SGI in the off-grid communities been promoting its products, with the aim to deliver sustainable, affordable and efficient solar electricity

In a country as Nigeria where more than 55 per cent of its people live without access to electricity, and spends over $14 billion annually on access to basic energy, Smarter Grid International provides the nation with innovative and affordable off-grid technologies. Sunday Ehigiator writes

According to the World Bank off-grid solar market trend report 2016, “Over 1.2 billion people are living without electricity globally. More than 645 million of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 80 per cent of primary schools in Africa have no electricity. Population without grid access lives in rural areas where it is not economically prudent for grid, and without access to the grid, they spend about $27 billion annually on lighting with fossil fuel powered stopgap. Most people connected to the grid also suffer from epileptic power supply.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) also reports that the unavailability of the grid connection is much higher in Nigeria in comparison to other sub-Saharan African countries. While the off-grid population in sub-Saharan Africa spends over $27 billion on lighting with stopgap technology such as; kerosene lamp, oil lamp, candle light, generator, you can’t take away the disadvantages of these stopgap technologies possess. They include but not limited to; damages to the environment, health of people, risk of accidental fuel ingestion, risk of fire and loose of lives. And in addition, these technologies are far more expensive than solar powered electrical appliances.

Notably, several initiatives have been introduced by the federal government to revamp the power sector in Nigeria, including but not limited to; privatisation of the major assets, construction of more power plants and the introduction of the rural electrification initiatives.

However, the power output remains epileptic and the hope of extending the grid to rural areas remain bleak, as government often claims it is not economically prudent for them to extend the grid to the rural areas.

According to the World Bank report, the DOE (Department of Energy) and Bloomberg energy reports, they posited that distributing energy resource is the only reasonable means of increasing access to basic energy needs in sub-Saharan Africa – hence the Barack Obama Power For Africa: “beyond the grid initiative”.

In line with the above has Smarter Grid International (SGI), in the off-grid communities; been promoting its products, with the aim to deliver sustainable, affordable and efficient solar electricity that will light up homes, small businesses, schools, hospitals and community centres at night.

With goals of fast-tracking the delivery of electricity to off-grid communities in Nigeria, and improving the quality, consistency and affordability of power supply for Nigerians, by shifting reliance to clean, solar energy; it is the SGI’s vision to via these goals, bring about better health, education and productive outcomes for the people. SGI believes that, replacing kerosene or burning firewood reduces health risks and improves the confidence and comfort of families and entire communities. And gaining access to clean and affordable energy saves consumers’ money, reduces exposures to toxic materials released when burning kerosene. And also believes that, universal access to reliable, affordable, low-carbon electricity is the key to Nigeria’s socio-economic transformation. Hence, solar power is the sustainable solution.

Solar solutions are now firmly cost-competitive with stop-gap technologies, however relatively large upfront cost remains a barrier for potential customers without disposable cash. Most companies develop and market products via a service model; “Pay as you go systems”. And this remains the prevailing model for scalability in the solar industry. Two types of pay as you go models which both entail remote monitoring and activation technology; are gaining traction in the off grid electricity market. They are “Rent to Own Model” and “Energy as a Service”. Under the rent to own model, customers are required to make small upfront deposit, and pay off outstanding balance over time (24-36 months) depending on the customer’s package of choice and agreement. Most solar systems are equipped with “Pay As You Go” activation technology and remote monitoring. While the energy as a service model, allows end users pay an ongoing usage fee to the energy company in exchange for prepaid days or weeks of usage without the option of ultimately owning the solar device. This model has the advantage of removing cost of the financing and technology risk from end customers as compared to a rent-to-own model (average customer pays between 6-25$ a month).

The electricity needs of the Nigerian market have evolved beyond Pico lights. These lights cannot address larger consumption needs primarily due to low generation and storage capacity. It only serves as a backup for the frequent black-outs. Larger systems may only enable back-up lighting for an entire home or security lighting, but output is relatively low, and has a large scale of unmet demand for businesses, clinics and schools.

In a communiqué made available to THISDAY, SGI stated that its value proposition includes; distribution of high quality solar home systems, productive work hours, increased safety for families, flexible payment plan, financial innovation, hybrid consumer financing and payments, Lithium iron phosphate battery technology, machine to machine connectivity, remote monitoring, three years warranty, personalised service, and customer acquisition and retention services. With its collaborating with leading international suppliers and partners to provide technologically superior products and payment mechanisms for end users, SGI’s primary product is an innovative, low-cost, Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) solar home system, verified by Lighting Global Standards, and manufactured by a specialist off-grid product developer and long-term associate of the World Bank/IFC.Its solar systems allow off-grid households in rural and semi-urban areas, as well as on-grid households with intermittent power supply, to access affordable, reliable and clean energy. The systems are integrated with a range of energy-efficient appliances such as multi phone chargers for businesses, lights, fans, radio and 42 and 32 inch televisions, and can also be used by small businesses, shops, offices and community facilities such as health clinics and schools. Students can power laptops and study during the evening hours through the use of its world-class renewable energy technology, which also helps support efforts in the educational sector as well.

Most fascinating of all is the SGI product purchase and repayment model. It is very flexible at such that, customers are registered on SGI proprietary software after paying a onetime commitment fee and the first month subscription fee. Afterwards, customers receive their solar home systems along with full installation provided by SGI technicians. On how it works after installation; the solar panel converts sunlight into electricity that is stored in the battery unit of the system, from where customers can then access electricity as stored in the battery unit stationed in their homes. Interestingly, customers could make an outright payment or subsequent monthly fees, on an amazing 24 months payment plan. This keeps the system fully functional and in-credit. In that, customers would receive activation codes via SMS each time monthly fee is paid at the bank or using any of SGI’s payment options. But for rent to own customers, the device is unlocked and owned by the customer when full payment has been made over the course of the subscription plan.

Since SGI began operations in 2014/2015, SGI has experienced fast growth and an exponential increase in customer uptake of its services. In less than two years, SGI has created a presence in five major states, and has engaged in several collaborative pilot projects with farmers and rural communities. SGI is improving power supply, generating employment, and enhancing the living standard of the citizens through consistent and reliable power supply. It is constantly empowering rural dwellers with reliable electric power supply, which they have been achieving partially through the use of solar home systems and other distributed electricity generation and distribution assets.