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Amy.Offord_111 Aug 16

TAKING POWER TO THE PEOPLE

TAKING POWER TO THE PEOPLE image

Damilola Ogunbiyi, Managing Director and Chief Executive of Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency, talks to James Gavin about her efforts to support off -grid renewables and encourage the private sector to invest in the fast-growing sector.

What is the main focus of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA)?

Our main focus is off -grid renewables. Before the new management team arrived in 2016, REA concentrated on grid extension projects to rural people, but we realised this wasn’t the most effective way of fulfilling our mandate of giving power to the people. 

One of my roles is to encourage the private sector into the off -grid space. New data shows that it is the most vulnerable people who pay the most for electricity. For mini-grid and solar home-system developments, and energy education, we have raised $550m. Of that, $350m comes from the World Bank and $200m comes from the African Development Bank. Grant support is required to really grow the off -grid sector.

What are your key initiatives?

We have a programme called Energising Economies, which is all about supplying sustainable power to large markets and economic clusters. These markets are already paying a lot for power but this initiative delivers power to them at a willing buyer/willing seller tariff. This has been a success and has told a good economic growth story. The other thing about this programme is that it encourages 100% metering. Remote metering is key; people have to pay for power or they will be disconnected.

We have also recently completed a universal electrification access map for Nigeria. This addresses how many people are currently unconnected and is where the power of data really comes in. We spend a lot of time compiling data and creating development plans to get them connected. We see solar home systems and mini-grids as a low-cost way of connecting households. The mod-el also gives data on about 12.5m households and how we can electrify them by 2024.

We have a young team and are very big on gender equality. If you apply for any of our programmes you have to show that 30% of your workforce, even at management level, are female. I now have 24 women working for me as project managers.

Why is it so important to have accurate data?

We cannot be successful without accurate data. We carry out physical energy audits in every community we work in, which is important if we are to adequately plan and develop the best solutions. Data provides us with a clear direction for the private-sector focused off -grid sector we’re creating.

What targets do you have for mini-grid sites?

We’ve set a target of 10,000 mini-grid sites by 2023. The target is based on what is needed and what the demand is. We need to be aware when we are developing our sector that the companies we want to attract need to see scalability. Our off -grid is going to be developed with both international and local developers working together.

How do you work with private-sector players?

We provide market intelligence, grants and subsidies for private-sector developers, which allows them to invest their own money into the sector.

How do you see the overall legal and regulatory landscape developing?

Nigeria is one of the few African countries that has mini-grid regulations.

What other initiatives are you working on?

The Energising Education programme is my favourite, because it’s about youth development. Providing dedicated power at federal universities through independent power plants will improve both education and the standard of living for the students on campus. It’s also a good opportunity to pro-mote large solar photovoltaic (PV) plants in West Africa. They’re very common in Southern Africa, but it’s hard to find large solar PV projects with battery storage in Nigeria.

What challenges need to be overcome?

There are always challenges. There’s a mindset that things just won’t work – when you try to educate people that this a new technology, there is a view that solar doesn’t work. However, with extensive education on solar power and energy efficiency, I’m confident this will be overcome.

This article is an extract from the Africa Energy Yearbook 2019, a partnership between African Business and EnergyNet.