O’ Deji: Better Project Financing Driving Off Grid Power Market

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Ayodeji O’ Deji, is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Protergia Energy, an indigenous renewable energy outfit which has designed and implemented a number of high capacity solar-based energy solutions for homes, industries and offices. In this interview with Chineme Okafor, he speaks about development in Nigeria’s off grid and renewable energy market. Excerpts:

It is amazing how Nigeria’s renewable energy and off grid power sector is gaining traction. I guess few people expected this to be the case at this time, how’s it so, what’s really driving this positive traction?

The renewable energy and off-grid power sector is gaining traction even with few people’s expectation because of there is an increased enlightenment on the technology locally and international due to the green and clean energy revolution as demonstrated by the commitment of over 195 countries at the Paris climate conference of 2015 and African Union. This fostered the national acceptance of renewable energy technology and its application.

To also bridge the energy and power demand gap created by inadequate power supply from the national grid and the operational cost of using generators, it became imperative for homes and businesses to embrace sustainable renewable energy solutions. For example, in September of 2018, we commissioned 150 kilowatt power (kWp) solar photovoltaic (PV) grid-tied power system to the energy mix of the Gateway plant of International Breweries Plc. (ABInBev) located in Sagamu, Ogun State. The project is phase of a planned clean energy adoption by ABInBev.

Also, the positive traction could be as a result of improved project financing or funding by international donor and development agencies, and even project financiers especially in the commercial and industrial (C&I) energy market.

Has the government in anyway changed its posture on the sector as it used to be complacent about helping the market attain its potential, especially between 2017 and 2018?
Yes, the government has changed its posture on the renewable and off grid energy and sector as evident with the adoption by it of the National Renewable Energy Master Plan (REMP) of 2015 and the Nigerian Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy (NREEP) 2015. With support from the Nigeria Eenergy Support Programme (NESP) of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the ministry of power is leading this charge. However, there is more work to be done especially in terms of the political will to pursue the implementation of the policy.

Also, in 2017 and 2018, there was an increased government activity through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) as seen with the Energising Education Programme (EEP) and Energising Economies Initiative (EEI).

A couple of people do think renewable energy cannot power industries or heavy economic outfits, but now you told me your company did provide a solar-based energy solution for a brewery, can you shed more light on that?

Renewable energy sources have the same electric charges as your conventional power from the grid or generator sets. Therefore, it can power any electrical device or equipment as long as the renewable energy system is adequately engineered or sized. Most people are used to seeing small scale solar power systems which can power maybe a bulb or two, a fan and a television, and jump to an incorrect conclusion that solar can only power small appliances. But, the fact is that a solar system with any capacity will power anything within that capacity.

Bringing home this point, just as an ‘I pass my neighbor’ generator cannot power an air-conditioner due to its capacity, a diesel generator has the capacity to power a whole estate. This simply means that the higher the installed capacity of a solar system, the higher equipment and appliances it can power.

And, a proof of this is in our project with International Breweries Plc. (Anheuser-Busch InBev), they are the world’s largest brewer. The company committed to solar powered brewing operations in order to reduce cost and carbon emission footprint and as such, Protergia Nigeria Limited completed a 150kWp PV installation at its Sagamu plant which energises the engine and control room of the plant. International Brewery Plc looks to increase renewable energy power generation and eventually energise the whole two megawatts plant with sustainable energy in future phases of the project.

It is interesting to know this because I read recently about another brewery saying it was the first to deploy renewables in its operations in Nigeria, but now you’re telling me you actually did the first for another, is that correct?
As evident from my previous answers, we commissioned the project in September of 2018. This means the plant has been operational for eight to nine months already. So, the solar PV project at the Gateway plant of International Brewery Plc (ABInBev) is the first operational solar system installation in a brewery in Nigeria which Protergia Nigeria Limited is proud to be a part of.

How was the payment or financing plan structured for the brewery project?
This particular project was financed by International Breweries Plc (ABInBev) as part of their plant building project finance. However, we at Protergia Nigeria Limited can offer tested, reliable and proven financing or payment models; depending on the client and her credit worthiness.

So, from your interactions, what is the business scenario for commercial and industrial solar PVs in Nigeria, would you say companies are considering or turning to it for their energy needs yet, and how so?
Usually, commercial PV Installations are targeted at reducing fuel cost and eventual operational expenditure. However, there are exceptions where Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) are provided for night operations or essential daytime and night time loads. Due to the efficiency of installed commercial PVs for the two options as tested in Nigeria, gradually, in many ways businesses in Nigeria are subscribing to renewable energy power option because they are beginning to see these evident results.

Do renewable energy operators in Nigeria still contend seriously with taxes and import duties? This was a combative issue largely in 2017 and 2018.
Yes, we do every day. We hope the government could contribute more by reducing import and custom duties on system components in the interim to further help in developing the RE sector in Nigeria. This is because duties factor in the cost of installation materials and planning of the project and we are looking to start manufacturing some of these materials locally.

Do you think there are enough commercial solar projects now being closed out or achieving FID in Nigeria quickly, are operators posting good business results from these?
Yes, we can see that evidently in Nigeria and from the Bloomberg reports there has been significant increase in the number of pipeline projects being implemented by operators in Africa, especially Nigeria.
There are thoughts that Nigeria would get nothing in terms of local content from the RE sector, and this is mostly informed by the fact that the technologies are foreign. Where lies the local content opportunity for Nigeria in this market?

Like I said earlier, we are looking to having a robust RE component manufacturing drive locally through technology transfer; well, it takes a while to have a fully functional manufacturing sector but we hope to begin with fabricating mounting structures, MC4 connectors, amongst others while we work towards a time when we can assemble key components.

Would you give a forecast of the sector for the next three quarters in 2019 as there seems to be a lot going on especially within the REA?
Well, I would simply say that it is going to be a productive year.