Lenihan: Lagos Has Suffered Much Energy Crisis

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With the increasing interest for renewable energy in Nigeria, the Chief Executive Officer of ZOLA Electric, Bill Lenihan spoke with journalists about the benefits of this solution to the country’s huge power deficit. Peter Uzoho presents the excerpts:

You are coming into Nigeria at a time when we have issues with energy access, if I may ask, what is ZOLA Electric is bringing into the country. What are the implications of your coming into Nigeria at this time?

I think the problem in Nigeria is that there is not enough production and distribution of power for the population in Nigeria. I think Nigeria is a perfect example of a country where there is massive energy deficit. This is a fact that cannot be disputed. Everybody living in Nigeria has this issue; every business has this issue. So, the question is what happens when people are having problem with energy or what happen where that exists? It means people have to come up with their own energy.

It means if you are a household, you are probably buying kerosene to light up a lantern or you get solar battery to attend to your power need, but if you are urban, you are either thinking of buying diesel generator or a lead acid inverter system. Unfortunately, this is not the case with developed markets where everything works. Take for instance, here in United States of America, I don’t produce my energy. For those living in Nigeria, what that means is that each one has to figure it out by itself. Overall, it shows there is a mess which ought to be addressed.

Beside this mess, the energy crisis also forces you to change appliances constantly or sometimes force you to do an upgrade. Beyond that, you also have these alternative sources causing health hazard and noise pollution. In a nutshell, I would say that you have a system that is unreliable, expensive and hard on your life. So, for us, that is the problem we have come to solve. So, the question then is, how do we solve these problems? That is why we are offering products such as Infinity and Flex to address this problem. At ZOLA Electric, our mission is to deliver 24-hour power to anyone, anywhere.

Our product offerings allow us to do that and these products are tied towards meeting that needs. If your energy needs are more limited, which means you just want to power bulbs in your house, or power your television and other small appliances, we have a system that is built for that purpose. This system has been designed to provide solar storage that looks like computer such that the computer allows you to optimise production and discharge system. With such solution which has something similar to a computer attached to it, you can actually pay over the phone or through refinancing. Let me also add that the product is more marginal. Whenever you need more energy, the product allows you to get more energy without affecting the existing system which is different from what you have in the market today. If you want to generate more power, the solution can help you. It is smart and comes at low cost.

If your energy needs are more powerful, say you run a business or factory, even though you have small power needs but rely on the grid, there is a product designed for that purpose and it is called Infinity which better serves that need. Only recently, we announced that we would be bringing the product into the market. Now, think of Infinity like a smart grid in the home. It is a product that is also connected to all other energy sources; it is connected to the grid, connected to e-solar. The first thing it does is that it optimises the ecosystem to deliver 24-hour power at reliable low cost. How does it work? It does it in a subtle way. What it does is that it optimises your accessories such that you get 24-hour power in an affordable way.

Also, it is modular. As soon as you need more energy, you get it and it is done in a very seamless fashion that is cost effective. Here, existing system stay intact; you are not changing it. It is a system that allows you to manage power usage using your phone app. It allows you to manage your energy provision in a very simple way on your phone. You can make it smarter so that it optimises better. You can pay for it using your phone and we would offer that service under a 5-year service agreement. Within the five years, if there are any issues, we would fix it for you.

From Flex to Infinity in emerging markets like Nigeria, we are offering a primary power source, unlike what you have presently where everything you do to get power involves backs-up which is unreliable and expensive. Our products are more reliable, cheaper and easy to use. For us, we believe that is the best way to solve the problem of energy access in Nigeria.

You are entering into a market where solar is not new, but one of the issues with deploying solar has to do with storage. Based on what you explained with Infinity solution, it looks more like what Tesla is offering with Power wall in United States of America. Are we looking at something similar?

Let me clarify that this is not solar, but a smart power solution. Solar is a component. The solution only has a smart battery for Solar. It is not Tesla Power wall because Tesla Power wall is a back-up solution or system. It backs up your home. Our product is different because it is a solution provided to manage your home. It manages all your energy sources and optimises them such that you are able to get 24-hour power from any source in a reliable and affordable way. Tesla Power wall is built for United States of America and other western markets such as Europe and Australia, but these products are built for Nigeria. Our smart battery will work with other solar panels.

But I think the challenge with most batteries used with other panels is that it does not last long. I need to state that most of these batteries are not built for solar energy in the home but built for automobile and other uses. That is where the difference comes in. We have five-year service agreement, and our panel is going to last at least 12 years. Our battery is durable for 7 to 9 years. We have an obligation to replace those components within that service agreement. We are offering a solution that has not been witnessed in this market before.

A couple of days ago you had an interaction with CNN and you said when you were developing the products, you had Lagos in mind, what informs that and why are you interested in the Lagos market?
Lagos, like Nigeria, is the epicentre of the energy access crisis across the globe. There is not one person, or business in Nigeria that is not confronted with this crisis. Unfortunately, Lagos is one large city that has suffered much energy crisis, considering its huge location of businesses and massive population. With what is on ground, the problem is only going to get worse. We talked about Nigeria for a number of years in every of our board meetings.

In the last two or three years, we have been asking what do we do about Nigeria. We were never ready to provide products that we can tailor towards Nigeria until we came up with Infinity. Also, we never had a business model that is built towards Nigeria. But in the last two years, we have placed our focus on what the problem is in Nigeria as far as energy access crisis is concerned. Our focus on Lagos was not only because it is huge and urban but we realised that it is a city that harbours every type of person, business. So, if you are really going to solve the energy problem holistically, Lagos is a place to start with.

If you focus on Lagos, do you think you will be able to recover your cost because a lot of companies are already offering similar solutions? Secondly, how do you intend to deploy the solution especially to those who are not within Lagos? What is the capacity and cost of these solutions in terms of megawatt?
Let me correct the notion that that there are similar solutions being offered in Nigeria. I don’t think there is any one that offers our kind of solution. Currently, what we have in Nigeria is a situation whereby some companies provide solar panel with battery but I don’t think there is anyone that offers our solution. In this case, you can buy solar or battery but you cannot buy a solution.

In the solution we are providing, you are buying a primary energy source that can manage your ecosystem as far as energy is concerned. It is marginal and can grow with you. It is smart, connected and reliable. This is what differentiates these products in Nigeria’s marketplace today. With respect to the question on capacity, I think there is a reason why It is called infinity. It is modular and scalable. You can expand it to whatever you want to. Lagos is a massive market. We start from regions and you grow from there. Take for instance, in Tanzania, we started from the capital city and move to the regions and that is the strategy we would be adopting in Nigeria.