Blog: An Interview with Anita Otubu
By Humphrey Olugbue
This transcript is part of a series of Top Voice interviews brought to you by IBR Group International on the topic of sustainability. To learn more about our Top Voices in Sustainability interviews or to discover how you can contribute, please contact us directly.
Q1: Could you tell us a bit about your role with the REA and explain a bit about your journey towards making an impact?
To begin with, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) is an agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) established by Section 88 of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA 2005), with the mandate to promote and increase access to electric power to unserved and underserved rural communities across Nigeria, through the extension of the national grid and renewable energy projects.
At the REA, I currently head the Project Management Unit (PMU) of the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP), which is a $550m results-based finance facility secured from the World Bank and African Development Bank to accelerate the private market for the development and deployment of mini grids, captive power plants, productive appliances and equipment as well as solar home systems to unserved and underserved homes, micro small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs), tertiary educational institutions and healthcare facilities.
In 2017, I was made the Head of Department for Special Projects where I was tasked with the responsibility of designing and managing the implementation of the Energizing Education Programme (EEP) Phase I, which was funded by the FGN. With this role, I successfully coordinated a team of experienced engineers and energy specialists towards deploying Solar and Gas-fired Hybrid Captive Power Plants to nine (9) Federal Universities and one (1) Teaching Hospital across the six (6) geo-political zones of Nigeria. The project also involved the provision of a world-class Workshop and Training Centre for training of staff and students on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency and the provision of solar-powered streetlights to light-up the universities at night thereby increasing security on campus for students, staff and faculty. At the moment, five (5) of the projects have been commissioned (BUK - Kano, ATBU - Bauchi, FUPRE - Delta, FUNAI - Ebonyi and FUAM - Benue), two (2) have been completed and awaiting official commissioning, while the remaining ones are at varying stages of completion. I also oversaw the successful implementation of the EEP STEM Internship programme which saw to the engagement and training of 20 female students per university throughout the construction phase of the project, availing them the opportunity to have hands-on experience in the design, construction and deployment of large-scale renewable energy projects as a means of inspiring the entrance of more females into the Renewable Energy space.
Within the same period, I was Project Manager in-charge of implementing the Energizing Economies Initiative (EEI) targeted at supporting the rapid deployment of off-grid electricity solutions to MSME's in economic clusters (such as markets, shopping complexes and agricultural/industrial clusters), through private sector developers. I steered the Phase zero (0) involving the provision of off-grid electricity to Ariaria Market - Abia State, Sura Shopping Complex - Lagos State and Sabon Gari Market - Kano State. In October 2017, we commissioned the 22KW Gas Powered Pilot IPP for Ariaria Market in Abia state powering 4000 shops with their fixed meters. We also provided a fully set up and furnished Customer Service Shop. In 2018, H.E. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON commissioned the Sura Shopping Complex, Lagos state powering 1047 shops with their fixed meters and a Customer Service Shop. Same year, I handed over the project to the Acting Head of Renewables at the time. Post-handover, the EEI has been able to achieve the following: 5 private developers have created jobs across 9 markets in phase 0 and phase 1, 7 markets currently have a customer service centre for customer registration and payment and 6 phase 1 markets have been electrified.
From 2020, assuming the role of Head PMU for the NEP, I was tasked with the responsibility of providing project management expertise to ensure the successful disbursement of $213 million for the Solar Hybrid Mini-Grid component, $75 million for the Standalone Solar Home System component, $205 million for the Energizing Education Programme Phase II and III, $20 million for the Productive Use Equipment and Appliance Component and $37 million for Technical Assistance. In terms of impact, the NEP targets the electrification of at least; 2.5 million people, 500,000 households, 100 isolation and treatment centres (ITCs), 70,000 MSME, 400 primary health care centres, 2 teaching hospitals and 15 federal universities by the end of 2023.
At the moment, under the Mini Grid Component of the World Bank there are 14 Commissioned Mini Grids, 5626 total connections, 959.79kw PV capacity installed, 106 Agreements signed, 66,756 connections in the pipeline and 5 Lots have been mobilized for deployment of hybrid solar power solutions to100 ITCs under phase 1 of COVID 19 + Beyond Mini Grid sub component. Under the Solar Home Systems Component, 315,157 systems have been deployed, 32 Grant Agreements has been signed,10.8MW total PV capacity installed, with 302,676 Households & 2505 MSMEs connected. For the Energizing Education Programme Phase II, the FEED has been completed, the Project Owners Engineer has been onboarded, the ESIA Certification has been received from the Federal Ministry of Environment and we have issued out the Request for Proposals to EPC companies who successfully scaled through the initial selection phase.
I am optimistic that my experience working on climate change projects coupled with these coordinated actions will contribute immensely towards the provision of universal electrification access to Nigerians while also reducing the rate of emissions associated to other fossil fuel power generators as Nigeria strives towards achieving net-zero emissions.
Q2: As Project Leader, you and the Managing Director of the REA, Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad officially signed a grant agreement with the Nigerian Electrification Project to improve access to power for the underserved and to bridge electricity gaps. How important are grants to the REA's mission across Nigeria?
Generally, investments in the Renewable Energy industry seeks to provide energy security and affordability for the end-users on the one hand and it is done for the purpose of profit generation for private sector businesses on the other hand. Overall, investments in the sector in whatever form comes with the potential to create jobs, place the economy at a position of strategic growth and address environmental, social and other externalities. However, grants are unique and of great importance particularly in emerging economies irrespective of the sector.
Firstly, the projected time-frame for grid power to reach the most unserved and underserved communities is quite distant from now, as such, there is the need to speed up electrification access to these areas to drive coordinated economic growth and advancement.
A number of renewable energy companies have shown innovative capacity to contribute to the drive towards off grid electrification, however, they lack the requisite capital needed for deployment. In some cases, financial institutions are unwilling to provide them with loans or these institutions charge high interest rates which these businesses may struggle to pay back. Hence, grants encourage market entry for renewable energy providers by reducing their capital expenditure in deploying renewable off grid solutions. For example, the Performance Based Grant and Output Based Fund subcomponents of the NEP taking into consideration factors such as cost of service delivery and the volatile exchange rate fluctuations offers 60% grants to mini grid developers and SHS suppliers who meet all requirements and qualify to participate under the Project. This has seen the inflow of companies willing to take part in accelerating the electrification access to unserved and underserved areas. As earlier stated, we currently have a total of 138 signed Grant Agreements across the two (2) subcomponents with over 50 companies at various stages of their application.
Lastly, grants are important because they contribute towards reducing the end-user cost whether in terms of tariff for mini grids or cost of system for SHS. As the REA/NEP mission is to drive the electrification of unserved and underserved communities, affordability is at the heart of our interventions with the understanding that a majority of these rural and peri-urban communities irrespective of their economic potentialities have low-to-zero income earners. While we appreciate the NERC for ensuring that the MYTO methodology has a column that helps calculate tariffs in-line with the amount of grant received by the developer(s), on our part at the NEP, we have also designed a methodology to ensure that end-users benefit from the 60% grant given to SHS suppliers for systems deployed.
Q3: What would you like to see change about the Land Governance Strategy of the African Union Development Agency. Particularly, are there any issues and challenges that are not captured in the strategy but need particular attention?
No comments, not my area of work.
Q4: In terms of policy coherence and action, do you have any expectations for Africa during this year's upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow?
Africa's situation within the entire climate change conversation needs proactive action much more than mere dialogues and countless paperwork. The continent contributes about 3% of global total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the lowest of any region, yet its socio-economic development is severely threatened by the climate crisis. Prior to the Paris 2015 Climate Change Conference where the popular Paris Agreement was signed, a number of arguments had gone out indicating that the most developed countries had an obligation to pay a climate debt for the exploitation and advancement of fossil fuel use in the continent which they had perpetrated for so many years. The somewhat consensus was: 'those who created the problem must invest in making the problem go away'. To that effect, the Green Climate Fund was established as a way for wealthy countries to help developing nations cut down emissions and transition to green economies. Then, the developed nations pledged to give 100 billion a year by 2020, however, according to the Green Climate Fund Results Report of 2020 published in March 2021, only $10 billion had been provided at the time. My expectation for COP26 therefore is that leaders of African countries approach the convention with a strong, unified voice, presenting their core climate change concerns and needs which for me comprises of the following;
- Mobilization of climate finance remains a major demand from African nations based on economic projections indicating that the African economy may suffer some economic challenges if climate actions are not accelerated as expected. To this, the IMF states that by 2050, climate change will cost Africa 4.7% of its total GDP.
With projections showing that developed nations will significantly increase their climate finance share for developing nations to access, while in pursuit of more funds, African nations need to advocate that the loans for climate action attract low interests. Considering the emerging nature of the Renewable energy sector in Africa, governments and private sector companies are doing everything they can to publish a positive proof-of-concept that will guarantee immense scaling of the market. The implication of high interest rates on loans for climate action is that governments borrow at a higher cost leading to prudence in spending on the projects for which the monies were borrowed. This will lead to high demand for renewable energy solutions (end user's need for reliable and clean energy) and low supply thereby posing the threat of inflation in the RE sector.
- African nations will need to request that developed nations assist in the provision of financial and technical resources to establish renewable energy manufacturing infrastructure in Africa to cut down dependence on purchasing equipment from abroad. In my experience, the purchase of materials for deployment from abroad impacts on the timeline of project delivery and subjects local private sector businesses to perpetual dependence. It is my belief that the local manufacturing of these renewable energy equipment and materials will contribute to stabilizing and scaling the market, driving down the cost of deployment and subsequently reducing the cost on end-users. It is in view of this that the Federal Government of Nigeria is currently invested in the Solar Power Naija Programme targeted at providing N140 billion debt financing to upstream and downstream renewable energy companies to provide 5 million solar connections. The upstream is fully committed to supporting the local manufacturing of solar power materials to help scale the market.
Q5: Any thoughts or advice for young Nigerian diaspora or Nigerian university students/grads wanting to make an impact in this sector?
As majority of the developing world move towards renewable energy off-grid solutions and Nigeria targeting to increase its share of renewable energy to the total energy mix to at least 30%, the opportunities in terms of jobs and businesses are on an expansion course. These opportunities are diverse and has the capacity to absorb individuals from all academic fields because, there's work to be done along legal, policy, technical, financial, environmental, social and research lines. For instance, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics has indicated that employment of solar photovoltaic installers is projected to grow 52 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. For young Nigerians at home and in the diaspora, this is good news. Nigerians in diaspora, my suggestion for the younger ones will be to look homeward. Just as they have and are currently enjoying the essence of reliable power supply, they need to understand that they can contribute towards ensuring that their fellow countrymen and women, who are either unserved or underserved need to enjoy similar privileges. With access to practical modern education, they can also bring home innovations that can contribute towards accelerating the closure of the electrification gap.
For the younger Nigerians at home, don't confine yourself to a certain field and think that you must make it in that field. There are many opportunities out there and we need all hands-on deck to make a change in the renewable energy space. Using myself as an example, I trained academically as a lawyer, however, as a result of personal drive, dedication, hard work and opportunities offered to me, I currently thrive in the sector. Considering the male dominance in the sector, females are encouraged to focus and thrive in the STEM field and seek out females currently working in the sector for mentorship and guidance. This will significantly increase their chances of entry and attainment in the sector as we all work towards advocating for policies that will assure mandatory gender quotas in the sector.