Interview: How sound technical education can shape the solar energy supply chain in Nigeria

There is a significant market opportunity for solar energy in Nigeria. The WorldBank puts Nigeria’s off-grid population at about 75 million with that number increasing with the country’s annual population growth. There is a notable growth in the off-grid solar market: 1.7 million solar products sold between 2015 and 2017, and an annual growth of 36% between 2014 and 2016.

Greenergie recently spoke with Ojobaro Abiodun, a Technical Faculty Lecturer, at the Lagos Energy Academy (LEA), to delve into measures to augment the supply chain network of energy products in Nigeria.

Ojobaro Abiodun, a Technical Faculty Lecturer, at the Lagos Energy Academy

Can you briefly tell us, what the current status of solar energy supply chain and distribution is in the Nigeria market?

Most of the solar panels are imported into the Nigeria market. A Nigerian company goes abroad, to look for a good solar company, strike a deal with them and have their name imprinted on it. Now, we also have some Nigeria companies who are into assembly of solar panel. Renewsys, for instance bring in the panels in part and then assemble in Nigeria. Virtually, all these equipment are being shipped in. I was in Future Energy Nigeria, last week. Most of all these equipment are from India, Lebanese, trying to push market, trying to look for partners in the country. We don’t have any company, so to say producing any of these equipment and that’s why the high cost of solar equipment, is always an issue.

 

The Alaba market, in Lagos, Nigeria, has been described as the largest market for electronics in West Africa. How has the market been organized around the energy sector over the years?

There is a recent video documentary on Igbo apprentice, talking about the activities going on in Alaba market. Let’s not forget that there are also other big market. There was one demolished at Oshodi, although not as big as Alaba market. In my journey of solar electricity, I did a one week market survey of the Alaba market, trying to know the major players, where to get quality equipment. In my research, I was able to get some companies who sell these solar panels. For you going to get this equipment, you must have a full knowledge of what the equipment is all about. When you get there, without a good knowledge, they will sell anything for you. I have had an experience of someone attending to me, saying something which I know is not correct. Alaba is a big market, but when it comes to solar energy, you as an entrepreneur must know exactly what you want because if you don’t know what to get, you will be given anything. It’s a large market, where most of these products are shipped in and warehoused.

 

What measures would you provide, to offset the current technical knowledge gap in the sector and well as the prevalence of substandard product, which discourages many potential customers?

The most important thing is the knowledge-skill. The number one thing is that people need to know about how these systems works. They need to be in avenue, and I think that’s why the Lagos Energy Academy (LEA) is at the fore-front where people can come in to take course on solar energy, to understand how the system work, how to connect the system. In terms of building manpower capacity, LEA is there. We offer comprehensive training on how to install, where to get right materials. Why some people complain that solar is not working, or they have challenges with it, may be as a result of a wrong and poor design. When you come for the training, we will be able to tell you how to do a good design. Energy audit is where it all starts from. You don’t just look at a building and assume a 1kVA or 2 kVA inverter will be sufficient.

Source: Lagos Energy Academy

You have to do a proper energy audit. Secondly, one of the challenges faced is equipment. Most of the equipment before you know it, gets destroyed and the clients are complaining. There are a lot of substandard products. Hence, there should be regulation. The Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN), is trying to propagate renewable energy and help the market so we can have quality good product in the market. Part of the training will help the participant how to obtain these good product in the market and how to identify good and bad solar panel. When you go for a training, it will give you an insight on how to get good products. At LEA, we recommend distributors that we have used over time for project and we know about them. The fact still remains that the cost is always an issue, and the more people are clamouring for it, and the costs are higher, the more substandard products will be coming in, which will affect the market.

It’s obvious many foreign companies want to penetrate the Nigeria energy market. What would be your best advice for such companies?

There is the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) who is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that products in the country are certified, and safe. SON should be empowered more to ensure that these product coming into the country are certified, ok, and good. We should not also forget that even in China, good products are being manufactured. So it’s not the case that they only manufacture substandard products. It depends on the company and the standard they work with. It’s the sole responsibility of SON that the product coming into the country are certified, ok and good for the Nigeria market. They should try to ensure that there is a check and balance measures, so that some of their staff won’t be a disaster to the SON itself, when they allow these substandard product into the country.

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Lagos Energy Academy

The Lagos Energy Academy (LEA), is an initiative of the Lagos State Government (LASG) to provide world-class hands-on technical engineering training on a wide range of topics and subjects important to the Energy/Power sector value chain. The academy combines a classroom based teaching approach and hands-on practical technical training to close the huge gap that exists in the supply of human capital in the energy sector and increase the employability of a participant. Find out more about LEA, by visiting their official website here

 

About Olumide Durotoluwa 56 Articles
Olumide writes regularly on Greenergie, with interests in clean tech, business modelling, and analytics. Contact him directly via olumide@greenergie.com.ng

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