Adopting affordable renewable energy solutions will transform lives, businesses– Ibukun Awosika
D.light Inc, a global player in solar lanterns and solar home systems such as TV, radios and smartphones is investing in Nigeria. IBUKUN AWOSIKA, African entrepreneur and the first female Chairperson of First Bank, serves as chairman of d.light. She spoke to BusinessDay’s DAN OBI on the attraction of the company to Nigeria’s market as she said that d.light focuses on social transformation by making transformative products available to low–income individuals especially those who don’t have access to reliable electricity or financing. She said the company removes these barriers. Excerpts:
Let’s start with an assessment of the energy sector in Nigeria, when you take a look at the sector, what picture do you see?
There is high demand for electricity in Nigeria and it is that demand that drives investments in that sector. Business is driven by opportunities that exist, created by gaps. The challenge is that Nigeria does not generate enough power, but even if we do, we also do not have an extensive enough distribution network that will take power to the last mile. But as more investments are made, there will be environmentally friendly solutions, and the environment will be cleaner with green products and safer and sustainable for people.
Some of the things the government is doing in that space and some of the global moves have created some level of mitigation that helped to make it a lot easier to make a case to increase the level of investment that is required in Nigeria
In the adoption of renewable energy solutions, where is Nigeria in that journey as a complement to conventional energy sources?
We are still so far from where we need to be as a country considering our population and our needs. No matter how much government positions for what they want to do, the private sector must drive it by getting involved in that sector, by providing the service and the product. There are a lot of small businesses everywhere that are providing different solutions. Many houses are trying to acquire solar solutions but with d.light solar energy products, we provide individual items such as solar light, solar TV, Solar fan without using generators to power them. This will not require investing in expensive solar panels.
We understand that D.light is investing in Nigeria; could you tell us more about the company and its attraction to the Nigerian market?
D.light Inc is a global company that is involved in the transformation of lives. This is the vision of the company to invest its resources, talents and the entire capital into developing solutions that will enhance the lives of people especially those at the lower end of the pyramid.
The company was founded by two young men, a Canadian and American who met at Stanford Business School, US. They realised that they had a passion and commitment to see how they could change lives. They started to find solutions that will change the lives of people. Solar is one of the resources they used. The reason is that energy resource is a challenge to the kind of people they are targeting. In Nigeria for instance, we have power issues and people have been surviving it by huge investments in generators and diesel or petrol and none of them is environmentally friendly. As a company, part of what d.light does is create solutions that are environmentally friendly but enhances the lives of people.
The second leg of what d.light does is to make the solutions that are provided affordable. We have a pay-as-you scheme. Users of the resource are allowed to pay for the product a little at a time in the way they can afford until they fully pay for the item. Most of the d.light products are used in East Africa and India. The investors in d.light are global funds such as Shell Energy; Norfund, (Norway National Fund); a French investment company and private equity funds. D.light is a company that has sustainability in its growth plan and vision of enhancing lives. As of 2020, we hit the 125 million impact number. This is calculated globally on how a company impacts lives.
One great part of the d.light model is the job creation model. In most East African markets such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania you will see the extensive job creation impact of d.light. First, there are the agents who are dealers, there are maintenance engineers empowered by d.light for repairs and there are sales teams including those who sell on commissions. The value chain is rich. We have started some of these structures in Nigeria as the company enters the country.
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What would you attribute to the company’s attraction to Nigeria?
It is not only the big market, there are other attractions. The power sector is a market- opportunity for a company like d.light and it means that we have a lot of people who have the need for the product we supply. Interestingly, one of the major products d.light sells is smart phones. We have partnerships with some of the major branded phones, Samsung and Nokia particularly. They are configured in a way that we use it as a transformation product to solve problems for people. For solar, light is a major solution which affects most sectors. We also have solar TVs, solar fans. There are multiple solutions including cooking solutions which take environmental issues away.
Some of these products are imported into Nigeria where there is a mix of importation challenges, how do you intend to navigate the challenges?
We are not a new business. We are impact oriented business, which means our measures are not purely commercial but driven by the change we can deliver. This allows us to be a bit more patient when you are in a market like this and the challenges they present. Your primary goal is how to deliver the value to your target stakeholders and how do you do it sustainably. We have been going through all this as we have spent the last three years in Nigeria finding our feet. I like the job creation part of the business and the value and impact of lives that we create.
How do you think the government can incentivise operators in the solar energy solution in order to deepen the market and complement conventional power supply?
I think the government is already doing something. Before now, the kind of duty requirements on solar based products and all of these alternative solution items was not commercially viable at all as we did not have the right approach. But the government has started making adjustments, they have reduced duty on that and there are also initiatives from global perspectives and bodies like the World Bank to help countries like Nigeria to reach the people at the bottom of the pyramid for alternative energy and for sustainability. Some of the things the government is doing in that space and some of the global moves have created some level of mitigation that helped to make it a lot easier to make a case to increase the level of investment that is required in Nigeria.
Which other policies would you like to see so that this solar energy solution and acquisition by Nigerians can be faster?
There are different levels of how operators play. There are those who produce commercial panels to be distributed. What we do at the d.light are individual solutions. We are not waiting for someone to create a solar grid in your community. We are creating a solution that you can buy for your entire villagers. This makes it easier to reach the last mile. We are not waiting for the big projects, our products are personal. You can buy a solar TV or solar fan and use it in the village or anywhere as long as there is Sun which is free to charge them.
Is your target the rural market?
Not necessarily but our target is lower income individuals. A city resident, who does not have a generator, may not need a generator if he/she has a solar solution. Again, generators are not friendly to the environment. When you think about environmental sustainability, you will encourage more people to use alternative sources of energy rather than polluting the environment with generators.
Do you see this product challenging the generator system which causes fuming which is also unfriendly to the environment?
It actually replaces it.
How do you see this initiative being embraced by Nigerians and how do you want to capture the market?
Our goal is that the product will be accepted in Nigeria as in other markets as we know what we are doing and we are good at what we do. In Nigeria we can do the same and when you think in terms of a reliable solar product that is dependable, you can count on us. We are a company with integrity and character as everything we do, we can be held accountable.