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Revenue Pathways in the Off-Grid Solar Industry 2: Non-Technical Paths

Many people are becoming more aware of the opportunities in the solar industry in Africa. Apart from the opportunities in adopting the different forms of off-grid solar solutions for electricity and heating, there are also opportunities to chart business and career pathways in the solar industry.

Last week’s article “Revenue Pathways in the Off-Grid Solar Industry 1: Technical Paths” provided in-depth insight into different technical options to create value and generate revenue in the industry. The options discussed were component manufacturing and assembling, solar photovoltaic (PV) system design, installation of solutions, and repairs and maintenance. Today serves as a continuation from last week with a focus on various non-technical areas people can explore.

Distribution and Sales of Solar Products

There are opportunities to build a business or career out of the distribution and sales of solar components. One can work with a manufacturer to supply, sell and distribute solar and other related products in the value chain, including panels, rails/racks, batteries, inverters, charge controllers, multimeters, cables and wires, measurement tools, etc. This line of business can be practised either on a large or small scale, depending on the available capital and identified market. For example, the larger scale business may involve wholesale purchase and distribution, while the smaller scale can serve as agents or retailers to reach smaller markets.

To sell and distribute solar components, good knowledge of solar components and how they work is important. It is also necessary to be able to differentiate good quality components from sub-standard ones. An interested person can take a short course on – Solar PV Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Sales for Solar Companies to gain basic knowledge. Both courses are offered by the Renewable Energy Technology training institute (RETTI).

Read also: How Solar Power is Reducing Maternal Mortality Rates in Zimbabwe

Apart from knowing your products, good negotiation skills, relationships with manufacturers and adequate storage space are needed. Trained staff may also be necessary, depending on the scale of the business.

Renewable Energy Finance Services

Access to capital has posed an issue for emerging renewable energy companies. Fortunately, this situation is changing with the increase in global investments. However, bankability and designing investable projects are still a challenge.

With finance, banking, or accountancy degrees, one can create solutions and special instruments for renewable energy companies. Such services should prepare developers and make them attractive to investors.

One can provide some of the following services in demand:

• Start an investment or Microfinance Bank: This route works well if one already has the capital requirement and right qualifications. With such an interest, a person (or group) can approach the central bank and fulfil the requirements needed to begin an investment or microfinance bank to service renewable energy project development specifically.

• Create Accounting Software and other Technology Solutions: Provide solutions that help developers to report and build business models, but with specific references and add-ons or formulae relating to renewable energy. Accounting softwares can either be made for general industry use or tailored towards specific RE brands. In addition, the softwares and technology solutions can be used to assess the financial viability of projects and provide information on available financing for project development.

• Write Finance Books: One can author a small handbook or ebook to guide renewable energy business ideas and funding opportunities. The materials would curate information about the level of finance that can be available for a specific stage of a renewable energy business idea. Such a book can guide potential investors on returns, hiring, qualifications and fundraising.

Legal Services

Barristers and solicitors have several opportunities to provide value in the solar industry.
Since policies and regulations for energy are created by the government, barristers can provide legal services like advisory on regulation for small energy businesses, information packs for foreign investors etc. A degree in Law is suitable, but additional knowledge on the power sector, solar PV entrepreneurship is recommended for specific industry knowledge. Advanced degrees in Renewable Energy Law/ Contracts or Management (or related fields) are also recommended. The Florence School of Regulation provides an avenue to build capacity on the business of renewable energy.
• Subject Matter Training: Many renewable energy organisations are too small to have in-house counsel. Yet, they need to ensure that their policies, employee manual, and practices comply with employment law and other government mandates. A legal expert can train staff on how to improve their compliance.

• Consulting: A legal expert can consult for renewable energy companies and foreign organisations looking to form special purpose vehicles (SPVs) and run renewable energy projects in Africa. The expert should advise on successfully establishing SPVs while complying with policies and regulations.

• Interprete and Publish Renewable Energy Policy and Regulations: Policies or expert reports on renewable energy are usually complex. As such, some project developers find it difficult to obtain specific relevant information for their projects.

A legal expert can provide value by regularly interpreting new regulations, global outlook reports, making it easy to find information relating to project development in the renewable energy value chain.

• Freelance Legal Writing: With solid writing skills and background as an attorney, legal personnel can provide legal documents for individuals and firms, write articles for blogs, newspapers, magazines, and legal publications. Legal personnel can register and use freelance outsourcing platforms like Elance and Odesk to get freelance writing assignments.

Management and Business administration

With new renewable energy companies springing up, persons with degrees in Business Administration, Business Management or Human Resources can carve a niche for themselves in the renewable energy sector by taking a certificate course on Solar PV Entrepreneurship. With the certificate, they can apply for related job vacancies in renewable energy companies.

Marketing and Sales

The competition in the renewable energy industry is increasing; hence companies need to market and sell their products. Like Business administration and management, those with a degree in Marketing can build a career in the sector. They can take a certificate course on Marketing and Sales for Renewable Energy Companies. With the certificate, they can apply for job vacancies in a renewable energy company.

(Ideas curated from the book – How to Make Money from Solar by Glory Oguegbu)

In conclusion, access to electricity is a critical tool for economic development, and education helps clarify and unravel inherent opportunities for career and job creation. All hands must be on deck to achieve complete access to electricity by 2030. These non-technical ideas aid this goal by revealing ways that anyone in any profession can play a role. All stakeholders concerned should partake in opportunities to strengthen youth participation and local business creation on these ideas. Efforts should also be made to grow the renewable energy education sector and provide opportunities that stimulate innovation, research, and development to promote access to 24/7 clean electricity in Nigeria.

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