Engr. Henry Agwor is the Chief Executive Officer of Oasis Solar, a Ghana based renewable energy service provider. In this interview with Anthony Awunor, the electrical engineer opines that dealers in power generating sets in Nigeria are no threats to solar energy systems in the country. He also spoke on a wide range of issues focusing on solar energy as a renewable source of energy.
As an engineer, what has been your experience in solar energy?
As an engineer who has been in the renewable energy industry for close to 10 years now, I have gotten more than enough to give out to Nigeria my motherland in terms of solar systems installation, maintenance attitude, manufacturing of the solar home systems, marketing, repairs, troubleshooting amongst others With my experience, I think I have the capacity to also help change peoples’ perception that solar home system is mainly for some class of citizens. From my experience both in field and at the office I discovered that we lack a lot of knowledge about solar energy. No wonder the Bible says that “My people perish due to lack of knowledge”
Which major solar energy projects or contracts have you handled in Ghana or Nigeria?
In Ghana we have had the opportunity to handle lots of projects, both from Ghana government and from private sectors to individuals. One of such major government project was the Ghana Energy Development and Access Project (GEDAP) which lasted for over five years from 2009 to November 2014. In this project, 10 districts were selected to benefit from this project and four solar companies were assigned for this project, Oasis Solar was in- charge of two districts in the Northern part of Ghana, that is Lawra – Nandom and Kassena – Nankana districts. Apart from that, we have carried lots of projects for Ghana Health Service (GHS) in Bolgatanga, Navrongo, Garu, Bongo and Kongo all in upper east region of Ghana. Furthermore we have also embarked on solar projects for some selected rural banks within the upper west region and also executed projects for Ghana Education Service within the Greater Accra Region.
You have done so much in Ghana; do you have any plans to deploy your engineering expertise to your home country-Nigeria?
Yes. Obviously, I have lots of plans in place for my motherland-Nigeria. That is why this idea has come at this crucial time that we are facing challenges in our power supply. We hope that we will do far greater and better than what we have already done in Ghana by the special Grace of God and with the support of my people, we will all make solar appreciable by all. Many people, especially in this part of the world see solar energy projects as an elitist thing; what are your views on such impressions? Well, from my experience so far; for over ten years in this field, I think that solar is not for some group or class of individuals in the society. It is a wrong perception. Why do I say this? When we talk of solar home system, they are in categories and sizes; it all depends on what you need and the appliance you want it to power. They are all in various wattage ranging from: 2 watts, 5watts, 10watts, 50watts, 300watts, 2000watt etc. In Solar home systems, we have products for low income earners, middle income earners and the elites as you may say. I think I have lots of assignment before me in terms of public sensitization on this subject matter, because even in Ghana a lot of people believe that solar is for some class of people. It took myself and my marketing team so much time to move from community to community educating them on this subject and a lot of people realized that they also can afford to install solar home system in their homes. If you go to Ghana, you will discover that we have installed over 500 solar home systems in home of just peasant farmers and it is working effectively till date.
Some people who deal on power generating sets (generators) are said to be obstacles to alternative means of power generating systems. Do you think such matter can be tackled and what is your advice to them?
Well it is always like that. I went to a certain village to install solar; on our way we came across small river and we have to cross to the other side before commencing our journey. At this point, we saw this man with his small boat ready to cross us to the other side. I asked this man why is it that local authority could not construct a bridge so that one can just drive across; the reply the man gave was similar to this question. I don’t think or see it as an obstacle; I only see it as an advantage in my marketing analysis, because I normally want to have an alternative to compare with when am doing my marketing and training on solar energy projects. Such situation can be tackled. I will only build on the weakness of power generating sets and others in marketing. Dealers on power generating sets are not threats to solar energy systems. Do you think the Nigerian environment is suitable for solar energy systems? We have adequate sunshine from January to December in Africa. Nigeria environment is very suitable for the solar energy. The only thing is poor government. It will do Nigerians better if they invest in solar energy than any other source of energy because solar energy is a renewable and sustainable energy
The Lagos State Government recently embarked on solar energy projects across the state; shortly after their installments, you discover, some of them are not functioning properly as expected. Why is it so?
They are lots of reasons for this and it could be as a result of lack of after service checks, lack of maintenance, lack of technical knowledge/ education on the uses of the system, lack of proper supervision on the part of the government during the installation process. It could also be for political reasons and the usual poor attitude to government properties. In Ghana for instance, after the (GEDAP) project was over in 2014, government still released fund for after service routine checks. We were mandated to train at last four persons from each of the benefiting communities on some technical checks and minor maintenance. Spare parts were made available and handed over to them in case of any replacement. Today the solar street light I installed in Lawra Central Market in 2009 march is still working and performing effectively.
Yours State-Delta State and even your town, I know they are suffering from lack of electricity for so many years; do you have any roadmap viz-avis solar energy to solve this their age-long electricity problem?
I have plans to come to Nigeria. My town- Ubulu -Uku is my number one reason having seen the electricity problem that they are in for close to five years now. I planned to organize a solar energy sensitization workshop for 2days with the help of stakeholders. This I hope to carry out in September 2015 by the grace of God. So we will have the opportunity to introduce Solar Energy to them as an alternative sustainable energy. I also have the plan of buying some few number of small solar lantern/ light and possibly give them out during the workshop.
What are the major challenges in running a solar energy system?
The challenges include: taxes on importation of these products, inadequate fund for advertisement and creation of awareness and poor standard of living
What advice do you have to those who are considering solar energy for electricity?
Anyone considering using solar energy for electricity is in the right path because if you look at the cost of solar in a short term, it may seem high but when considered in a long term, you will discover that solar is the cheapest source of energy one can even think of . No monthly bills, power outage.