Building a Clean and reliable energy future in Sub-Saharan Africa; Lessons from Tesla
image credit: copyright Manamuz Electric LTD (www.manamuz.com)
- Jan 28, 2020 1:48 pm GMTJan 28, 2020 12:12 am GMT
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Three years ago during a trip to Nairobi, I attended a GIZ training on solar PV project development where an associate of mine told me that the most sustainable way to solve a problem is through a business. This gave me food for thought and I agree with him because when a business is solving a problem profitably, their solution to that problem becomes sustainable.
The telecommunication companies in Africa were successful in their mission to connect Africa because they did it profitably and this accelerated the transition to mobile phones and made building telephone lines unnecessary. Currently, there are about 444 million mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa and these numbers are expected to keep increasing. In most parts of Africa, the number of people with cell phones outnumbers the number of people with electricity.
This is however expected to change in the new decade as a new breed of entrepreneurs have emerged who use solar photovoltaics and other clean energy technologies to fight energy poverty and ensure steady electricity for over 1 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa. As a solar energy entrepreneur from Nigeria, I am a part of this new breed of entrepreneurs who are pushing for a transition to sustainable energy which is now a global movement.
One of the companies at the forefront of this global movement is Tesla, whose mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy through their electric vehicle and energy businesses. Tesla is declaring profits, Tesla stock price is high, market capitalization has exceeded 88 billion US dollars and shareholders are happy. Their profitability while accelerating the transition to sustainable energy is why they will win in the market.
Oppenheimer & Co Inc., analyst Colin Rusch in a note to investors stated that “Tesla’s risk tolerance, ability to implement learnings from past errors, and larger ambition than peers are beginning to pose an existential threat to transportation companies that are unable or unwilling to innovate at a faster pace.”
To build the Tesla of Africa, the new breed of African energy entrepreneurs need to be more ambitious (talking to myself and my colleagues). We already have a tolerance for risk but we need to start implementing learnings from past errors and designing/building our own products.
At Manamuz Electric, we have deployed several solar and energy storage solutions across Nigeria over the past 3 years and lessons learnt are used as feedback for improvement. However, there is a limit to how much value these lessons can add to the ecosystem or how much we can scale. Until we start developing our own products and making changes based on our own experiences or that of our colleagues, we would be unable to scale and achieve the kind of profitability that ensures we win the fight against energy poverty in Africa.
There are massive opportunities in Africa for producing different energy products however, one area we need to start exploring as a matter of urgency is Lithium Ion battery production. Africa needs to stop being absent and participate in the global battery production space. Lithium Ion batteries are seen as a luxury and considered too expensive in Africa but they are gradually becoming ubiquitous in the west thanks to companies like Tesla. The situation in Africa is not meant to be as the minerals used in producing these batteries are here in Africa but we export them without any value added. In 2018, Zimbabwe alone was among the top 5 producers of lithium in the world and has potential to produce 20% of the worlds lithium supply.
To be continued…