Austin Solar Firm Lights Up The Lives Of Haitian Orphans
July 20, 2018
More than 7 million Haitians lack access to electricity. Residents of one orphanage there are now no longer a part of that eye-opening statistic thanks to an Austin company’s efforts. A crew from Freedom Solar traveled to the island nation recently to install an off-the-grid solar array that will power A Child’s Hope, an orphanage in La Montagne, around the clock.
SunPower donated the array, while Freedom Solar donated the labor. The setup has an estimated value of $100,000.
In addition to the 20-kilowatt solar array and a battery backup, Freedom Solar workers also brought toys and other gifts for the 300-plus orphans who call the facility home.
“For this orphanage, off-grid solar power is a fuel that comes up every morning, gets stored in a battery for nighttime use and still makes power even when it’s cloudy,” Freedom Solar founder and chief installation officer Adrian Buck said. “It shows you how powerful off-grid solar can be. It can change the world.
“Now lights at night provide safety, while computers and internet provide them with a connection to the outside world. Learning, medicine, hot water – they have access to all the necessities that we take for granted.”
Buck was one of four Freedom Solar workers who made the trek to Haiti.
A Child’s Hope founder Raleigh Jenkins said having solar power will make a number of other projects possible at the orphanage.
“The ultimate goal is to make the orphanage self-sustaining – and solar power was the critical first step to achieving that mission,” said Jenkins, owner of ABC Home & Commercial Services’ Houston branch. “The new solar array powers the aquaponics farm we’re currently building at the orphanage, allowing us to raise fresh fish and grow nutritious, organic produce. And the project will ultimately allow us to refrigerate or freeze that food so the children have a constant, reliable source of food. It’s a life-changer.”
Planning for the solar array started months before the actual installation, as A Child’s Hope and Freedom Solar worked to navigate through issues with import taxes and customs. Once the hardware arrived, installation took three days – including one whole day spent unpacking everything.
“We had almost no tools,” said Freedom Solar system designer Clay McKelvy. “A saw, a failing sledgehammer, two claw hammers and some violence got the job done. Somehow, we overcame each obstacle by luck, fortune or providence – depending on who you talk to.”
While admittedly an extreme example, Kyle Frazier, Freedom Solar’s director of sales, says the effort shows the power of solar energy – something a number of Central Texans are already harnessing.
“From a community support standpoint, Austin ranks near the top,” Frazier said. “Austin has the second-highest installed capacity of distributed generation solar – on homes and businesses – in Texas, after San Antonio.
“Austin Energy has always been a strong supporter of renewable energy generally and solar specifically, and they recently modified their solar rebate program with a goal to increase solar among moderate- and lower-income households.”
Freedom Solar has been around for 11 years, Frazier said, lobbying to change perceptions about solar power. With demand steadily increasing, even in light of recently increased tariffs, he said all signs point to those efforts working.
“The obvious tangible benefit is lower electric bills,” Frazier said. “The other way to look at this is to think about those energy savings as an annuity. It’s a monthly payment that you receive that you can either pocket and save, or reinvest to compound the growth. Solar panels also have an environmental benefit by displacing dirtier forms of electricity generation such as coal and natural gas.”