How solar power ran a Haitian hospital during the energy war

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Yesterday we watched the first part of the podcast “Appropriate Technology: The Haitian Energy Problem” (October 13, 2022). Walter Bradley Center Director Robert J. Marks interviewed engineers Brian Thomas and Kayla Garrett of JustEnergy about the current shortage of energy sources in Haiti. In the second part of the podcast, they look at what could be done:


A partial transcript, notes, and additional resources follow.

Brian Thomas: Let’s stop and think. If gas is $20, $25 a gallon—even if it’s $10 a gallon—and you make very little money or you don’t have a job at all… Then gas is like money. You can sell that. You can turn around and sell that. So gasoline is like money.

Robert J. Marks: I got you.

Brian Thomas: In December 2021, a tanker was coming in to fill some of the gas stations there… The gas tanker rolled over and was lying on its side and was leaking gas. People were so desperate that they ran out of every little container they could find.

It was in a neighborhood, by the way, not in an industrial area. And they started picking up all the gasoline they could. It flowed into the ditches. People were picking it up because it was free money.

Robert J. Marks: They probably had a lot of mud and dirt in the gasoline they were picking up. That wouldn’t be very good quality, would it?

Brian Thomas: No, I’m sure it wasn’t very high quality. But more importantly, after a while, the gasoline puddle spread to a trash can fire that smoldered around the edges. And then everything exploded and more than 90 people were killed, burned alive.

It was really quite awful. I was there at the time. We were working in a hospital on a solar project, and I heard the news. In fact, a lot of burn victims were taken to the hospital where we worked and they were taking people out in body bags while we were there. It was traumatic…

Robert J. Marks: So one of the things you do is install solar panels. We’ll talk more about that in a moment. But do you have a little glitch in using fossil fuels to power these generators?

Brian Thomas: I think we are. We reduce consumption, and we sometimes make electricity available when it would not otherwise be available, when there would be no electricity otherwise. Zero. Because at $25 a gallon, you just can’t afford to turn on the generator.

Kayla Garrett: And the public network is neither accessible nor operational.

Brian Thomas: Yes, that’s a good point. Kayla. In the United States, we get our electricity from the grid and it comes from a magical place on the horizon. But there is no functional network in Haiti. Or if so, as Kayla mentioned earlier, maybe 20% of the population, and that’s largely in the capital Port-au-Prince, has access to electricity. Nobody gets it 24/7 and places like the suburbs of Cap-Haitien, there is no grid.

Robert J. Marks: Wow. OK. So, in the fall of 2021, you had to bring your own gasoline to the hospital to give birth. There was also a fuel shortage in the fall of 2022, quite recently. What was going on there?

Brian Thomas: What happens is that there are heavily armed gangs and there is one gang in particular led by a guy who goes by the nickname of Barbecue. And he took control of the two ports where fuel is imported in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Brian Thomas: He basically kidnapped the fuel. He holds him hostage. He does not allow it to spread to the rest of the country.

Robert J. Marks: Is the government not rejecting this at all?

Kayla Garrett: There probably would be, if there was a lot of government standing right now. Last summer the president of Haiti was assassinated and currently the previous prime minister is the interim president. And there is very little political stability in an already tumultuous situation.

Brian Thomas: In fact, just yesterday, Bob, the Prime Minister, asked the international community for armed intervention, armed assistance. He invited them to…

Robert J. Marks: Well, we certainly send a lot of money to Ukraine for military reasons. It looks like we could help in Haiti too. Unfortunately, every time the United States gives money, it arrives in leaky buckets and often doesn’t get where it’s supposed to go.

Brian Thomas: If there is also no infrastructure to receive it properly, it is scary because it only empowers people who cause trouble. Another complicating factor is also cholera. They had, last week, epidemics of cholera.

Kayla Garrett: Which hadn’t happened for years.

Brian Thomas: It’s not because they had clean water. But due to lack of fuel, they cannot run the water purification facilities and cholera is a waterborne disease and so it is starting to spread. And now add that to the fact that the hospitals have no electricity to care for these people and we have a looming humanitarian crisis, in my opinion.

Robert J. Marks: Oh my God. So what are hospitals doing? Are they still trying to run without electricity? Are they closing? What are they doing?

Brian Thomas: Some of them are trying to operate. Some of them operate at limited hours. Some of them have solar power systems that we have installed, and they are actually operational.

Just this week we got a message from one of the clinics we worked on last year and we had this new solar system installed for them. It comes from, I would say, a medium-sized clinic outside the city of Cap-Haitien, just a small town outside. And the doctor says, in his note, “This is to tell you how the solar system has really helped in this difficult time. While other medical centers are forced to close or work limited hours, we can operate as before, saving people with asthma and those in need of oxygen using electric oxygen concentrators. Our clinic performed 41 C-sections last month, partly because no one could get to Cap-Haitien. Yeah, there’s no fuel for transportation, so they couldn’t get into towns. He says, “None of this would be possible without the solar system.” …

Robert J. Marks: Congratulations. It is truly a blessing that you have given them. So let us ask now, where are you? What do you need? Just Energy is a non-profit organization, but most of your employees, as Kayla said, are volunteers and you need money to get started and do things. So tell me, what are your needs right now?

Kayla Garrett: Well, right now I would say our biggest need is donations. Money for propane generators to send to a relief instance to just supply electricity right now in a form that can be used.

Robert J. Marks: Just to give an example, how much would a propane generator cost? I’m sure they charge based on its size, but… kind of a ballpark?

Brian Thomas: We think about $3,000 buys the generator, converts it from running on gas to running on propane, and then helps with the transportation costs to get it there.

We work in partnership with another NGO called Archangel Airborne, which is a kind of private plane that transports certain things for us and for other groups.

Robert J. Marks: Now tell us how to contribute financially to Just Energy. And if you can’t contribute specifically outside of prayers, what can you do?

Kayla Garrett: We have a website, justiceandmercy.energy, and this is where you can find more information about the work we do as well as make a secure donation through PayPal. These donations can be used to pay for these propane generators. Or in many cases it pays the paychecks of our guys in Haiti who do the maintenance and installations for all these projects and keep the systems up and running – that we can give them fair compensation for the service they do. So justiceandmercy.energy is a great place to do that.

Robert J. Marks: And is there a way if someone wants to send you a check? I’m not a big PayPal user, I’m a Venmo guy, or like to send checks through my bank. Is there a way to send an address where you can send outgoing checks?

Brian Thomas: A good address would be

Justice and Mercy Energy
number one bear location
Box 60003
Waco, Texas 76798

Robert J. Marks: So that’s really great. Guys, what you are doing is amazing. And you do it with few means, you do it out of love and I don’t know, you’re amazing. So God bless you for the work you are doing.

Brian Thomas: Oh thank you. Hi Bob. We also have a Venmo. This is the Haitian Creole spelling of Just Energy. This is Jizeneji: JIZENEJI.

Here is the first part of the podcast: In Haiti, debates on electric or gasoline cars are a luxury. Forget self-driving cars. The quest for “just enough” energy is a daily, sometimes life-or-death problem, as Kayla Garrett and Brian Thomas tell Robert J. Marks. One of Just Energy’s staff was ordered to bring his own gasoline to power the generators in the operating room for a caesarean section for his wife and baby.

Additional Resources

  • JustEnergy website: https://justiceandmercy.energy/
  • Support JustEnergy through Venmo: JizEneji
  • JustEnergy mailing address:
    JustEnergy
    1 bear location
    Box 60003
    Waco, Texas 76798
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