Ojo, Ayodele Anthony is the Country Manager, D.light, a global solution energy company and pioneer in delivering affordable solar-powered solutions designed for the two billion people in the developing world without access to reliable energy. In this interview with Sebastine Obasi, he talks about electricity deficiency in Nigeria and the need to embrace renewable energy.
What is D.light all about?
D.light is a business enterprise that focuses on renewable energy. We target those at the bottom of the pyramid, the people across the world that do not have access to reliable energy. We want to provide them with renewable energy solutions that meet their energy needs right in their environment.
What is D.light’s target for Nigeria?
In Nigeria, about 45 per cent of the population are not connected to the national grid, which is almost 95 million people. Providing light for those people is the target for Nigeria. Even those connected to the grid have unstable access to the grid. The average access is less than six hours. So you can see how wide the energy gap is. Data shows that Nigeria needs 80,000 megawatts of electricity to meet its household and industrial energy requirements. As of today, the most we have ever generated is around 7,000 megawatts. This means Nigeria is not generating up to 10 per cent of her needs. The gap is huge – that is why D.light Nigeria works to bridge that gap in our own little way by providing portable solar lights as part of our contribution to providing immediate solutions to households in need, while they climb the energy ladder with our products.
Is solar the way out?
Energy poverty is established in Nigeria. However, solar is one of the options available. Based on remarks by the Minister of Power, Nigeria can only get out of the present power situation if we create an energy mix. Every opportunity to generate electricity should be explored. Energy can be generated by fossil fuels and renewable energy. A country like Norway sometimes generates excess renewable energy. Nigeria is blessed with abundant sunlight. Renewable energy is a vital source that should be thrown into the mix. About 80 per cent of energy in Nigeria is generated through fossil fuel. About 19 per cent is generated by hydro, while 0.2 per cent is generated by renewable sources such as solar, wind, etc. Renewable energy therefore is not being tapped into in Nigeria as a source of energy and the advantages are there. It is a lot cheaper. Once you acquire it, it’s much cheaper touse.
How long has D.light been in Nigeria?
D.light has been in Nigeria for seven years now. The first three years, we had a distribution partnership with a distribution company, but in the last four years, D.light has been operating as a full-fledged, tax-paying company of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
How has your relationship with Lighting Africa impacted your business?
We started the Lighting Africa relationship in 2015. I was one of those who pushed for it because I saw the value. It has been fantastic. Lighting Africa has a clear understanding of the energy challenge in Nigeria. One of the key focus is on awareness. This has helped to catalyse the market which, in turn, has led to growth and acceptability of solar products in Nigeria. A whole lot of Nigerians now understand solar is a sustainable means of generating light (safe) and they are willing to try out solar products more than ever. I believe this will lead to more sales of solar products in the coming months.
What are some of the challenges D.light has encountered in the course of doing business in Nigeria?
In the first three years, the challenge has been penetrating the Nigerian market. In the last four years, there has been an array of challenges. There was a change in government. Naira was devalued. Capital was lost. Getting the right manpower and designing the right product for Nigeria. At the consumer level, trust was an issue. People did not know about solar energy. Initially many people did not trust us, as they hadn’t seen this concept before. Renewable energy was not popular. There is also high import duty on products that are meant to alleviate poverty. The duty is as high as 30 per cent. Nigeria is probably the country that pays the highest duty on renewable energy products in the world.
In other climes, like East Africa and Benin Republic, such products are duty-free. However, through the efforts of our partners such as Lighting Africa/Nigeria, the penetration level has greatly improved. The business might not be as profitable as we desire but we believe things will improve in the future. At the moment we have about 50 direct employees and over 300 outsourced employees on our pay roll. We know at every turn we will have fresh challenges; but the key thing is to be able to overcome these challenges whenever they come.
Have you not considered locally producing these materials?
Earlier on in our business, that was suggested and we even contemplated a local assembly. However, when you want to assemble in Nigeria, you still need electricity which largely is unavailable. Currently, assembling in Nigeria would come at exorbitant costs which we refuse to pass on to consumers.