• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Why we succeeded at providing power for millions without energy access – Ogunbiyi


Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO/managing director at Rural Electrification Agency (REA) is taking a position next year as a special representative for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of United Nations-Energy. Under her leadership, the REA has driven private sector participation in the off-grid energy space and is perhaps the sector attracting top talents and foreign direct investments.


Ogunbiyi attributes the organisation’s success to having a committed team, superiors who believed in her vision giving her a free hand to operate and the dogged determination to achieve the organisation’s goals.


As part of the programme of Solar Future Conference which held in Lagos from December 5 and6, Ogunbiyi  had frank onstage discussion with Frank Aigbogun, Publisher/CEO of BusinessDay as she answered questions including from the audience about her role at REA. 


For Ogunbiyi, the pay was always going to be challenge. She left a job with a foreign organisation to accept the role of running… under Fashola as governor of lagos where the salary of special assistant was N80,000. She encountered the same problem trying to bring on a team when she was running REA. She had to rely on donor funding and integrating them into the civil service to hire quality hands. 


But in the main, this was a sacrifice because, the poor remuneration aside, working in Nigeria’s public service presents challenges from expectations that appointments be made on the basis of federal character rather than competency and even citing projects where they may not make the most impact to achieve national spread. “There is a pivotal moment when you sacrifice for the nation, if I didn’t make the sacrifice including receiving much lower pay, I won’t be able to make a difference now,” Ogunbiyi said.


Aigbogun was keen to know what her biggest accomplishments are and Ogunbiyi ranked the training of young women to be the next generation of entrepreneurs and installers as her most rewarding success.


“Next is show people that in Nigeria you can have 24 hour power. it is happening in hospitals and schools and homes. Power is not a nice to have is a difference between life and death. You’re likely to die from even malaria without power.


Ogunbiyi said the world cannot achieve any of the other SDGs without SDG7 which address energy poverty. “I feel that a lot of people do not know there is need for emergency, we run the risk of actually going backward because of our population growth if we do not treat energy access as an emergency,” Ogunbiyi said.


According to the REA boss, her next most rewarding accomplishments is enabling private sector to drive the growth in the offgrid sector leading to significant progress in mobilising international support for this sector.


To avoid the same challenges in the on-grid space, Ogunbiyi said the agency emphasised the use of data to drive policy decisions and this helped to attract private sector support. One example is in metering, all consumers in the off-grid energy space are metered allowing for fairness.


Several visits to mini-grid projects and even solar home system solutions deplored in rural areas show that they pay at least two times what consumers who rely on the national grid for power pay as tariff. Asked how she was able to convince government officials to allow this when they are kicking against tariff increase in the ongrid sector, Ogunbiyi said she was deliberate about insisting that market contracts determine transactions between power producers and consumers in the off-grid energy space.


“ I said from the onset that If we can’t agree on willing buyer/willing seller tariff, I wasn’t going to do it. We can’t cap a tariff for mini grid. If the customer and community are willing to pay, that is what we do. At the beginning of a sector boom, you can’t cap the tariff, otherwise you can’t get the investment,” Ogunbiyi.


Yet according to her, she counselled the president against raising tariff in the on-grid space until two criteria said were prevalent in other jurisdiction where tariffs have gone up had been met – universal metering and service improvement.


“We haven’t had these in Nigeria. Many people do not have a meter and someone is telling them I am going to double your tariff, it doesn’t go down well with them.  I have seen some improvements but I think that tariff should go up in such a subtle way to avoid backlash from the public.”