receive ongoing training.

Sustainable alternatives to address emergencies

In addition, speedy alternatives are necessary to address emergencies. After the earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010, the World Bank, with financial support from the Global Environment Facility, started an emergency operation distributing solar lanterns to the affected population.

There was a pressing need for portable, individual, and self-sustaining lighting solutions to provide the basic lighting needed for family life, personal security, and the care of the injured.

5,000 solar lanterns were distributed free of cost in 2010 (two-thirds of which through the EDH), benefitting some 200,000 persons and more than 260 camps.

Preparing to manage the energy risk

The post-earthquake situation increased acute awareness of the need to address the existing energy gaps. The additional assistance being negotiated with the World Bank is expected to include a clause that allows for the allocation of emergency resources, based on the extent of the damage.

“In the event of problems, this would offer a quick financial response,” explains Mr. Cange, EDH project coordinator for World Bank financing.

The Financial assistance would facilitate the purchase of equipment or the use of local companies to repair distribution lines in cases where the EDH does not have suitable equipment. The EDH could also ask external companies or consultants to repair high-voltage power lines.

It is clear that the EDH must play an important role in restoring energy security and overcoming the many challenges that remain.  Furthermore, alternatives like the solar lanterns distributed by the World Bank are environmentally sustainable solutions, easy to use, and increasingly popular.