‘We’re solving energy poverty to create jobs’

Mrs Heather Onoh is the MD of Smarter Grid International, a renewable energy company.  Recently, the company produced a solar powered kiosk aimed at creating jobs. She tells us more about it and how they  are solving the energy problems in Nigeria.  

How did you come about providing affordable energy for people?

This solution came about just by understanding the problems of energy supply in Nigeria. Many people are energy starved and energy poor. Globally, over 1.2 billion people are living below energy poverty. In Nigeria alone, about 100 million are living off the grid or on the grid  but getting intermittent energy supply and so are energy poor. So, we decided to solve this problem because the problem is solvable. 

I am the CEO of Smarter Grid International. We are a renewable energy company, and our mission is clear, that no one is left in the dark. Our main idea is to provide affordable, accessible and productive use of energy to people especially those at the base of the pyramid so that they can be brought to the economic fore ground. 

So, how do you do that?

So we create solar powered devices for businesses and homes.  We have a variety of products.  We just debut our solar powered kiosk for barbing. But we do more than barbing in the kiosk, we sell recharge cards, charge peoples phones because we have charging station powered  by solar. No generator noise, everything is renewable energy and the reason for this is job creation – you know the unemployment rate and the energy poverty in this nation. 

This is our own contribution to combating this. This is not rocket science – it is good to know that these things can be manufactured in Nigeria. This is a renewable solar powered kiosk that will enable people have multiple streams of income and be empowered

Some of our other products are solar powered vulcanising machines. We have solar powered milling machine for grains; we have solar powered salon kit-dryer. These ones are produced in China but our ultimate goal is to produce in Nigeria. But the barbing kiosk and all the kiosks we would create will be made in Nigeria. 

We know that job creation is a tall order in this country and this should not be the sole responsibility of the government; everyone of us has a role to play. This is our own way of creating jobs for more people. 

What are your plans to see that small starters can afford this?

There is a pay as you go package. In terms of affordability, we sit with any of our clients that is interested; we look at  what they can offer. The cost depends on the material – either wood or metal – and  also the size. We pair them with a microfinance bank so the banks can give them money for this. And they can begin to pay over time. The kiosk cost N200,000. 

We realised that we cannot be an energy renewable company alone but an energy financing company as well. We provide finance strictly for the purchase of energy. Also, we manufacture and distribute solar products that are affordable. 

How can the poor partake  of your services?

When we say our products are affordable, they are actually affordable. We match the cost of your present energy use. We have products that will match what you are using right now. We have products that you can pay as low as N40 a day to get all your electricity in one day.  

We have a product that we call our little ‘Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Little Mr Sunshine’. Little Miss Sunshine is a product with four bulbs and little battery. You can light up your living room and then your children’s bedroom. That is for homes.  This comes with a 36 watts panel. And  this will cost you N40 a day and N1000 a month. The commitment rate for this product is N5,000. It is wrong for you to feel everybody can afford N5,000 so we are in partnership with Lapo Microfinance bank. So you can go to them to seek for loan.

Tell us about your educational background

I schooled briefly in Nigeria before going to the US to complete my studies. I had my  Bachelor of Science in  Business Psychology  and Master of Business Administration – MBA, International/Global  from Metropolitan School of Business & Management (UK).

I was the managing director of G-EURAFRIC, our parent company, for four years and I managed the Sapele Power plant. I felt I was not impacting lives as I wanted to. So I felt there was a way to increase access to electricity .

Smarter grid was conceived in 2015, we did our pilot work in 2016, and we started major distribution in 2017. 

What is your staff strength?

In terms of staff strength, we are over 50.  We are in partnership with Airtel. Our partnership model is being worked out so more people can have jobs.  Our intention is to create 2000 jobs before the end of next year and how we intend to do that is through several initiatives that we have created.

Tell us about the Rural Women Squad

We have what we call the Rural Women Technical Squad. They are trained technicians who are women. They make installations of this solar equipment and after sales support of the equipment.  We train them in collaboration with the International Financing Company, (IFC) and Lighting Africa.  They can man the kiosks. We are in partnership with the cooperatives because it’s the informal sector which connotes that some people don’t have jobs. 

Do you think renewable energy is able to get us out of darkness?

Renewable energy will be the quickest path to getting out of darkness. Our mantra is that ‘No one is Left in The Dark’ because the sun will always shine; people will not need to be energy poor. Because there are already technological devices available to store the sun, if you see our energy storage it’s the sun hiding in it so it can give light in the night.  God has given us abundant sunlight the onus is on us to utilise it. 

What lesson have you learnt doing this business?

That people need electricity and many of them cannot afford it.  Also, that there is need for manufacturing equipment for the productive use of solar. That is manufacturing solar powered equipment for solar use so people can generate revenue. 

How do you juggle this with the home front?

I am a wife, mother, sister and friend. Luckily, the children are grown. I have 19, 21 and 27 years old children. They are very proud of what mummy is doing and my husband is very supportive because he knows that we are touching lives through what we do. 

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