Chioma Agogo is the Lead, Easybuy West Africa, Greenlight Plannet. In this interview with Stanley Opara, she identifies solar as a very important component of Nigeria's energy mix and the need for a strategy to maximise its benefits for the good of the people and the economy at large.
Given the degree of energy poverty in Nigeria, do you see solar energy as the way out?
There is no doubt that solar energy is the way out. I would like to quote Richard Branson, who said: "In a single hour, the amount of power from the sun that strikes the earth is more that the entire world consumes in a year."
Besides the abundant oil and gas resources that we currently hold, Nigeria is still fortunate to be situated in sub-Saharan Africa, a region described by the International Council for Science as having the world's best solar resources. Nigeria has 485.1 million megawatts hour per day (MWh/day) of solar energy in natural units and we enjoy an average of 6.2 hours of daily sunshine. Despite this, approximately over 60 per cent of Nigeria's 170 million people lack access to electricity supply. Currently, our main sources of electricity come from hydro and gas, and we have an installed capacity of over 5,600 megawatts of electricity but generate less than 5,000MW due to a myriad of issues.
The use of solar electricity systems aids the capture of solar energy, which if properly harnessed, could provide more power than all the fossil fuels we currently hold, thereby making access to energy both affordable and much more sustainable. Eventually, solar energy will play a part in reducing the energy access gap in Nigeria.
A critical challenge to note is a statement from the United Nations that: "Rural-urban migration in sub-Saharan Africa will have increased by 87 per cent in 2030 from the 1950s.
Greenlight Planet is fast becoming a household name in the renewable energy space. What is this company all about?
Greenlight Planet is a for-profit social business that designs, distributes, and finances solar home energy with an under-served population in mind, that is, the 1.3 billion global consumers for whom the old-fashioned electrical grid is unavailable or too expensive. Greenlight Planet is the company's registered name while Sun King is our consumer-facing identity - the brand name for our range of products.
Greenlight Planet is a Lighting Africa associate. What is the relationship between these bodies?
Yes, we are associates of Lighting Africa/Nigeria, which started in 2015. We had been working well with Lighting Africa and Lighting Global for a few years and had benefitted tremendously from the programmes in Kenya, Ethiopia, India, amongst others, which have been running since as early as 2009. Therefore, we decided to tap into the same with the launch of Lighting Africa in Nigeria.
What are the benefits of being one of the distributors of Lighting Africa quality-verified solar products?
A key benefit is the product acceptance by governmental and non-governmental agencies, which helps to build trust as well as the product acceptance by consumers, who purchase and use our products daily in their homes and workplaces.
How has Lighting Africa impacted your business?
Lighting Africa provides market intelligence and industry reports, which provide more detailed insights into what is happening in the market. This is invaluable as data in Nigeria can be hard to come by, but data is necessary to inform business and growth decisions. Further, Lighting Africa conducts national consumer campaigns for its associates like road shows, radio adverts and print adverts. Associates are invited to participate as well as to invite their retail dealers to push sales and brand/consumer awareness.
In terms of business development, the Lighting Africa (Nigeria) programme contracted Brands Optimal, which has access to thousands of retail outlets in Nigeria. Brands Optimal helps profile key retailers for solar products and links them up with associates like us. Brands Optimal has already profiled and recruited more than 3,500 retail outlets ready to stock solar lamps from Lighting Africa associates, which means that thousands of additional solar home energy systems can be made available to Nigerian households each month.
The programme also carries out Business-to-Business (B2B) introductions to Greenlight for partnership opportunities. Some of our current partnerships with micro finance banks in Ogun and Oyo states were developed as a result of Lighting Africa/Nigeria's B2B efforts
In terms of quality assurance, Lighting Africa trains technicians to provide after sales services to our customers. Over 200 such technicians have been trained in Nigeria already to repair products that are out of warranty, helping to ensure that products last longer and consumers get their money's worth.
Lighting Africa/Nigeria also holds consumer education campaigns and forums, which have reached at least 21 states. This helps us access a market that is already knowledgeable about the benefits of solar products.
How is Greenlight Planet constantly innovating itself and how is it positioning itself for the future?
Green Light Planet started with 'Sun King', a simple, reliable solar powered replacement for the ubiquitous kerosene lamp when the business started almost ten years ago. Since then, we've grown each year to introduce new products and services to the market. Today, our product range includes a variety of robust portable solar energy solutions, multiple plug and play solar home systems, solar fans and solar 19-inch TVs into the market, and we even offer consumer financing to consumers through our innovative 'pay as you go' (PAYG) technology. In the near future, we hope to be able to cater to most of the energy needs under-electrified households in Nigeria face.
Expectedly, every business has its challenges, what are some of the challenges being experienced and some of the concrete steps you have taken to overcome them?
One of the key challenges faced in the Nigerian market was the direct purchase of solar products due to its pricing.To ensure that consumers have access to clean energy, Green Light Planet introduced the EasyBuy model, which enables consumers to pay for the products as it fits into their daily income. The Sun King EasyBuy products come embedded with this PAYGO technology, enabling customers to pay for our products through small installments over an extended period of time.
However, we then encountered some challenges with collecting these payments in an efficient manner. In East Africa, our EasyBuy customers make regular payments through mobile money; however, mobile money isn't yet as prevalent in Nigeria. To combat this, we introduced cash collection centres (CCC) in all areas where the products have been sold. This allows our customers to conveniently walk into any of the CCCs near them to make direct payment for their Sun King systems.
It is worth noting that since we opened our first Sun King shop in February 2017, we have opened an additional 23 shops across Nigeria selling more than 20,000 pay-as-you-go systems through our last mile field sales agents, called 'Energy Officer, that sell Sun King products in their localities on a daily basis.