In Conversation with Habiba Ali of SOSAI Renewable Energies

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In an interview with Power for All, Habiba Ali, the dynamic founder and CEO of Nigeria’s SOSAI Renewable Energies, and vice president of the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN), talked about the opportunities and challenges of scaling mini-grids, what’s still needed to ensure the country hits its rural electrification targets, and the importance of getting more women leaders into the decentralized renewable energy (DRE) sector.

“The reason why we got into mini-grids was because we listened to the people, and most of them showed interest in owning something that they could all tap from. So, with that at the back of your mind, and the government also saying they want to work on 10,000 mini-grids in the next five years, it kinds of aligns with the needs of the people,” Ali said.

“If Nigeria has to hit that number, a lot of work has to be done by the government. The government has to show a lot of willingness in wanting to make this happen. This can really happen, and this can actually be the answer to our energy problems. I feel that once we have that 10,000 number sorted, development will just start flying.

“My view on the mini-grid situation in Nigeria, is how protected are those mini-grid developers in the renewable energy space? What assurance do we have that people working in this space are not being oppressed by the existing distribution companies?

Ali made a strong appeal for bringing more women into the sector, and revealed that she and other women leaders in Nigeria have started a WhatsApp group to better coordinate and create a stronger sense of community.

“I personally am tired of hearing: ‘Oh, you’re one of the only women in the renewable energy industry in Nigeria!’ People need to keep hearing our voices, and see that women are there,” she said.  

“The truth of the matter is that women are the face of energy. We’re the ones who stay at home, cook the meals, do the homework with the children. There’s always been this unspoken norm that it’s a male dominated thing. We’re still a very traditional community in Nigeria. You still find that a lot of women are thinking about going to school, graduating, getting a job and getting married – and that’s it.

“Even when she goes and studies engineering and electrical engineering in school – and we have a lot of women who do – she can’t practise unless she has the will, because if she can’t get a job, then maybe she becomes a teacher. And she’s just ok, because, ‘anyway she’s a woman, and she has to have time for the kids’…

“So it’s a little slower for the women. But we have a WhatsApp group now, that I am actually developing with Ify Malo from Power for All in Nigeria, where we are trying to pull in all the women who have anything to do with energy, or even a passion for the industry, and we are saying, let’s just have one heart, and we will be able to develop something to pull more women in.

SOSAI was set up in 2004 to address the issues of poverty and rural and community development as regards access to energy, clean water and ensuring positive livelihoods. The dream of bridging the energy gap and balancing the energy deficit in disadvantaged societies is what drives the company.

SOSAI has invested in turning that dream into a reality. In the last five years, the company has become a force in the evolving field of renewable energy in Nigeria. SOSAI believes that renewable energy can be affordable, efficient and sustainable.

Listen to the full interview here:

Nigeria: the next big frontier for rural electricity access

Igu, a farming village in Nigeria of about 4000 people, has never had electricity - despite being located in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, just an hour’s drive from the seat of Nigeria's Federal Government, Abuja. For villages like Igu, getting access to energy has until now remained a far-fetched dream.

But rural electrification in Nigeria is about to get a new lease of life, through the deployment of decentralized renewable energy (DRE) solutions by the country’s states, as well as by the federal government.

For years, states have been hamstrung by a lack of awareness of what options exist, especially regarding DRE solutions such as mini-grids and standalone solar systems.

The situation began in 1991, when the Nigerian government began to make conscious efforts to expand rural electrification in the country by connecting the headquarters of all its local government areas, and selecting neighboring towns and villages to the national grid through a program called the Nigerian Rural Electrification Program (NREP).

This culminated in the creation of the Rural Electrification Agency in 2006, which was solely dedicated to this purpose through grid extension, isolated and mini-grid systems, and renewable energy power generation.

This model of rural electrification was replicated by the 36 states through their rural electrification boards, with a focus on grid extension to rural communities.

However, Nigeria’s rural electrification rate still stands at only 39%, with approximately 75 million people still in darkness.

A huge reason for this limited access is due to the cost of grid extension (estimated at $10,000 per kilometer), which hardly brings a return on investment - considering the fact that many rural consumers use much less power than is  supplied. Most rural consumers of this grid electricity are also not metered, and do not pay electricity bills. Power is supplied as a social good by government, rather than as a service that needs to be paid for by those who use it.

Not only that, the grid itself is overburdened and can only transmit about 5000MW, less than the installed capacity of about 10000MW, and a far cry from the current energy demand of about 41,000MW.

Increasingly, states are looking for options other than grid extension to use in providing access to clean, modern energy to their rural population. They want  to boost development in those areas, especially those within their financial capabilities and existing laws and regulations.

The aim of the Scaling Off-Grid Energy project,  funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Power Africa, and implemented in Nigeria by Power for All and FHI360, aims to educate states about the possibilities available.

Through regional trainings with state-level policymakers, Power for All has opened up the world of possibilities for increasing rural electrification through DRE solutions – by mainstreaming DRE into their rural electrification policies and rural development plans, making it easier to partner with private investors and having specific mini-grids policies.

These trainings have also helped to dispel popular but untrue notions about renewable energy being prohibitively expensive. The trainings introduce innovative business models to policymakers, enabling their communities to access DRE solutions at their level of affordability.

Not only are the states excited by the potential for DRE solutions in their states, but some states are discussing potential regional collaboration and opportunities to drive DRE investments and technologies across state lines.

For example, states in the North-Central region are exploring opportunities to create a regional hub to  attract manufacturers and assemblers of DRE equipment, and to sell excess distributed power across state lines or through peer-to-peer networks within their states. Such a cluster will be part of state DRE policies and master-plans, allowing them to achieve economies of scale, and maximize job creation potentials.

These trainings also open up new market opportunities for the private sector; investors and technology providers who before the training found market entries into these regions quite difficult. Many have already received expressions of interest from state governments on how best they can explore opportunities for mini-grid solutions for their rural communities.

With this increase in knowledge, in exchange learning and heightened awareness of opportunities, state governments do not have to wait for the expansion of the national grid to electrify their rural areas. They now have the tools they need to quickly increase access to energy within their domains.

This also complements the new strategy of the Rural Electrification Agency, which aims to deploy more DRE solutions in order to achieve the goal through working with private companies and multilateral donors.

The future of electrification in Nigeria is looking bright. With the progress being made, rural electrification targets of 75% by 2020 and 90% by 2030 are very realizable.


Campaign Updates

Power for All at the SEforALL Forum in Lisbon

 SEforAll in session in Lisbon

SEforAll in session in Lisbon

Power for All had a significant presence at the SEforALL Forum. CEO Kristina Skierka joined a high-level panel on “Electricity for All in Sub-Saharan Africa”, and research director Rebekah Shirley guided an interactive working session called the “Energy Access Dividend- Data that Informs and Influences”, looking at how to further research on  socio-economic impacts of electricity access, with participation from Acumen, Duke University, RVE.SOL, wPower Hub and the World Health Organization.

Together with partners Hivos, Practical Action and SNV, Power for All also shared an initial concept note on its 25x25 project, which aims to scale market activation for distributed renewables in 25 countries by 2025.

And Power for All attended discussions on sustainable energy efforts in Africa, where discussions concluded that while financing continues to be a major hurdle, momentum in many African countries to advance their energy access goals is clearly a priority. Read the full article here.

Power for All also moderated three Facebook Live discussions at the Forum. Two of them focused on mini-grids, with the newly launched Africa Mini-Grid Developers Association (AMDA) and the Africa Mini-Grid Innovation Lab.

Gabriel Davis and Lucy Shaw from CrossBoundary, an investment firm focused on frontier markets, spoke about the potential for mini-grids in Africa. CrossBoundary has launched the first innovation lab for mini-grids in Africa, working to identify new business models that will bring more power to more people at less cost. Watch here.  

AMDA’s global coordinator Jessica Stephens and AMDA member and PowerGen president Aaron Cheng addressed the reasons why mini-grids can play a mighty role in delivering universal electricity access to 100s of millions of people, and what the recent launch of AMDA means for the sector.  Watch here.  

Finally, CEO Kristina Skierka and Gilles Vermot Desroches, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Schneider Electric,  discussed the fact that a frequently overlooked element in achieving energy access is skills and training, that is: human capital. If the solutions to end energy poverty are there but the talent is not, SDG7 will not be achieved.

Later this year, Schneider Electric and Power for All will launch a new initiative to focus attention on this gap. Watch here.

 Power for All research director Rebekah Shirley guided an interactive working session called the “Energy Access Dividend- Data that Informs and Influences”.

Power for All research director Rebekah Shirley guided an interactive working session called the “Energy Access Dividend- Data that Informs and Influences”.

Power for All’s Research Director wins young leader award

Rebekah Shirley, Power for All’s director of research, has won the Outstanding Contribution Award: Young Leader (sponsored by ESI Africa) in the 2018 African Utility Week Industry Awards.

The event crowns the pioneering utilities, projects and people in the energy and water industry on the continent. Hundreds of power and water professionals gathered to honor the top projects and people in the industries on the continent in the fifth edition of the awards gala as part of the just concluded African Utility Week conference and exhibition.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Energy, Ambassador Thembisile Majola, was the guest of honour at the awards gala which featured two new categories, namely Energy/Water Reporter of the Year and Digital Solution of the Year.

An expert scientist from the African diaspora, Rebekah is using cutting edge technology to lead a new generation of energy researchers to tackle some of the sector’s biggest challenges. Rebekah came to the Power for All campaign in late 2015 to address this problem head-on. Over the past three years she has built the Platform for Energy Access Knowledge (PEAK) - a DRE research platform forged through industry-academic partnership with a mission to make data accessible, understandable and useable by Africa’s critical energy influencers—policy makers, financers, regulators.  

Rebekah said: “It is truly an honor to be recognized for the "behind-the-scenes" work my team at Power for All and I do. Research is not often an award highlight, but now more than ever, Africa needs innovators who understand how to make research, data and knowledge relevant to the public and leaders it serves.

“We have a huge opportunity to collectively address economic growth, climate change, poverty, food security, access to energy, water and healthcare, all of which are imminent and interconnected challenges. Sustainable solutions will require our institutions to deliver rigorous, applied, locally appropriate, interdisciplinary research and true partnership with industry. I hope to continue growing this capacity for critical thinking, bringing more African women into research to strengthen the gender voice, and fostering stronger communication and collaboration across the continent.”

Energy and equity discussed at joint university event in Kenya

Earlier this year, Power for All participated in a workshop on ‘Energy, Electrification, Equity’, at Strathmore University in Kenya.

The Energy, Electrification, Equity: the Role of Decentralized Electricity and Storage Systems in Meeting East Africa’s Community Needs workshop was organized under the EVALUATE project, in collaboration with Strathmore Energy Research Center.

The purpose of this workshop was to have an interactive discussion around the current landscape of decentralized electricity and storage systems and their role in meeting community needs. Five guest speakers and more than 20 participants joined the workshop from Kenyan governmental and non-governmental organisations, research institutions and the private sector.

Tens of millions of urban Africans still lack access to electricity

Power for All’s Research Director, Rebekah Shirley, published an article in The Conversation, discussing the fact that at least 110 million of the 600 million people still living without access to electricity in Africa live in urban areas. Most are within a stone throw from existing power grid infrastructure.

The article has received more than 5,600 reads, almost 50% from South Africa alone and another quarter from elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Rebekah was subsequently invited to discuss the topic on VOC FM. You can hear the clip here.

Rethinking Nigeria’s power reform through scaling off-grid

Tech Economy wrote a feature on how Nigeria is rethinking its power project through a  Scaling Off-Grid Energy (SOGE) model.

In the article, Power for All’s Mark Amaza explained the rationale for the recent creation of a taskforce to drive decentralized renewable energy (DRE) in Nigeria, which is made up of diverse stakeholders in the DRE sector cutting across government, private sector, donor agencies, development partners and civil society organization.

“The objective of the taskforce is to test regulations and policies designed to accelerate DRE in Nigeria and suggest ways to improve it,” said Mark, “as well as identify industry-wide challenges and explore ways to overcome them.”

You can read the full article here.

Power for All takes part in roundtable at Vienna Energy Forum

Power for All’s William Brent took part in a high-level roundtable at the Vienna Energy Forum 2018 Special Session. William was part of the discussions on emerging low-carbon energy systems as a catalyst for industrial change in developing countries.

On shifting the energy paradigm, participants addressed issues including the need for energy efficiency and sufficiency; developing business models for companies to make money in decarbonized, digitized energy systems; the need to focus on decentralized areas and make investments in rural areas more attractive; bottom-up approaches, and the climate mitigation potential of energy efficiency versus energy decarbonization.

On barriers to the transition, discussants highlighted lack of institutional capacity; vested interests; energy planners’ lack of awareness of current renewable energy costs; the gap between pledges and disbursements; lack of absorptive capacity, both for project finance and capacity building; long project implementation timeframes, and patent laws.

Participants also noted success factors from Morocco and Kenya’s experiences in attracting investment, including through stable frameworks, planning and regulation, and focus on value chains.

On the socio-economic dimension, it was emphasized that while globally, the energy transition will bring great benefits, there will be losers at the national, local and company levels. Participants also underscored: different employment opportunities of focusing on different aspects of the value chain; the need to empower civil society; environmental awareness and the willingness to act of citizens in developing countries; governance at the local level; and affordability.

Organized under the auspices of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs (BMEIA), the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), the Forum gathered over 430 leaders from governments, civil society, international organizations and the private sector.

The Forum included plenaries and high-level round tables on 14 May, followed by side events and special events on 15 and 16 May.

Power for All gains new partners

The Power for All campaign is fast gaining momentum, with new partners joining from all over the world.

This month we are pleased to welcome Power Offgrid from Somalia, Love for Life from the Amazon), ICE Commercial Power from Nigeria), Kingo, which mostly operates in Latin America, and 10 Power.

We also welcome two media companies to the campaign: Modern Diplomacy and ESI Africa.


Video: Nigeria Mini-Series

Electrifying all Nigerians has become a priority in this populous West African country, where approximately 75 million still remain in darkness even as the economy surges ahead in other ways. Now, the power sector is focused on getting safe, reliable energy to the entire population.

Watch our series of videos:

Nowhere to Run: Nigeria's Climate and Environmental Crisis tell the story of environmental threats and unique challenges to security in Nigeria from the perspective of affected communities. Produced by Jacqueline Farris, of the Yar'Adua Foundation, narrated by Late Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. and directed by Dan McCain of Core Productions, the film connects the dots between climate change, environmental degradation and security, and serves as an advocacy tool to raise awareness of the defining challenge of our time.

CNBC Africa's Esther Awoniyi caught up with Babatunde Fashola, Nigeria's Minister of Power, Works and Housing to discuss the progress in Nigeria's power sector:

CNBC Africa's Esther Awoniyi caught up with Babatunde Fashola, Nigeria's Minister of Power, Works and Housing to discuss the progress in Nigeria's power sector.

Until three weeks ago the Durumi's 3000 residents had no electricity but now everyone has power thanks to solar energy. Yvonne Ndege reports:


Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki has restated government’s commitment to ensuring development of the state:

In Conversation with Ilana Cohen, GSMA

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The GSMA has been a leader in linking mobile networks and services with energy access, most notably through the introduction of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar. Power for All spoke with Ilana Cohen about major emerging trends related to the intersection of connectivity and rural electrification:  1. The significance of smartphones emerging as the next big consumer “appliance” with PAYG solar consumers. 2. The market entrance of international Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) into the energy access sector. 3. What the convergence of these two trends holds in store for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Smartphones - the next “killer app” for the SDGs

Coverage alone does not support mobile internet adoption in rural and remote areas of developing countries. Access to smartphones has faced a significant cost barrier when the handset is purchased in a one-off lump sum. Smartphone cost can signify up to 16 percent of annual income for people at the bottom of the pyramid in some emerging markets (GSMA Connected Society and Connected Women, 2017, ‘Accelerating affordable smartphone ownership in emerging markets’). Linking smartphones and solar energy is a winning combination for MNOs, energy companies and customers.

By using the credit score rating, agent distribution and micro-financing capabilities of solar PAYG providers, MNOs can reach an additional customer segment with smartphones. Customers with energy are more likely to use their phones regularly through access to charging, which drives higher revenue for MNOs. Several organizations funded through the GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund, supported by the UK Government Department for International Development, have demonstrated this:

  • Re-Volt and d.light launched a PAYG solar home service in Haiti that led to a 20 percent increase in average revenue per customer for Digicel.

  • Gham Power and the mobile operator NCell installed mini-grids to power new mobile towers and nearby households, leading to a 44 percent increase in smartphone ownership, and a 32 percent increase in mobile internet reported.

The complementarity of bundling energy and smartphones is likely to be greatest with productive energy usage that increases income. Gham Power also found a 32 percent increase in fridge ownership, driven by small hotels which saw a positive impact on their business after adding a fridge.

Rural communities benefit from a wide range of socio-economic improvements when households can get access to internet services via a smartphone or tablet. Mobile operators can improve their return on investment through new internet adopters at new or upgraded towers providing mobile internet. Better utilisation of tower sites supports potential increased network coverage, and justify internet expansion into rural areas beyond their preferred urban user base.

Scaling the energy access and connectivity link

Mobile operators bring existing customer scale and brand recognition that can help decentralized renewable energy solutions reach more customers. M-Kopa and Safaricom in Kenya, Fenix and MTN Uganda, and Lumos and MTN Nigeria are some of the best evidence of this, which the GSMA and the UK Government supported in the early days of PAYG solar, in 2013. Since then we have seen MNOs and utilities’ interest in this space grow dramatically.

This is well-matched with the shift in the off-grid energy sector to focus on value chain expertise (GOGLA, 2018, Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2018) to enable big and small companies to partner and reach more households, at faster rates; MNOs and large energy companies can focus on their strengths, while getting product and service expertise from decentralised energy providers and distributors.

More MNOs are also launching services that fully ride on the synergies of energy and connectivity bringing the scale, technology, and resources needed to rapidly expand energy access.

Orange is trialing their prepaid smart-metering service for rural mini-grids in Burkina Faso with support from our Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund, leveraging GSM for payments and remote monitoring. In un-electrified urban areas of Sri Lanka, Dialog is also developing pre-paid metering solutions that enable more low-income households to connect. Building these out as enterprise solutions can again support the kind of acceleration needed to meet SDG 7.

Convergence - historic change is coming

The increased involvement of major MNOs and the increased uptake of smartphones has the potential to radically accelerate connectivity for the 4 billion people still without internet access and the services it can augment, including healthcare and education. The power of mobile and energy to change lives is clear, and there’s a huge opportunity to further leverage this synergy to connect the unconnected at a faster rate.

Much greater collaboration is still needed between energy stakeholders to build partnerships, demonstrate evidence, and influence policy makers to address barriers. For example, risk-averse mobile operators are hesitant to provide any device payment plans to customers who do not have a positive credit history.

Vitalite in Zambia is trialing the sale of PAYG smartphones and cookstoves to customers who demonstrate good repayment for solar home systems. Testing and developing such sustainable revenue models that entice all parties but keep within a customer’s spending ability to stay in credit will be key to large scale collaborations.

Other barriers, such as customer digital literacy, also must be addressed further. For example, the Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT) has helped operators provide customers the education needed to use mobile internet for the first time. The visual toolkit is designed for organisations interested in conveying the fundamentals of using the internet, focussed on the key services currently being used across the world (WhatsApp, YouTube and Google). A case study of MTN implementing MISTT in Rwanda can be found on this link. The kit has now launched in several African operator markets with successful deployments that have helped operators increase mobile internet adoption and data revenues significantly.

A GSMA case study from Tigo Rwanda noted over 250,000 citizens trained over six months in pilot regions, providing 240 percent ROI from increased data adoption and data revenues. We also work with governments and regulators to ensure data services are affordable and protect consumer privacy.

Ilana Cohen is the acting head of the GSMA Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities Program. She holds an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management from Oxford University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Brandeis University. Prior her work at the GSMA, Ilana’s master’s research on the use of mobile payments for water bills in Kenya led her to two years of consulting for water and sanitation organizations and international donors, advising on the application of mobile tools. Prior to this, Ilana worked as an environmental consultant. Ilana is based in the GSMA’s Nairobi office.