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Finance option for off-grid development in Niger Delta

All-On powers Nextier group in power dialogue series to spike the oil region

Introduction:

All-On which has continued to finance and nurture alternative energy systems especially off-grid power alternatives has supported Nextier group to host a series of power dialogues on off-grid opportunities, awareness and financial windows with huge focus on the Niger Delta region.

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Last week Thursday, January 21, 2020, Nextier hosted another one at Novotel Hotel in Port Harcourt with financing options as major target. The moderator, Emeka Okpukpara, mentioned the objectives as highlight financial constraints limiting the acceleration of off-grid projects; evaluate available finance options for off-grid developers in the Niger Delta and beyond; discuss strategies to improve the bankability of off-grid developments in the Niger Delta; discuss ways to increase local financing options and evaluate how they help de-risk off-grid projects; and analyse methods to improve consumer financing and over all off-grid affordability. He said this was about mini-grids in the power industry with focus on the Niger Delta which he said seemed left behind. “It seeks financing to help those he that perpetually live in darkness.”

He reminded Nigerians about what the World Bank says about Nigeria having about 100 million persons who do not have access to electricity. “Grid extensions cost money and time, which are not there in the first place. The solution is in mini-grids, solar inverters, and son on.”

Nextier lined up panelists made up of those deeply involved in off-grid development, financing, mentorship and management. Topmost was a Nigerian who has played in this sector abroad for over a decade who is now back to Imo State to pioneer off-grid and gas revolution in rural areas, Albert Okorogu (PhD), Director-General/Chief Executive, Imo State Power & Rural Electrification Agency (I-POREA). He also lined up Uchechukwu Ogochukwu: Co-Founder/Head of Business, Greenage Technologies, a young man who discovered off-grid mechanism through inverter techs while in the university. There was Olasimbo Sojinrin, Country Director, Solar Sister Nigeria, who are helping women entrepreneurs find their economic feet through inverters and solar systems. Then, there was All-On’s Investment Manager, Afolabi Akinrogunde.

Albert Okorogu (PhD), DG of I-POREA; bent on off-grid revolution in Imo

DG/CEO of the Imo State Power & Rural Electrification Agency (I-POREA)

This expert seems unlucky each time he is invited back home to rescue Nigeria in the off-grid and alternative energy revolution. The first was when then president, Goodluck Jonathan, invited him to work on the off-grid sector. He said he met a set of scattered actions but no policy framework to guide the activities. He began action that produced instant results, but this was cut short by the exit of Jonathan. He went back to Europe. Now, he was recently invited by Emeka Ihedioha to come do for Imo that which he could not do for Nigeria. He thus set up I-POREA as lynch-pad to a gas revolution in off-grid power supply starting from the rural areas. His Midas touch seemed to excite the sector. The Supreme Court has struck but Okorogu says he does not speak to politics but to expertise and technology.

He said: What I met was exactly like what I met at the national level when first I came. I also met over 600 communities without light and not connected to electricity. Some had not seen electricity before. Some were sentenced to sniffing fume through other methods of fires for cooking. We found that even at the state secretariat where policies were articulated, there was no light, but generator noise everywhere. It was chaos.

I acted and we established an independent power agency with clear objective. We picked the low hanging fruits. The state secretariat is now electrified. We are to explore hidden renewable energy resources. We have an emergency electrification plan. Gas is huge in Imo, so we articulated a plan to leverage on this for the purpose.

We must classify our energy centres as urban, semi-urban and deep rural areas. We know that investors want returns on investment and so do not push deep into the rural areas where between 70 and 90 per cent of the people reside. Wise governments push into the rural areas with electricity to push them out of deep poverty. We urge development agencies and entrepreneurs to endeavour to partner with state governments to change the energy story of Nigeria. At the moment, attention is only in the urban areas.

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Solar is a huge asset in Nigeria and Africa. Even in the deep south (southernmost Nigeria), sunshine accounts for 4.7 kilowatts per meter square for up to 20 hours. Germany that is keen on use of solar energy only has 2.4kw. We want to bring power to our people and spur investors. We plan to turn gas flares to useful energy and compressed gas to electricity. Imo State is broke in terms of money so we intend to bring developers at no cost. The willing buyer/willing seller policy will help in this. They take your gas and give you 24-hour power supply.

You have to rise up and develop yourself. I tell it to their face in Nigeria that the solution we seek is in the rural areas (states). Solution: Individuals can come together to fund mini-grids and nano-grids. Many people are tired without action. There is something everybody can do. Few persons can light up their village. Cooperative processes exist whereby some people can build ‘i-pass-my-neighbour’ mini-grid or inverters.

UchechukwuGreenage Technologies: found key and fortune in inverter tech

 

I started the effort in my 3rd year in the university, just in trying to solve our major problem on campus, light. We knew students’ problem was money and so could not afford to spend on expensive power components. The problem was how to prolong the life of a battery inverter. Inverter is central in any energy system.

We tried to find out why solar panels were quick to spoilt and found it is because of the zinc which gets hot and causes wire issues. Solution is finding a way to make the battery (in the inverter) to last longer. We found that if the battery is made to drain only by 30 to 50 per cent instead of 100 per cent before recharging, it would last far more than double of before.

We confirmed this when we worked for a bishop in Enugu in the estate where over N5m had been sunk into a solar project. We found the trick; to save draining rate from 100 per cent to 50 per cent. This made the inverter to last to four years instead of just one year. That is how we found a business module.

We thus began as a student company and did our first job with the bishop. We realized that without power, nothing will work in this country. We stepped in and solved it and that opened doors for us. We started with bootstrapping, then to debt system (you give us money to build for you), then equity system (investors now came in).

On partnering with government: By our own experience, states do not care about power. We have sent messages to state governments on how we can help them stop use of diesel to run their plants but they do not even reply our letters.

Olasimbo Sojinrin; Solar Sister Nigeria: We source grants to support women

We got $4m grant to support renewal energy projects. We found that lack of knowledge was the issue. Banks did not understand the off-grid economy and so were not treating the loan applications which they of course did not understand at all. We tried to close this gap by training the bankers. Today, 10 banks (instead of one) are lending to off-grid projects. We decided to use commercial strategy to pursue power. We got women to change behaviour. Today, we have 1500 women in 26 states in the project.

There is a lot of money in the sector of foreign direct investments (FDIs) trying to give grants. We also do the entrepreneurship bit of it.

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