In Conversation with... Habiba Ali

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.

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