After Earthquake AIDG provides rapid investment for Haitian-owned solar start-up ENERSA

This past February, AIDG gave Haitian solar start-up, ENERSA, a $15,000 emergency loan to help it rebuild its factory damaged in the January 12 earthquake that rocked the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.

Duration: 2 minutes 14 seconds

Before the quake struck, Enersa was the fastest growing solar company in Haiti, with contracts in all 10 departments and installations in 58 cities and remote villages. The 2 and a half year old company is the brainchild of Haitian born Jean Ronel Noël and Alex Georges who met in graduate school in Montreal while pursuing degrees in mechanical engineering and business administration. In 2000, the two decided they needed to return to Haiti to start a business that could create positive change in their home country.

Enersa’s product line includes solar street lighting, residential and commercial solar systems, and solar chargers for smaller devices like cell phones and lamps. They initially settled on LED streetlights as a flagship product after seeing Japanese company Nichia’s white LEDs in action on Montreal’s streets. The big question for them at the time was what would they use as an energy source if they wanted to port this technology to Haiti. Haiti’s electricity infrastructure was notoriously unreliable in urban zones and nonexistent in rural areas. However, the country’s location in the sun-drenched tropics and the relatively modest energy requirements of LED systems made solar an attractive option for the Enersa team, if a suitable price point could be reached.

In steps Richard Comp of Maine Solar and Skyheat who would come to be Noel and Georges’ mentor. He introduced the team to methods of solar fabrication including inexpensive ways of encapsulating PV cells. Through Skyheat, Comp has trained teams in Mali, Nicaragua, Haiti and Peru in small-scale solar panel manufacturing.

AIDG first learned about Enersa when our Executive Director, Peter Haas met Noel and Georges at the Inter-American Development Bank Haiti Business forum in Port-au-Prince last September.

“I was immediately impressed by [Noel] an engineer who taught himself the electrical engineering he was missing by using the free online engineering resources of MIT Opencourseware from Port Au Prince,” says Haas. “Also, after seeing the dramatic bootstrapping JR and Alex had done in starting their business, it was clear this team was different.”

Enersa’s IDB Presentation, Oct 2009

My interaction with JR last week during a tour of the damaged Enersa facility reinforced that impression. Though the factory had sustained much damage — several collapsed interior and exterior walls, JR was optimistic about the company’s outlook. With the help of our emergency funding and some smart maneuvering, he expected to be back in production in a few short weeks. Enersa was lucky in that all their employees were safely accounted for and little of their inventory was damaged. Their latest shipment of solar cells had been safe in Miami at the time of the disaster.

In our chat, Noël stressed the importance of creating jobs in Haiti. He believes that for Haiti to flourish, enjoy sustained growth and ultimately transition into a developed nation, businesses need to create local employment opportunities. So rather than simply importing completed panels and lights, Enersa imports the basic building blocks and employs local youth for production and installation. In their solar streetlights for example, the small panel, LED lights and towers are all made in Haiti. The company’s 18 fully qualified solar technicians, all capable of installing solar streetlights and photovoltaic home systems, are from Port-au-Prince largest shantytown, Cité Soleil. An added benefit of local production, Noel added, is that their completed panels are also 25% cheaper. Double win.

Enersa’s client focus for the near future will be NGOs and private companies in Haiti who need reliable access to electricity and want to support a socially responsible local business.

To contact Enersa, please email enersahaiti {at] gmail (dot}com.

Solar Install in Remote Village

Related Information:

Bringing Light to Haiti – ENERSA
Solar Power Brings Light to Quake-Darkened Haiti [NatGeo]
Richard Comp’s 2007 trip to work with Enersa, et al.
Enersa’s profile on Building Markets Haiti

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