Power Solutions on Nigeria Info FM: Solar for Homes
Show today focuses on talks between show host Wiebe Boer and Jim Howlett who says what brought him to Nigeria is the interest he has in development. As an expert in the environmental science he garnered experience that helped him work in the UK in agriculture and rural development type of work.
He wanted to work in the Africa department but there was no opening. So he got a job in South-East Asia. It was a stepping stone. After that, he has worked in other countries as an engineer before coming to Africa.
“Finally, I went back to the UK and an old friend of mine Marcus, asked me if I would help him in his pan African solar company. I was really interested because I had always wanted to work in Africa for a long time and this was an opportunity. Secondly, renewable energy is an interesting space to be in the moment.
“I came to Nigeria in the beginning of 2016. If someone asked me how long I would stay in Nigeria, I would say probably a year, but here I am. We are doing some good works. However, the project is in Katsina and I’ve been spending time in that place. There’s been some progress made although there are challenges as well. With this new administration, we are hoping to move forward faster.”
According to Jim, the Katsina project is about 200 hectares of land that really was not near anything other than a transmission line. But there are three or four communities in that area.
“Our donors wanted to know how the rural community would benefit if we generate electricity for them through the grid. So they encouraged us to look at a variety of mini grids. So in the process we settled on solar systems. From that, we actually realize that there’s a business opportunity there.
At the time, UK government was sponsoring the Solar Nigeria Program. They were looking to get private sector investors to buy into the idea of using solar systems to provide power for Nigerians.
“The grant money we received helped us to buy some units to establish our first shop on the outskirts of Kano. We got some customers and we got more of encouragements. Soon we got more support that made us to expand the business. I think it is about learning more about your products.
“When we first started, we weren’t getting much traction. We started to think about what this product is designed for. We discovered it is designed for rural people in East Africa, people who use candles, or Duracell batteries. The 50W product solves the problem.
“In Nigeria, there’s market everywhere so we have to define the problems that we can solve. We set up a retail hub, we go to the markets, we drum up some interests, and now we have done this for two years, helping us to understand the terrain.”
What is the advantage of these products?
According to Howlett, some people now see the company as a next-gen utility product on a rental model where customers pay a monthly fee. Technicians go to the houses of clients and install the product.
“Once they get these products, the customers understand the value. There’s a convenient to it, and we try to give very good customer service. People are willing to invest in the business. One user says he's able to save 20, 000 naira a month. He has since stopped using generator. Another man who works as a teacher in a small village outside of Kano said most of his neighbors make use of this product which helps them save a little bit money.”
Learn more about these solar panel products at www.passolar.com. It is already in seven states of the federation at the present time.
Talk more with Jim Howlett on Twitter: @Jim__Howlett or @PAS_Solar
Check out Dr. Wiebe Boer on Twitter | @wiebeB_Africa
Connect to Power Solutions on 99.3 Nigeria Info FM every Monday by 11:00am - 11:30am.
Written by Jude Chukwuemeka