And yet, he and others acknowledge, in some places such living laboratories are producing extraordinary results. Case in point is Les Anglais, seemingly abandoned by local and national governments. Even driving to the southwest village is precarious, involving a long stretch across a dried-up riverbed with no bridge. Residents say the river floods catastrophically in hurricane season, but they no longer believe officials' assurances that a bridge will be built.
Cellphones bring a micro-grid
But EarthSpark International, which has been working in the town since 2009 providing solar lanterns, cellphone chargers and clean cookstoves, is now embarking on one of the country's most ambitious decentralized energy projects yet. Using excess diesel-powered electricity from a local cellular phone tower, the organization has developed a micro-grid to deliver 24-hour electricity to the town.
Currently, 14 homes are on the grid, which is in its first phase of development, and about 40 are expected to come online by the end of this month. The rest of the town as well as businesses will be included in the coming year.
"This may not sound like a big deal for those of us in the United States, but when you think that not even in the national capital of Port-au-Prince do most people have electricity 24/7, it is quite an accomplishment," said Rachel McManus, project manager for EarthSpark International. Currently, she said, customers prepay for power on a model similar to the way residents currently pay for cellphone use.
The electricity doesn't power much -- a couple of light bulbs in each home and a cellphone charger. But, McManus said, for now that's what community members in extensive consultations said they want and need. "People didn't want a huge solar system to run a television and a laptop and a freezer. They wanted a light for their home," she said.
EarthSpark International is exploring ways to build on what it's doing in Les Anglais in other villages, and a handful of other nonprofits and private companies are doing other small-scale distributed solar work in the country. But experts say that ultimately Haiti needs to grapple with entrenched issues -- like a lack of political coordination, a near complete absence of data collection and rampant energy theft -- before any type of large-scale rural energy projects can become economically viable.
And, others like Konold agreed, the country needs an agency laser-focused on the electricity needs of the rural poor.
"It's so, so important because without it, I think the rural areas really run the risk of getting left behind," he said.
Meanwhile, residents of Les Anglais said they're not waiting for the government, preferring to put their faith in the foreign aid groups working in the community. Jean Noel Marc Paget, a high school math teacher in Les Anglais who also manages the clean energy store, said he believes the micro-grid is going to transform his town. Already, he said, homes like his on the micro-grid have better and more reliable power than those of residents in the nearest big city of Les Cayes.
"It's going to be better for Les Anglais, because electricity is the light of the community," he said. "When you have electricity, so many things could be happening with your brain and your spirit. With electricity, you can do anything."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500