Uniting Africa's Renewable Energy Journey

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A Practical KXN Solar Course in Borno State, Nigeria A Practical KXN Solar Course in Borno State, Nigeria Photo Courtesy of Anthony Ighodaro

When Mr and Mrs Anthony Ighodaro touched down in Munich Germany in 1997, they were excited about this new chapter of their lives. The move from London to Munich was necessitated by Mrs Ighodaro’s new assignment to help in setting up a joint telecoms venture. Munich would now be their new home for two years until 1999.

Coming from London’s fast-paced melting pot, Munich was a breath of fresh air for Anthony. He felt instantly at home as he took in the Southern German City.

Rachel Johnson the British journalist famously said of Munich that, ‘of one thing there is no doubt: if Paris makes demands of the heart, then Munich makes demands of the stomach.’ But for Anthony, the demands of Munich were directed to his mind.

He was drawn to the baroque architecture of the Nymphenburg palace. Built by two generations of Bavarian rulers, this palace sits majestically in a corner of Munich. It still looks as fresh and regal as it did in 1675 when its central pavilion was completed. He also spent days studying the old masters art collection at the Alte Pinakothek. This art museum is one of the oldest galleries in the world. Being in it almost felt like stepping into a time capsule from the nineteenth century.

Every time he took a walk in Munich, Anthony marvelled at the seamless blending of old and new buildings standing side by side as if rooted in similar yet varying architectural harmony. Over 600 years old, the oldest brewery was nestled next to the latest biotech research institute.

This harmony extended to public transportation where cycling paths sometimes ran alongside roads before taking detours into their very own meanderings that traversed all through the city. It made him want to jump onto a bike and cycle, which struck him as an impulse that was in tandem with sustainability since cycling was healthy both for the environment and the cyclist. Within weeks, Anthony was already acting on this impulse during weekends when he would cycle for at least fifty kilometres, exploring differrent biking routes and discovering those joyful Bavarian bierkellers where drink and mirth flowed merrily. He especially loved the bierkellers communal feel.

Indeed, Muncheners (Munich residents) didn’t seem to have any of that supposed German snobbishness that is also ascribed to Britons. Rather they seemed to have a zest for life that the rest of the world usually gets a glimpse of during the legendary Oktoberfest Beer Festival. A conversation with many Muncheners also often revealed a deep appreciation of philosophy and engineering, two things that were close to Anthony's heart.

Away from the big city, the Bavarian countryside was even more serene with the Austrian alps just an hour’s drive south of Munich. Anthony learned to ski there. Thanks to the proximity of lakes Ammersee and Starnberg to his residence, he also learned to sail. After acquiring sailing and skiing skills, he liked to joke that he could now walk on land, snow and water!

Back in his house, he was constantly struck by the fact that there were five dustbins and waste had to be sorted accordingly. Recycling was indeed taken quite seriously here!

One chilly morning, wrapped in a woollen coat and a matching woollen cap, Anthony’s errands took him to the vicinity of Siemens, the electronics and industrial conglomerate that was founded in 1847. A streetlight in the Siemens car park instantly gripped his attention when he realized that it was powered by solar. This may be commonplace now but in 1998, it wasn’t.

Anthony later met the engineer who had designed the streetlight and had a long conversation with him. He eventually convinced him to design a solar system that could power his fax machine back in Nigeria. Anthony’s forward thinking mentality was informed by the belief that unless solar energy became relevant to daily utilities, it would remain on the fringes of everyday life.

Anthony subsequently became deeply interested in linking Germany’s solar technology and financial resources with Nigeria’s solar resources and electricity needs. In other words, Germany had the money and technology whereas Nigeria had the sun and massive electricity deficiency. In order to play a role in writing a different chapter for his country, Anthony decided to dip his pen in the solar ink. He enrolled for a Siemens Solar PV course that left him with a firmer technical knowhow on solar technology.

Scott Adams, the American cartoonist has wryly written that, ‘Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems.’ For Anthony, the former part of Scott’s quote came into full play when he became increasingly acquainted with Germany’s renewable energy exploits.

When he saw that solar-powered streetlight, Anthony’s engineer’s-problem-solving mentality had kicked into full gear. After completing the Siemens course, he decided to heed Mahatma Gandhi’s words and become the change he wanted to see in Nigeria. In 1999, he did that by establishing KXN Nigeria Ltd, a private company for distributing, assembling, installing and maintaining Solar PV equipment in Nigeria. Though private, this company was a social enterprise because its driving force was providing renewable energy solutions for the people of Nigeria, especially in the rural areas where the National Grid was yet to penetrate.

Less than three years later in 2002, KXN found itself in the thick of social business. It teamed up with the University of Maiduguri and BP Solar to train technicians in installation and maintenance of both PV refrigerators and other PV systems. These technicians were subsequently able to install 189 solar-powered vaccine refrigerator systems in 90 villages across the north east of Nigeria. These innovative efforts earned KXN a 2005 Ashden award.

KXN Team transporting solar equipment by Camel in Northern Nigeria/Photo Courtesy of Anthony Ighodaro

 

Armed with such renewable energy experience, Anthony found himself at a World Future Council conference in Ethiopia back in 2009. The World Future Council is a Foundation that researches, identifies and spreads the best and most sustainable policy solutions worldwide. During its 2009 Ethiopia meeting, the Council founded the Africa Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA), a member-driven network that has gradually grown to comprise of more than 2000 members from over 100 countries.

In the inaugural Ethiopia meeting, Anthony was appointed Chairman of AREA’s twelve-member steering committee. As Chairman, he was now charged with the responsibility of helping steer AREA in its quest of playing a catalytic role in promoting knowledge transfer and international cooperation in renewables. In Anthony’s own words, AREA ‘accelerates the uptake of renewable energy across Africa.’

Such acceleration is primarily achieved through the knowledge platform that AREA has created where its hundreds of members can exchange information and consult about policies, technologies and financial mechanisms for the deployment of renewable energies in Africa.

The AREA platform has subsequently helped renewable energy players across Africa to take informed action and to find common ground for renewable action. Anthony believes that one of the renewables initiatives that can be scaled up across the continent is South Africa's Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).

REIPPPP is a ground-breaking public-private partnership that has already attracted an investment of $13 billion over six years. These billions were unlocked through an exemplary and accessible bidding process which attracted widespread bidding from quality investors.

Another renewable energy initiative that appeals to Anthony is the Regional Solar Program (RSP) which spanned across 9 Sahelian countries from 1990 to 1998. This EU-funded program was launched by the Interstate Committee for Drought Control (CILSS). The solar energy that it provided in rural areas was particularly vital as it was used to power water pumps during a period of widespread drought.

Such successful renewable energy projects provide efficient case studies that can be duly upscaled across Africa. Through the AREA platform, it is possible for such knowledge to be shared and tapped into. Since knowledge is only as powerful as its application, AREA enables Africans and friends of Africa to know more concerning renewable energy and hopefully execute more.

DJ Bwakali

Words can inspire action and change the world

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