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‘Government should ensure zero tolerance for substandard renewable energy products’

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HABIBA AHMED ALI

HABIBA AHMED ALI

is the Managing Director, Sosai Renewable Energies Company, one of the few that provide affordable, reliable and efficient technologies to communities; ensuring safe, clean and inviting environments for all people through sound and business minded strategies. She is a graduate of accounting with a Master’s in Business Finance and currently in the dissertation stage of her PhD in Energy Finance. The company has won several accolades and were the first organisation to have an improved cook stove project registered under the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). In this interview with CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM, she aired her views on renewable energy in the country.

At UN climate conference in Paris, for the first time renewable energy took centre stage, global leaders supported a transition to 100per cent renewable energy (RE) in communities. Do you think Nigeria is ripe to provide affordable and reliable alternative energy for everyone and to promote economic growth critical for energy security?
I would personally say Nigeria is ripe for infrastructural and energy needs but for the customer affordability, there is still a vacuum. Being in this business for these number of years, it has been one of the major drawbacks to making a bigger number of sales to people. As much as there is a huge need for energy, the cost of solar installations is a determining factor in allowing this to happen.

One of the easiest ways this can happen is by ensuring that solar is promoted through the Pay as you go(PAYG) option, which culminates into a rent to own model(R2O). This way, we can gradually encourage new builders to inculcate RE from the onset of the building and not install energy from the already overburdened grid.

The introduction and use of solar energy will go a long way to promote economic growth because businesses that earlier required energy, but had to shut down would now be able to carry on with their businesses. On further ensuring energy security, there is also a need for the government to ease off on tax laws for companies that carry on these businesses.

With Paris agreement, the renewable energy transformation is underway, and it is unstoppable. What should the government be doing to give a massive boost to the deployment of renewable energy?
There is a need for the government to get involved with the right departments and develop progressive renewable energy policies. There is currently a renewable energy master plan; we need more than this to move RE forward. The importance of this cannot be overemphasised. Access to electricity and fuel essentially determines our standard of living, providing us with education, nutrition, and economic opportunities. We should strongly advocate sustainable development, meaning that while we must increase energy access, it should not compromise the ability of future generations to live well. Conventional sources of energy pose significant threats to our current and future global security, environmental quality, health and social well-being. Renewable energy sources mitigate the negative effects of fossil fuel use. This should constantly be preached and encouraged through all levels of government and support should be afforded the private sector who are involved in this field. The market needs help to incorporate negative externality costs into market prices. If we were to wait for the private sector alone to make renewable energy cost-competitive, it would be too late to reverse the effects of climate change, ecosystem

We should strongly advocate sustainable development, meaning that while we must increase energy access, it should not compromise the ability of future generations to live well. Conventional sources of energy pose significant threats to our current and future global security, environmental quality, health and social well-being. Renewable energy sources mitigate the negative effects of fossil fuel use. This should constantly be preached and encouraged through all levels of government and support should be afforded the private sector who are involved in this field. The market needs help to incorporate negative externality costs into market prices. If we were to wait for the private sector alone to make renewable energy cost-competitive, it would be too late to reverse the effects of climate change, ecosystem destruction and pollution. Governments have the opportunity to accelerate the use of renewable resources through effective policy measures.

There is no doubt about the dramatic impact that renewable energy is having – right now, today – on reducing climate emissions, what are the other benefits and how can we make renewable energy projects affordable and sustainable?
I believe I have touched on this above. Affordable is by bringing down the hitches in imports or ensure the growth of industries that can produce in the country. The government should have programmes that support people who are willing to change from normal energy sources to renewable energy sources, like incentivizing this. There should be a zero tolerance to importation and sales of substandard RE products. This will ensure that people will buy and be happy to have their solutions delivering the promise. Besides the environmental benefits of renewable energy to the people, the social benefits, economic benefits and technological improvement is immense. The easiest way to make it affordable for now is to infuse enough money that ensures the Pay-As-You-Go model works or the rent to own. Currently, one of the biggest obstacles to mainstreaming renewables is that they are not cost competitive. Governments have the option to create a policy that affects the price of both fossil and renewable fuels through subsidy reform and taxes. Also, funding renewable energy production or accelerating consumption through electricity feed-in laws, technology procurement, concessions, targets and tradable certificate programs will also lead to more equalised prices.

Do you think that National energy policy offers the needed pedestal for effective pricing, deployment and integration of renewable energy technologies in the country?
Not yet . More work needs to be done on this. The energy policy in Nigeria so far has been a favour for the oil industry. We need specific policies for renewable energy in Nigeria.

Tell me a bit more about the Sosai Renewable Energies Company, especially your improved cook stoves for rural communities. What impact has your cook stove made on rural women? Do you think the government should support the initiative and how?
Sosai Renewable Energies Limited was incorporated in Kaduna State, Nigeria in 2004. It used to be called Sosai Integrated Concepts but later changed its status to a limited liability company in August 2010 upon being registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission as a private Limited Liability Company.

Its technical base is in Kaduna State, although it also operates out of Minna, Niger State and Kano city in Kano state to reach the communities in Northern Nigeria.

From the onset, Sosai’s primary goal has been to provide alternative and affordable renewable energy in rural and semi-urban areas with the aim of improving the quality of livelihood within these communities. Its key product offerings include solar technologies like solar home systems, solar power box, solar lamps and lanterns, integrated energy centres, micro grids, improved cooking stoves and water filters

Our improved cook stove for rural communities programme is a climate change intervention under the programme of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Clean Development Mechanism(CDM) project. The project is mandated to distribute at least 400,000 stoves in 10 years; we are one year into the project now and we have registered on the database about 35,000 stoves and counting. These stoves save about 70 per cent of the wood being used on an open fire, cooks faster than the open fire which is why it got the tag name Fast Fire and it emits minimal to no smoke.

What is the key objective of your pet project – Matan Arewa Sosai Initiative (MASI) Project?
The vision of the project is to have successful women energy entrepreneurs in every community in the North.The MASI will tap into the place of women as the backbone of rural economies in Africa and the care-takers of their families and households. It works to increase the capacity and drive of women to take on new and challenging roles, especially in the energy sector and at higher levels, coupled with the zeal to perform satisfactorily.

The project has started in selected ten wards of Kaduna State; it is gradually spreading into the other wards of the state and upon success in Kaduna state, it will be spread to other northern states of the country.

There is the adage that says “when you train a woman, you train a nation,” this is explained by cases which show that women, instinctively, opt to invest their earnings in the growth and development of their children.

For this reason, women should be empowered and engaged to spearhead the much-needed transformation of the energy sector in Nigeria and globally.

How popular is clean energy among the public? How far has the Nigerian electricity problem driven this renewable energy process?
Lately, we have been getting a lot on the inquiry into how it works and how people can access it. About 70 per cent of this, does not turn into a sale because people end up realising the cost is beyond them. But there is a lot of awareness for Solar energy especially and the improved cook stoves.

Though with the new rural project of improved cook stoves that we are doing, the buy-in is quite high and we are recording a turn over of about 3,000 stoves per month. We train artisans to build the stoves, and we pay them for building the stoves for each community that we work in. We have nothing less than four youths working on this project.

What should be the main goals for the future development of renewable energy in Nigeria?
Renewable energy in Nigeria should target implementation of smart policies with targets and timetables; introduction of powerful technology standards; positive subsidy reforms; taxes and fees in ‘dirty’ energy sources; improvement of venture capital provision and encouragement of investors, and in technology procurement, there should be a government guarantee.


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