Chibueze Ekeh is an Industrial Engineer and also an Energy Finance Specialist. He had his education in Nigeria, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom. He worked in various capacities in the US and the UK before returning to Nigeria to work in the energy sector.
He is the Chief Executive Officer at Ceesolar Energy Limited, a renewable energy company that specializes in powering productivity for businesses and communities.
In a chat with Nairametrics, Chibueze talks about the challenges of achieving energy efficiency in Nigeria and his experience in running an indigenous solar energy company in the country. Excerpt.
What is it like to build and sustain an indigenous solar energy business in Nigeria – the highs, and lows?
Building and sustaining an indigenous solar energy business in Nigeria is challenging but also rewarding. It requires focus, persistence, and great teamwork. To achieve sustainability in this regard, business owners have to be intentional first about why they do what they do, how they do what they do, and what exactly they do. Seeing the economic, environmental and social impacts in the lives of people in the communities we serve as well as for businesses we support, is one of the highs of running Ceesolar Energy Limited. We have recorded some lows, especially in the area of navigating a challenging business environment in the country, however, we try to always make the best out of every situation.
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How do we achieve energy efficiency in Nigeria?
There are a lot of ways to achieve energy efficiency. First off, we need to be cautious of how we use energy. For instance, solar energy systems for our homes are better maximized when power-intensive chores are carried out during the daytime when sunlight is abundant as opposed to during the nighttime. We can also make use of energy-efficient bulbs at home and in office buildings as well as turn off appliances when not in use. We need to be energy-prudent so the available energy can power productivity, support economic growth and create jobs for Nigerians.
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What do you reckon is the reason Nigeria finds it difficult to implement energy policies on a grand scale?
The biggest challenge to implementing energy policies in Nigeria could be a lack of good stakeholder coordination in the energy sector. In my opinion, different stakeholders may not be aligned in terms of understanding the urgency associated with transitioning to a net zero society by 2060. This lack of coordination could be hampering the implementation of energy policies on a grand scale.
The difficulty with implementing energy policies further prevents the achievement of much-needed economic, environmental and social impacts in our communities. It is important therefore, that younger people take up more leadership responsibility in the country to be the change we want to see and driving the message of energy policy implementation in Nigeria with a focus on renewable energy for the benefit of everyone.
How has the journey been at Ceesolar Energy Limited?
The journey has truly been a challenging yet rewarding one. From my earlier consulting experience in the power space, it became clear that if things followed the business-as-usual route, the huge electricity demand and supply gap in Nigeria would hardly be met in the short-term through improvements in supply from the electricity grid.
In looking out for innovative solutions, one thing became clear – that renewable energy is the energy source of the future because it is sustainable and could easily be decentralized from the national grid. This informed the decision to found Ceesolar Energy Limited. The goal was to build a company renowned for being classic and sustainable in everything it does. We are focused on powering productivity and our journey has been great so far.
Our greatest achievement at Ceesolar Energy Limited has been supporting the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) in its budget implementation for the year 2022. In line with the recent strategy and efforts to deliver projects through a programmatic approach and to ensure that the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP)/Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) principles and targets are fulfilled.
The Agency’s strategic initiative is to improve livelihoods, specifically in rural communities, through programs targeted at providing electricity for productive use in healthcare centres, markets, schools, agricultural spaces, etc., in a sustainable and impactful manner.
One such programme, in collaboration with the National Fadama Development Project (NFDP), is to provide decentralized solar irrigation pumps and streetlights to viable irrigation schemes across the country. Ceesolar Energy Limited implemented the project earmarked for the South-East region to power productivity and provide streetlights in several farm clusters in the region.
We worked closely with the REA’s Executive Director (Technical Services) and allied FADAMA staff, with overall oversight from the Managing Director to realize the Agency’s innovative initiative by providing solar irrigation pumping systems to numerous farms, as well as training the farmers on how to operate these systems.
We also provided solar-powered streetlights to selected farms. REA is implementing this laudable initiative in all regions of the country. The solar irrigation pumps will go a long way to reduce losses and increase crop yield from the farms, while the solar-powered streetlights will provide illumination and the much-needed security that will enable farmers to safely carry on with farm production activities even into the night.
Ultimately, the improved crop yield would have ripple effects of providing jobs and increasing the agricultural sector’s contribution to economic development in the country.
Supporting the REA’s innovative initiative for farm clusters in the country aligns with our motto of powering productivity for rural farmers, who play a critical role in increasing economic growth in Nigeria and increasing our ability to industrialize and produce what we consume as a nation.
The year 2022 has been a phenomenal year for us. We have been able to triple our team size and our revenues have increased significantly.
What other energy collaborations has Ceesolar Energy Limited gone into recently?
Our recent collaborations have been with two reputable organizations whose mission align with ours in terms of increasing energy access and powering productivity in Nigerian communities. These organizations are AllOn and the United States African Development Foundation (USADF). AllOn’s mission is to increase access to commercial energy products and services for under-served and un-served off-grid energy markets in Nigeria, with a special focus on the Niger Delta. USADF’s mission is to support African-led development that grows community enterprises by providing seed capital and technical support.
In October 2021, we received pre-seed funding from AllOn and a grant from USADF to support our efforts in powering productivity in rural communities in the Niger Delta starting with the development of our pilot solar hybrid mini-grid in Abaribara in Cross River State which is scheduled to be commissioned in October 2022.
Beyond our pilot mini-grid, and as we transition from start-up to growth stage, we have developed a pipeline of several other potential mini-grids as we have advanced engagements with other communities in the region.
Already, we have been approached by some investors interested in funding our seed round. Once we raise funds in the coming months, our goal in 2023 is to invest the funds in powering productivity and impacting the lives of about 20,000 people who would be connected to electricity and unlimited possibilities for the first time!
We have also signed a grant agreement with the World Bank-funded Nigerian Electrification Project (NEP) and we are working on signing more grants for our pipeline of future mini-grids. The NEP is a Federal Government (FG) initiative that is private sector driven and seeks to bridge the energy access deficit in Nigeria, by providing electricity to households, MSMEs, educational and healthcare facilities. The funding will go a long way to reduce the capital cost of building mini-grids and consequently make the electricity supply more affordable for the rural customers.
What you should know
- According to the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) Regulation for Mini-Grids 2016, a mini-grid means any electricity supply system with its own power generation capacity, supplying electricity to more than one customer and which can operate in isolation from or be connected to a distribution licensee’s network.
- A solar hybrid mini-grid is therefore a mini-grid that can be supplied by either solar or an alternative which is a diesel generator in this context.