•How he manufactured solar powered tricycle in 21 days
•Wants to be known as Elon Musk of Africa
By Fred Iwenjora
Since Anthony Obinna Okafor studied and obtained a degree in Mechanical/Production Engineering at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, his ingenious mind has not slept.
His colleagues at the WTC Primary school Enugu and at the Command Secondary School Abakaliki recall how he had dismantled any product to reassemble them.
Aside solar energy systems, he is equally well grounded in the design and installation of wind energy systems and has tinkered about solar mini grids, energy storage systems and electric vehicles.
His love and passion for renewable energy systems stirred him into deep researches for other non conventional power systems amongst which are the Magnetic as well as the Solid State power generators.
His latest innovation is a solar powered tricycle which he unveiled recently in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state.
Here he speaks with FRED IWENJORA on the latest product as well as his dream of becoming the African version of Elon Musk of Tesla whose pioneering work on the electric cars is world renowned.
You must be feeling happy that the hard work you started has reached finish line?
Certainly, I am very pleased, and there are no words to describe it! What once existed as mere dreams have become reality.
How long did it take you to complete the work on this solar powered tricycle?
Due to limited working tools and machines, it took about three weeks to complete. However, it must not be overlooked that the mental preparations, acquisition of the necessary knowledge and skill set took well over a year.
Was it easy or challenging?
Certainly it wasn’t easy with the greatest challenge being capital funding. To get to this finished product which was supported by Ebonyi State Vocation College, a lot was spent on research and development during a year to the tune of nearly a million naira which I solely sponsored from my limited resources.
Did you have to import anything like raw materials?
Yes, materials like the electric motor, axle and controllers with few other accessories were imported. But notwithstanding, materials like the controllers and axle can be fabricated here and this is an option to consider should I receive the necessary funding to commercialize this project.
What inspired it?
Change in technology is something we all have to deal with. If someone had warned the steam engine era of petrol internal combustion engines (ICEs), they would laugh him off the way electric vehicles were laughed off about 10 years ago. But what is happening today? 90% of all commercial transport in China is electric and other countries are closely following suit, meaning that when all these car manufacturers switch to electric cars, the big question if we refuse this change; how do we get parts to maintain our ICE cars?
Now being an innovator, a futurist and a pace setter, I was inspired to start this future here in the country – a future where we don’t become a dumping ground for internal combustion engines (ICEs) and a future where we will pioneer the green revolution in Africa.
I want to be known as the man spearheading electric cars in Africa like Elon Musk is doing with his brand Tesla.
Now tell me how does your tricycle work?
The tricycle has solar panels so can charge itself on condition of cloudy weather, it could be charged with the grid or with an external solar power supply of generator.
On a full charge, it can go 60 to 70 km. And on a sunny day, the added panels will extend range by another 10km.
This must not be your first venture? What other engineering issues have you been involved with?
I have keenly followed green technologies for over 10 years from solar energy for homes and offices, to solar mini grids, energy storage systems and electric vehicles.
Any plans for power generation?
This is my 5th year of uninterrupted power supply at home and many thanks to solar energy. You see, if an individual can achieve such a feat, I really do not see reasons the Government cannot at a grand scale.
At what point did you discover your tech instincts?
I can say as far back as a kid when I became popular with my reverse engineering. I would disassemble toy cars and re-couple and remodel them. The one that made me famous in the neighbourhood was a radio I built with scraps put together in a paper box.
Do you think your talent is hereditary?
Yes, I want to believe that it is hereditary because coming from Awka, a clan of people in Anambra state known for tech, smiths and all other scientific skills enough to stun the British when they arrived, some things seem easy and doable. However I do not rule out God’s blessings, virtues and talents which I consider the root of this achievement.
In your view, what are the basic problems of power generation and industrialization of Nigeria?
We cannot build an industrialized economy without power. All efforts to bring our power sector at par with the rest of the world had met with successive failures. Thus, from my perspective, the Government should deploy other on-demand power sources like solar energy.
For example, a sufficient amount of solar panels mounted on the rooftops of government houses and secretariats, universities and hospitals can provide sufficient energy during the day for office jobs. During these peak periods, Power holding companies can concentrate on providing power for small scale businesses and factories that cannot afford to go off grid on solar energy.
This will bring down the costs of production, encourage exports and thereby boost our economy. In countries like Israel, policies made it compulsory to mount solar water heaters on the roof of every building; similar policies can be enacted here by mandating all government houses, secretariats, government hospitals etc to deploy solar energy systems. This way, factories and small scale businesses can have access to electricity in order to facilitate production of local based products that will lead to economic boom.
Do you have a name for your tricycle?
Nothing is written in stone yet, I am still contemplating on a name that will resonate with our people and become a household name. I currently call my tricycle OKAFOR like Ford, Toyota, Honda, Bajaj which are names of the inventors.
Any plans for its mass production?
That is my dream, but in this part of the world, dreams remain only dreams until a good Samaritan reaches out to give his support. For me, I have done my part, I have shown to the world what talent I am made of, the rest belongs to God and if it is His Wish, He will send the right support to take this innovation to the next level.
What would you want from FG if you meet Buhari?
Capital funding. I have my business plans ready. The President did set up schemes like N-power to facilitate and help start-up businesses which is a sign that he is willing to support small and medium scale production. If I have the opportunity of meeting him, I have no doubt that he will provide the necessary support to make this innovation a pride of Africa. We can produce for ministries and parastatals for dispatch and for manufacturing concerns for sales and marketing delivery.