The Open Africa Power is an education venture initiated by Enel Foundation in 2018 in partnership with The University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, South Africa, Strathmore University, Kenya, and Italian universities such as Politecnico di Torino, Politecnico di Milano, Bocconi University, Florence School of Regulation and Venice International University. The ambition of the programme is to empower and retain African talent in a crucial sector like energy, of paramount importance to unlock Africa’s sustainable future. The OAP Programme lasts six months with two residential training modules (one opening week in Africa and two closing weeks in Italy) and an online learning module in-between.
Founder and CEO of Renewable Energy Technology Training Institute (RETTI), Ms. Glory Oguegbu, was competitvely selected as one of 61 beneficiaries out of 752 applicants for her work advancing the energy sector through training and mentoring young people to be competent employees for the renewable energy sector and provide market solutions as entrepreneurs. In this interview with Kunle Aderinokun, Oguegbu speaks on energy challenges in Nigeria and Africa and her experience at the programme.
What would you say is the cause of the current energy poverty or poor access to electricity in Africa?
I think it’s a combination of many factors. It’s important to note that rapid population growth has led to an over independence on inadequate infrastructure which leads to poor electricity supply and constant outages, low willingness to pay for electricity by the consumers increases poor supply because utilities are not able to provide more electricity due to none-payment. Electricity theft is also a huge issue and leads to higher tariffs and estimated bills as utilities try to recover their money. Consumers refuse to pay the estimated bills as they are not getting the service, which they are billed for and the cycle continues. Low or mismanagement of investment funds have also hampered Africa’s energy growth as investors are not willing to put down their funds over uncertainties around recovery. This has created a virtual cycle of energy poverty in Africa. This goes without mentioning the 93 million people that don’t have access to the grid in Nigeria.
This discussion is important because of the following statistics; Africa will be the largest continent in the world by 2040 at 2 Billion people. By 2040 1.2 Billion people in Africa will need energy not just for electricity but for cooling – (food, vaccines).
You were selected for the OAP 2020, why do you think this training is important at this time. Tell me about the problem this programme solves?
This programme is very timely as Africa strives to surmount its energy problems. Thankfully, Africa has plenty renewable energy potential (in Onshore Wind, Solar PV, Geothermal Energy and Hydro) and large economic potential. But limited use and deployment has taken place. Only 50 GW of electricity deployed (mainly hydro at 36GW). For solar PV, out of 40 per cent capacity in Africa, only 1 per cent is utilised. On-grid wind and solar will play a role in the long term. Overall, renewable technology generation will account for the largest share of additional technology required for the boost in the sector for Africa.
I believe Africa’s energy sector (for electricity, electrification, Cooling, Cooking and Heating) will develop when it’s young people are engaged and involved in the decision making process and strategy. This is a specific problem that the Enel Foundation Open Africa Power tries to address – investing in an exceptional group of young people by empowering them with knowledge on energy regulation and policy so that they can advance the growth of the energy sector in their countries.
You’re a very young woman, what attracted you to this cause which is especially male dominated?
I would say that my journey to renewable energy technology began in 2015 when I came across a campaign by WWF that included an image titled “Stop Climate Change, Before it Changes You” where a man is shown with a monster-like fish head as a sign of reverse evolution that might occur if climate change and ice melting continue at such alarming rate. I was frightened and wondered if climate change would make people look old and disfigured like in the image. The image was etched in my mind and drove me to research into the subject matter. When I read on the impact of climate change on humans and the environment, I was consumed by an urgent fear and then had the urge to do everything possible to reduce the negative impact of climate change.
Around that period, my retired parents moved to their newly completed building in a community in another part of town different from where I was born. In this community, they weren’t connected to the electricity grid. My heart broke each time my parents spent money to buy fuel for the generator for only three to five hours a day which is usually in the night.
This troubled me and I delved deeper into my research where I learned about renewable energies and how it can help combat both climate change and provide stable electricity for 93 million Nigerians, who have no access to electricity including my parents.
Truly Inspiring. How did you decide that Renewable Energy Education was the sector you wanted to focus on?
During my research into the problem of climate change and lack of electricity, I discovered something interesting. I came across a solar Installation project for a health centre in the community my parents moved into. It wasn’t functioning. The locals told me it stopped working after six months. Further research revealed other solar installations which failed after a short while. This made the people doubt that solar works.
I discovered that this was caused by three reasons; a lack of capacity and efficiency problem on the part of the local installers; lack of knowledge of use on the part of the beneficiaries, incompetent or fake products on the part of suppliers and installers. I decided that if solar is the future of electricity, it is paramount to train local content to become efficient in the sector and in the three afore-mentioned areas so that they can provide sustainable electricity solutions and maintain them.
What did you do to try to solve this challenge on your own?
Despite not having an engineering background, I paid for and took a course – Off-Grid Solar Power Systems Design and learned about basic solar system sizing to enable me create solution for electricity problems. I decided to use my new knowledge to educate thousands of young Nigerians including engineers and other interested individuals to be competent workforce to be employed by the industry and establish as renewable energy entrepreneurs, who will create sustainable solutions that will meet the energy demands of their communities.
That was how the Renewable Energy Technology Training Institute (RETTI) started. The mission is to promote the knowledge of renewable energy and energy efficiency best practices through tailor-made courses that address the energy value chain thereby creating efficient energy technicians, engineers, developers and employees who will create solutions to solve the energy problems in their communities.
At this time, we offer courses on solar PV design and sizing, solar installation, energy efficiency and management in buildings, renewable energy entrepreneurship etc. We can be found on www.retti.com.ng or via a simple Google search of our name.
What have you learned during the Open Africa Power programme?
I learned a lot and still learning via the ongoing online module offered by the Florence School of Regulation. My knowledge was deeply broadened around the subject matter of electricity as a whole. Transmission, distribution, tariffs, supply etc. I learned the basics and the root cause of the electricity problem in Nigeria, best practices from other African nations. The key for me is that Nigeria need to realise that the answer for the electricity problem lies in the sun. The regulations should be more open and friendly to investors seeking to invest into renewable energy power projects and support them with friendly tariffs.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you during the training programme?
Two things stood out for me – A lecture by Enel Green power representative, where I learnt about the speedy progress that digitalisation and innovation are making for the energy sector using artificial intelligence, tools such as drone technology for distribution lines monitoring, augmented reality for checking of underground wires and detecting a problem without visiting the location and many more etc. Indeed, digital technology is here to make the process of decentralised electricity easier.
Another moment for me was during the last day of the programme on a visit to Philippe community where we learnt about incredible work on start-ups by the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business. The highlight of this day for me was the entrepreneurship lecture which teaches glaring truths and solutions about entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, people think that because you’re solving a problem, you must be having it easy and doing well. But this lecture recognised the true entrepreneur and offered best practices like never before for how to deal with failure and tips for business growth like never before.
What advice do you have for young ones wanting to make a mark in the energy sector?
First find a problem, create a solution. With your idea, make sure to start fast and start first. Look at the value chain and figure out where you can make the best impact. Choose that and create a business. Be focused and pursue your goals with all your might, while you still have the time. There’s no faster or easier way. The only thing I know that works is diligence and consistency. There will be frustrating times and many crying nights. But your ‘Why’ is the key that will keep you.