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Nigerians are generally unsatisfied with the poor state of power infrastructure in the country. Many homes get only about 3 or 4 hours of power per day, with other households having it either slightly better or worse. This is why we are excited to bring you this week’s interview with Femi Adeyemo, who moved back to Nigeria to contribute to the solution of this perennial matter, which many argue has been a key headwind slowing Nigeria’s economic development. Please read on to find out more about his thoughts, and if you have your own ideas of solutions to the power situation in Nigeria, please let us know about it in the comments box.
Thank you for speaking with us. Can you please tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Femi Adeyemo. I am the founder and CEO of ARNERGY Solar Limited, Lagos. The name is an acronym for Alternative Renewable Energy.
Can you take us through your educational background?
I had my basic education in Nigeria and my first degree in Computer Engineering from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in Ogbomosho. After graduation, I worked in the Telecoms industry with Huawei Technologies on several of MTN nationwide Base Station Controllers (BSC) and Base Station Transceivers (BTS) rollout and maintenance projects before I left Nigeria in 2006.
Why did you leave Nigeria?
Initially, it was for my Masters Degree; I moved to Stockholm, Sweden to study for a Masters Degree in Information Technology at KTH in Sweden.
Why Sweden? And how was life in Stockholm?
Well, I had two choices, Canada and Sweden. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a student’s visa for Canada, so Sweden it was. Stockholm is a beautiful city to live in; I really enjoyed my time there. Also, considering my interest in technology, I found technology in Sweden as far back as 2006 to be cutting edge.
After Sweden, what was your next move?
After Sweden, I moved to the UK but left after barely a month for an international telecoms consulting role with a Caribbean company about to begin operations in Suriname, South America, operating under the brand name Uniqa. They had just gotten a license to roll out telecom operating services so I got an offer I couldn’t resist which led to a move to the Caribbean. My stay there was for only about seven months as my initial contract ended and I wanted to explore other countries.
Did you go back to the UK afterwards?
Yes I did go back to the UK, and floated my own company in the UK called E2E technologies UK limited, to operate as a telecoms consultancy. Unfortunately there were limited opportunities in the UK telecom industry then as it was at the peak of 2008 economic recession.
How did you find the entrepreneurship process?
Although the entrepreneurial bug had bitten me, floating a company at the peak of the economic recession in the UK was not the best decision.
What happened next? Did you close shop?
Yes, another opportunity came from Lagos so I moved again, this time back to Lagos in November of 2008 for a technical project manager role with an Airtel Service Provider, which was known as Zain then. Zain was about to roll out the 3G network. I got a role with the company to project manage the pre-commercial launch RF tuning and optimisation. This involved tuning the mobile network, ensuring there were no calls drops, one-way speech network congestion etc before the commercial launch.
How long did you do this for?
I intended to do this long term, but when I got to Lagos, I realised I wasn’t mentally ready to return to Nigeria. The infrastructural challenges such as epileptic power supply, traffic gridlock e.t.c were too much for me to bear.
Did you leave?
Yes, I did leave Nigeria again in March of 2009. That was barely three months into that role and I moved to the Middle East.
The Middle East sounds intriguing, please tell us about that
I was in Muscat, Oman which is a beautiful country. I worked with Oman Telecommunication (Omantel). Then, Omantel was just about to launch their 3G network. With my experience and background, I was well equipped to manage the 3G network from a network acceptance and operations and maintenance point of view. I was responsible for the Managed network Services for the 3G network and set up and sat on the Change Advisory Board (CAB). I was the focal point for Omantel 3G operations and maintenance with equipment vendors and played a leading role in formulating managed service tender documents and bid evaluation criteria for Omantel UTRAN Network modernisation and LTE (4G) networks for bidders including Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks, Huawei and ZTE.
Living in Oman was also very enjoyable, the air was very clean, the environment was beautiful and people were warm and friendly. I was there from March 2009 till June 2013 when I moved back to Nigeria.
Considering how idyllic you make Oman sound, why did you leave it for Nigeria?
The passion to see a better Nigeria in my generation and the opportunity to do business in my home country while also contributing to the economy. I saw Solar installations everywhere around the middle East from the Abu Dhabi, Masdar City to Doha, Qatar National conventional centre and a whole lot of other solar installations not minding that they are oil rich nations. Thus, I kept wondering why Nigeria still battles with epileptic power supply with the amount of energy nature has provided us freely. I kept wondering why Nigerians still die inhaling fumes from generators, when there is a cleaner and healthier energy that can be harnessed freely. This drove me to begin studying deploying Solar energy as an alternative form of energy to be able to provide Nigerians from Lagos to Enugu, Port Harcourt to Kano with 24 hours of electricity a day, it was because of this urge to make an impact in Nigeria that I decided to relocate home in June 2013.
How did you find the transition this time around?
This time around, I came back fully prepared particularly with regards to providing 24hour electricity for my home. So the first thing I did before leaving Oman was to have all the equipment I needed for stable power supply in my home. When I arrived in Nigeria, I installed the Solar panel on the roof, and got other hardware and the battery storage installed, and ensured that before my family moved into the house there was steady power supply. It has been a year now and we have not experienced a minute of power outage.
You certainly have been proactive. And now, you are back in Nigeria, what do you do?
I have set up my business in Nigeria called Arnergy. At Arnergy, we supply affordable solar energy solutions to homes and businesses. When I say affordable, I mean that there are two or three reasons why people have not gone solar in Nigeria, based on the customer development processes we have carried out. We found out that the cost and the perception of Solar are the two main hindrances. So what we have done is to work with reputable manufacturers from Europe and Asia, to be able to bring in our own OEM products, integrating the vital hardware of a complete Solar energy system like the Inverter, the charge controller, the AC bypass switch and the system control panel in a single box made us achieve smaller footprint at higher efficiency and at a very affordable cost that Nigerians are willing to pay. On the perception side, we are educating people that Solar energy is the messiah to Nigeria energy crisis and Solar energy properly designed and installed can power high energy consuming appliances like Air Conditioners, Microwave Oven, Iron , Washing machine and can power a whole office complexes and homes without burning cash on diesel or petrol daily.
And What has the reception been like?
I can tell you that on the street where I live for instance, we have about four homes that have gone solar completely, We also have homes in Lekki, Lagos that we have powered with our residential Solar energy solutions, with some pre-installation visits already done in Yaba, Surulere, Ikoyi and Victoria Island. Lekki is particularly known for epileptic power supply with some communities experiencing days of power outage but we have been able to put smiles on the faces of those residents with our 24hours affordable uninterrupted clean power supply, thanks to the sun. The reception is picking up and considering we started our operations in Nigeria only about five months ago, it can only get better.
Furthermore, word of mouth is circulating the news. Most times, when we go out to tell people about Solar, some people who have inverters installed at their homes or offices compare it with Solar energy, but we do educate them and tell them the difference between Solar energy and the inverter system is huge, they are incomparable, with Solar energy systems installed, they generate their own energy and become an independent power producer and do not need to rely on the commercial grid (PHCN) or generator to have 24hours power supply but with an Inverter system, they need to run generator every few hours or pray that PHCN provides them with electricity to charge the batteries. The inverter system also depletes the life cycle of the batteries very fast, since inverters can make batteries do as high as 4 cycles a day as against only 1 cycle a day for Solar energy meaning a battery storage system that will work 4 years with a Solar energy solution will only work for 1 year with the inverter only system. So, we have been educating Nigerians telling them Solar energy systems properly designed can power any office or home in Nigeria with uninterrupted power supply.
Is that what applies during the rainy season too?
Yes. Even when it is rainy, the solar modules generate electricity for you. The intensity might not be as high as when it is quite sunny but will still be enough to power the appliances on a daily basis. Another thing also is that renewable energy goes hand in hand with energy efficiency. What we do tell people is air conditioners and lighting in unoccupied rooms must be switched off as this allows other appliances that need power round the clock like deep freezers, chest freezer and refrigerators to always have 24 hour power.
Can you tell us how you have found the business climate in Nigeria?
I can tell you that it has not been easy recruiting and we have actually spent a lot more time than we anticipated getting the people with the right skill set and mindset. That has been a bit challenging as well as finance, as we found the interest rate on loans is not very business friendly in Nigeria. So those are the two major challenges that entrepreneurs face in Nigeria. Having said that, there are enormous opportunities in Nigeria, and with a proven business, a huge target market, adequate scale strategy and tenacity, entrepreneurs will always found the business environment interesting.
Talking about funding, how did you find support?
To date, we have had to bootstrap the business as a proof of concept and now we have a profit generating company. We have a couple of investors who have signaled interest for equity investment as well as equipment manufacturers that have shown interest to partner with us. Our series A investment round is in the pipeline, We believe energy is the next boom in Nigeria, Nigeria only generate about 4000MW out of the 100,000MW required for us to be an Industrialized nation, only 40% of the country is connected to the commercial grid and the 40% connected barely has 3 hours supply a day, we are aware that investors are looking at opportunities to invest in the power sector of African largest economy, thus we at Arnergy are positioning ourselves for such investment to bring affordable, uninterrupted clean energy to Nigerians, eventually finance will not be a problem if we get our acts right. The cost of generating energy adds about forty percent to the operating costs of businesses and if that is taken out, companies won’t have to fold up in Nigeria and relocate to other African countries and the consumers would also have to pay less and our youths will be gainfully employed.
That is certainly inspiring…What are the long terms plans for Arnergy as a brand?
We see Arnergy getting listed on the Nigeria stock exchange in the next five years, an exit strategy for our investors and an opportunity for smart Nigerians to invest in the next big thing in Nigeria because we believe every home, every business and every village in Nigeria needs to go solar. In Nigeria, sixty percent of the population is not connected to the national grid. If we want to go by the conventional way of building fossil fuel based generation, transmission and distribution plants, it will probably take us another thirty years before we can say Nigeria is an Industrialised nation with constant power supply. But with solar energy, we can without any hassle or gas sabotage, have every state in Nigeria enjoy uninterrupted power supply, without damaging the environment. The impact of the green house gases are all out there, our climate is changing every day, global warming is real so we can’t continue with the norm.
Finally, based on your experiences, are there any particular tips you would share with people who are planning to move back to Nigeria?
First of all, be very prepared mentally, because it is not going to be the same situation you have been used to abroad. You also shouldn’t rush into investing on returning to Nigeria, give yourself some time to settle in and understand the Nigerian system.
Entrepreneurs should not wait until the whole country has 24hours power supply and the security issues are resolved or until all roads are paved. When those are fixed there is a good chance that the opportunities won’t be there any longer since the international conglomerate will be here then and would by default have the huge market share in whatever sector you intend to operate.
Finally, get a residential Solar energy system installed for your independent round the clock electricity supply and generate your own electricity; it doesn’t matter if you’ve lived abroad for twenty five years or one year, if you had experienced a year of uninterrupted power supply, and you come back and only have power for three to fours hours a day, it can frustrate you, and it might not be too long before you hop on the next available flight back.