Webinar - Turning Challenges into Opportunities for Last-Mile Energy Access in West Africa

Callum Yap
March 16, 2021


Our first webinar

We were fortunate to host Okra’s first webinar on March 09, 2021. Queen Iwunwa facilitated an awesome group of panelists that dialed in from around the world to discuss their unique perspective on scaling energy access in West Africa.

The full webinar can be downloaded here.

Timestamps & (some) Key Lessons

00:00 – Introduction by Queen Iwunwa

  • Running a sustainable last-mile energy access business is notoriously challenging for all segments of the value chain. This webinar will bring together industry experts with unique perspectives, to discuss how we can collectively achieve commercially viable models for last-mile electrification

06:15 – Nicholas Parker

  • “Why now?” and “So what?” – times have changed for energy access entrepreneurship. Things are on the verge of being disrupted significantly
  • Scale and replication have historically been the biggest obstacles to delivering mass impact in underserved communities
  • In the early 2000s, advancements in material science, biotech and IT have enabled environmental science to go from “compliance-driven, end-of-pipe to “clean-by-design”
  • New business models, and capital formation around those models, are now possible because of reduced costs and exponential technology, entrepreneurship culture, and public pressure to combat climate issues
  • The key to success in West Africa is to harness the local culture of entrepreneurship and combine it with other key enablers like technological advancements

18:04 – Ifeoma Malo

  • Electricity tariffs have increased and will likely continue increasing, because utility providers have said they can’t function properly unless they gradually increase tariffs
  • Change in VAT and import duties are also limiting efforts to transition to renewable energy
  • Nigeria is facing a conundrum in terms of where to go with the clean energy transition even though there is a necessity to move towards renewables
  • Nigeria has a strong regulatory framework for mini grids but the approval process is generally slow and tedious
  • Cleantech Hub has been looking at solving energy access issues through the lens of investment – trying figure out how to mobilise investment in the best way possible

28:15 – William Brent

  • Unless the state-owned distribution companies and the private sector DRE companies can find a way to work in a mutually beneficial way, we will fail to achieve universal electrification
  • Power for All is looking at success stories in Uganda and trying to see which aspects can be replicated or hybridized with other approaches at scale
  • The “demand generation” issue needs to resolved in order for mini-grids to scale faster, which will be heavily dependent on the agricultural and food systems
  • The energy sector is traditionally a supply-minded industry but it needs to adopt a demand-side mindset to remove obstacles to scale
  • It’s exciting that Nigeria is in the process of framing an agriculture initiative that will support energy access innovations

36:25 – Ifeanyi Orajaka

  • The financing ecosystem for mini grid development has matured drastically over the past 20 years
  • Raising capital has faced early challenges around find the right technology, energy theft, payment collection, and changing the minds of end-users to use solar power to increase productivity
  • Logistics continues to be a major challenge when transporting goods at the last-mile

47:28 – Nithya Menon

  • It doesn’t make sense to use SHS or mini-grids for small clusters arranged in irregular formations – that’s where IoT mesh-grids are applicable
  • Machine learning, remote analytics, and automation will be key enablers for scaling last-mile electrification projects

57:25 – Summaries

59:15 – Q&A from the audience

After completing his electrical engineering degree at the Queensland University of Technology, Callum Yap dived into the startup world with a burning passion to solve big problems. At Okra, his focus has been on optimizing internal company systems and processes. He currently leads manufacturing and marketing operations.