BY ANNA OKON.
What did you study in the university?
My first degree was in computer engineering from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho. I also have a master’s degree in Information Technology from Sweden. I have always worked in IT and telecommunications sector.
I lived briefly in the United Kingdom, I was also in South America and the last place I worked was with a telecommunications provider in the Middle East.
I founded Arnergy Solar Limited, Lagos. The name is an acronym for Alternative Renewable Energy. We provide solar solutions to rural homes and Small and Medium Enterprises.
What is the inspiration for the business?
I was a consultant in the telecom industry and in all the places I have been to overseas, I realised that solar energy is a viable and cheaper means of providing electricity.
As a patriotic Nigerian, I had to relocate to Nigeria to be part of the solution to Nigeria’s energy problems. My belief is that the solution to the challenging power situation in Nigeria must come from Nigerians.
Why the focus on rural areas?
It is because the people that are mostly affected by the energy situation in the country are the rural dwellers.
More than 60 per cent of Nigeria’s population live in the rural areas and have no form of connection to the national grid. These people use kerosene and oil lanterns and we know the negative effects of kerosene.
Also, the reason for the rising unemployment cases in the country is because small business owners in the rural areas cannot run their businesses sustainably due to lack of electricity.
Why did you venture into solar energy when you were not trained in it?
Entrepreneurship is about passion. With the passion I had for the business, I took a formal training in it. Also, solar is a tried and tested technology.
Don’t you think bringing your solar solution to the urban area would have been more profitable?
Yes. If we are looking at people paying for the solar solution, obviously it will be more profitable in the immediate term if we supply the solution to the people in the city. But the module we run is a service module and that is why we call it a mini-utility. We just go into the village and deploy our solar solutions and they pay us for the energy they use by the day.
Explain what you mean by energy as a service.
What that means is that it is more or less like what we had with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria in the sense that you can buy the unit you need for a day or for a month. So you don’t have to turn out your pocket to buy the equipment unlike what is obtainable in the city.
However, we have some clients that we provide solution for in Lekki, Ikoyi and Victoria Island who have to buy it outright unlike what happens in the villages.
It is actually because of the impact; we are not in it for quick profit. If Nigeria really needs to develop, someone needs to go to those rural areas and reduce the rural/urban migration by providing electricity for the rural dwellers.
What level of success have you achieved so far?
When we started in 2014, the first community we provided electricity for was Sagbo Kodji Island in Lagos. They had been without electricity for 100 years and we went there and did a few pilot projects.
The last time we were there to check how the system was working, we met a young 15 year-old boy who started a business on the Lagos Island because of uninterrupted power supply. He makes up to N1000 a day charging mobile phones for people.
So if we did not provide that opportunity, the boy might just be there doing nothing. We derive a lot of joy when we go to these rural areas and see people starting such businesses. Africans are very smart; they just need the enabling environment.
Imagine if we do this across the country and we see our teenagers starting businesses; before you know it, we can put an end to poverty in Nigeria. This is part of our motivation.
Why are you doing this in partnership with the Bank of Industry?
The aim of the partnership is to light up more communities and to connect a minimum of 100,000 homes in the next five years with our solar solution.
As we speak now, we have connected two more communities in Osun State. They have about 500 households each and we have been able to power 1000 households who are predominantly cocoa, palm oil and plantain farmers.
The objective is that at the end of the day, the rural/urban migration will be reduced because people now have electricity 24 hours and they don’t need to go to town to buy kerosene.
Modakeke is the closest town to those communities in Osun State; it is not less than 40 kilometres and people travel that far to get kerosene. So, this is the kind of impact that really gives us joy.
What is the role of the Bank of Industry in this?
What we got from the BoI is a long-term loan at a single digit interest rate and more than 10 years to repay so that we can provide the solution at a very affordable rate to the rural communities.
Are the consumers paying for the service?
Yes. They are very happy. When we started in Osun State, about five petty traders selling drinks and water were able to power their deep freezers as opposed to travelling for miles in search of ice cubes.
You don’t have problem with people paying for the service?
Not at all because we charge them as low as N60 a day for 24 hours of uninterrupted power supply. They probably spent more than that on kerosene and charging of mobile phones. They compared that to what they were spending before and all of them embraced it.
Also, the good thing is that we always move closer to the communities we deploy; so if there is any issue, they know that the people who provided the electricity are there to resolve it immediately.
How is your money paid?
We have people we have trained in that community. So they pay cash currently. We are also working with one of the mobile network providers to make the payment completely cashless.
Is it possible to deploy the solution in homes in the city and still charge N60 per day?
No. That will not be possible. The reason is that if you look at the energy needs for the people in the rural areas, they don’t have five air conditioners in their homes. As a matter of fact we receive a lot of calls from people in the city who will say, ‘hey, I have a one bedroom apartment, I have one AC, one deep freezer, one electric cooker, can I pay N60? The immediate answer is no. For the city, if the same solution is provided, it will not be at the same cost.
What does a particular home need to get solar power in the city?
It is simple. To have a solar home system, you need a solar panel mounted on the roof; the control system with an inverter and a battery backup. During the day, the solar panel generates energy which powers the load and the excess goes into the battery as storage. When the sun sets in the night, it is the battery that supplies the power to the house till day break when the sun rises again and the solar panel starts to charge.
If solar energy is an effective alternative source of power, why does the nation still grapple with power challenges?
That is why I said Nigerians need to solve their problems. We have this deployment as a template that state governments can come and look at. The Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola was present at our inauguration. They have seen that they can deploy the solar solution in all the rural communities and have uninterrupted power supply. The same thing can be replicated in all the states in Nigeria.
As we speak now; in Germany, more than 70 per cent of the energy that Germany generates comes from solar. If the will is there, the technology is there that can take us out of the energy crisis that we have in Nigeria.
So the solution is just to put the right people in the right place and deploy the right technology and without any vested interest, we believe that solar is a solution that can resolve the energy problem we have in Nigeria.