BLOG

IEEE Retrofit Progress

0

IMG_3143Portable battery kits, or "Ti Soley" kits bring affordable electricity into the homes of Sirona's customers to replace kerosene.  The program has been very successful and resulted in long waiting lists in rural Haiti.  Unfortunately the first people to use equipment are also the first to find its flaws.  The kits are designed with a low voltage disconnect (LVD) that protects the battery from being fully depleted to extend the life of batteries.  Unfortunately there was a flaw in the original LVD so we brought hundreds of kits back to Port au Prince for a retrofit run by the IEEE.  A newly designed LVD was put into the kits, all kits were repaired to perfect working order, and now they are being redeployed to our solar charging stations.

GEDC0341

The retrofit was a massive endeavor.  Collecting kits, storing them, transporting them to the retrofit facility, and man hours required to test and retrofit every kit.  Sirona owes a great deal of thanks to many people who helped with this project.  We are especially grateful to the IEEE for seeing the retrofit through.  Sirona's Operators have patiently waited for repairs and are excited to see their inventories rising again.  This was a setback, but Sirona is ramping back up and preparing to quadruple the number of homes we serve within 18 months.  

Costly Break from Blogging

0

Sirona has been very busy with the energy work we do in Haiti.  The summer brought a lot of travel and our team accomplished a great deal.  The blog has definitely suffered as time between entries grew.  So much has happened that we need to catch up and show our supporters that we are making great progress.

As it turns out, if you take a break from blogging you receive (in our case) over 3,000 spam comments advertising everything anyone could possibly imagine.  It took hours to cull those out and it was a great punishment for failing to blog often enough.

We're back online, and we will be keeping you up to date on all of our work.

Thank you for hanging in with us!

Michelle Lacourciere

Sirona’s Jatropha Project Creates Clean Fuel and Feeds Children

0

IMG_0088Sirona has over 1,000 farmers enrolled in our Jatropha Program.  These farmers receive free jatropha saplings to plant (2 meters x 2 meters) in and amongst their crops.  Jatropha seeds are harvested from the trees and they are then crushed to extract an oil that, once filtered, is a drop-in replacement for diesel fuel.  A by-product of crushing process is a seedcake that can be pressed into briquettes that burn cleaner than traditional charcoal.  The value of a jatropha tree keeps it safe and in the ground, and every tree planted helps Haiti's deforestation issue.

Our farmers sometimes need assistance to expand the amount of land under production.  Sirona makes "loans" of $50 to 10 farmers per year that are selected by community leaders.  These farmers are then able to extend their land and grow more food.  Rather than repay Sirona in cash, the community oversees repayment of the loan in food to the local school and/or community center.  Pictured above and b elow are happy children enjoying the food provided by local jatropha farmers. 

Sirona has worked with and supported farmers since we started working in Haiti.  We have also endeavored to feed children.  This successful program accomplishes both and we are proud to have completed the third year of loans to our farmers.

IMG_0089

Sirona’s 1st Sustainable Business Plan Contest in Haiti

0


IMG_2872Sirona has worked for years on developing sustainable businesses in Haiti based upon alternative energy.  The goal has always been to move from charity to self-sustaining programs that are Haitian-run enterprises.  We have successfully worked in both biofuel and solar, and now we are turning our experience into opportunity for small scale entrepreneurs in Leogane, Haiti.

Lack of access to energy is the key barrier for small businesses in Haiti.  Last year Wagan Tech donated to Sirona Cares Foundation solar cubes for Haiti.  These cubes are a portable, solar-based power supply that can run any type of appliance, the time they run depends of course upon power consumption.  Sirona is using the solar cube as a prize for first place in Sustainable Business Plan competitions, the first is beginning now in Leogane, Haiti.  Last week we delivered the cube, and the buzz at the NEGES Foundation was that of excitement.

Haitians are, by nature, hard working entrepreneurs.  Given the scantest of resources Haitian people are able to bring economic value to their lives, and this type of competition is intended to be the hand up that a would-be business owner needs to thrive.  The excitement over having power that is not reliant upon diesel or government electricity spurred many ideas spontaneously: the ability to put air into tires on the road (this man loses at least 10 potential customers every time he runs out of fuel and leaves to buy more); the ability to run a small theater in a home; the ability to keep drinks cool.  The business ideas were far beyond simply charging phones, and they kept coming the entire time we were there.

The contest will open soon and the top twenty plans will be accepted for review.  Each plan must outline the business plan as well as the intention to set aside funds for equipment repair and battery replacement over time.  We will post the top business ideas here as well as track the winner as he/she starts a new venture with sustainable energy thanks to the NEGES Foundation, Sirona and Wagan Tech.

 

New Year, New Challenges

1

Debuisson Operator with New KitSirona's team hit the ground running in 2013.  In Haiti all stations deployed for the USAID program have received all of the Ti Soley battery kits needed for each unit to support 83 homes.  This grant activity is now complete and Sirona's new franchisees are working hard to create sustainable businesses with their equipment. 

With regard to equipment, the IEEE is working with Sirona to resolve an issue with the original home kits that we deployed.  Some customers have experienced problems with their portable battery kit holding a charge.  The technical issue has been identified, and the IEEE team is working with Sirona on a retrofit campaign that will take place this spring.  In the meantime new equipment procured by Sirona has been deployed to the charging stations so that they may continue to service customers without interruption.

The IEEE has been an incredible partner for Sirona, and while an issue like this is a new challenge, the fact that this organization has stood behind this program and stepped up for the retrofit speaks volumes with regard to their dedication to bring light to those without.  Three new groups in Africa have been replicating this business model and we wish them well as they tackle the business management issues.  Sirona is committed to give as much field experience as we have gained thus far to these new groups and empower them to succeed in Camaroon, South Sudan and Nigeria.

Sirona is in the final stages of securing a grant from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to light 3,000 more homes in Haiti.  This time, rather than using solar charging stations we will be lighting most homes by rechrging Ti Soley kits at end of grid "Energy Stores".  We are evaluating sites for these stores now and undertaking market research to select the sites most likely to succeed.  There will also be two solar stations deployed under this grant on the island of Ille le Vache.  We look forward to beginning this work later this spring.

IMG_2603The Jatropha farming project is running well, over 250,000 trees have been planted and our farmers are eager for the first oil pressing and charcoal production that will occur in Port au Prince.  The press was damaged during shipping and has now been repaired.  We are ready to start making Jatropha oil for sale (to displace diesel fuel), and a form of alternative charcoal that burns cleaner than traditional charcoal. Pictured here are farmers I met with in December, 2012.

Finally, we are working to build both the Foundation and the Sirona
Haiti business.  We appreciate the donors who sent funding over the
holidays and appreciate your continued support of our work. It is going to be an exciting year, and my goal is to keep this blog up to date so that you may follow our progress!

Catching Up: Sirona’s Progress

0
IMG_2397

St. Marc: Sirona Customer Sighting

Thanksgiving has just passed here in America, and with gratitude on my mind I want to thank all of the supporters of Sirona’s work.  It has been an amazing adventure and we are only succeeding due to the support of our donors, the IEEE, our volunteers, and our team in Haiti.  It takes a lot of people who believe in a vision to make it a reality, and Sirona Cares thanks all who have shared our vision and provided the support they could to bring light and sustainable development to communites throughout Haiti.

The USAID program to light 747 houses in the St. Marc communes of Haiti has rested near completion for weeks now.  We deployed nine SunBlazer units in August, each with 40 home kits for customers.  The units are operating well, and the communities have been excited to have access to affordable electricity.  The catch is that 43 customer home kits per unit have been stuck in customs.  Anyone who has shipped to Haiti has probably experienced a hiccup at the port, and unfortunately it was our turn to go through the extended process of claiming goods.  We should be distributing the additional kits to bring all units up to 83 homes served by each SunBlazer in the next two weeks.  With the bad there is always good, and the upside is that the delay allowed the new franchise Operators time to gain experience and run their businesses with fewer homes served.  All are ready now to add the new homes, and increase the profitability of their businesses.

IMG_2422

  STAR TIDES, Pentagon Courtyard

Sirona was happy to attend the STAR TIDES demonstrations this year in Washington D.C.  STAR TIDES is a DOD funded program that highlights technologies that can be used to stabilize stressed (post-war, post-disaster) communities.  The demonstrations proved to be an excellent opportunity for networking amongst shelter/water/energy/communications groups, and Sirona’s Director ran a workshop for participants focused on “High Tech Solutions in Low Tech Environments”.  The talk was geared at how we have successfully deployed our equipment into rural Haiti without suffering any loss due to theft or tampering.  For followers of the blog you already know, the answer rests upon the strength of community in rural Haiti.  With 83 homes reliant on a station the odds of tampering with the SunBlazer unit has dropped to zero.  Giving the community control of the unit has proven a successful method of mitigating those risks.

A new company, Sirona Haiti, S.A. was formed to collect revenue from stations and provide for the service technician to visit and repairs to be made as necessary.  We have had technical issues with two stations during the past year and support from the IEEE volunteers has been critical. Our biggest challenge has been that of achieving true sustainability.  We work in a tough environment, and we provide a new product.  Reception of our equipment is very positive, but shifting an informal economy to a formal economy is challenging. 

We have experienced the growing pains one would expect: the impact of a missed payment from an Operator, technical issues, port issues, even two hurricanes, flat tires.  I am proud of our team, and happy to report that we are in successfully working through these issues as they arise.  As the Creyole saying goes: “Piti piti na rive” (little by little we arrive).  With new projects on the horizon I say with confidence, we are getting there.

The photo above was taken along the road by one of our team members and texted to me.  What you see is a customer with their kit in tow.  I’m not sure if they were going to recharge, or to use it in town that evening, all I am sure of is this: a product that we placed in the community is in use, making a difference, and that is a very exciting thing to get a candid photo of.