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Rising to the challenge – Initiate

The 2021 Initiate Young Talent Challenge winner, Kingley Akpeji, is a University of Cape Town postgraduate student in the Electrical Engineering Department. ESI Africa spoke to him about his winning project.

The article appeared in ESI Africa Issue 2-2021.
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Kingsley Akpeji registered for his PhD in the middle of 2020, only realising when he started researching his power systems evaluation frameworks and improvement strategies dissertation just what an influence the pandemic would have on his studies. “The impact of losing privileges like access to campus, continuous engagements with lecturers and peers… those things help to keep the fires burning. When you don’t have that, it’s quite a disruption to the momentum and flow. What you learn is how to navigate circumstances and resilience,” said the 28-year-old winner of the Young Talent Challenge.

The University of Cape Town PhD candidate explained his winning business idea was derived from multiple influences.

Akpeji’s BSc project was done on the feasibility of a solar power deployment in Ibadan city in Nigeria.

He has researched loadshedding in South Africa, investigating both the business and economic levels. He has also collaborated with colleagues on research into sustainable electrification policies and the energy transition, along with various training courses throughout his studies at the University of Cape Town. His PhD research considers the development of robust indices to assess the resilience of the electric power systems to extreme events and the enhancement of the system’s operational resiliency using microgrids with distributed energy resources.

“The Initiate Young Talent Challenge was the impetus to weave the info and experience I’ve gathered into a cohesive idea that responded adequately to the question posed,” he explained.

He felt a strong alignment between what his coursework had taught him about looking at the energy sector for business possibilities and the question posed through the Young Talent Challenge. The brief to participating students was to create a viable business plan for an energy business, contextualised on the supposition that an intra-continental energy committee for Africa was a reality.

Akpeji has also learned about thinking beyond the theory through the UCT Power Systems Research Group: “You have people who don’t just look at ideas, but viability. That’s important in a business space. There needs to be a framework in which ideas can find potential to try and be effective.

“My idea was to think about how to set up a viable energy business. It was closely linked to the reality we are facing in Africa, a paradox of abundant energy resources and energy poverty. So, the idea was to align with well-structured programmes that had developed at a national level and continental level, to derive both decentralised and centralised energy business solutions that can cater to different tiers of energy users in a way that is more convenient for each tier.”

Akpeji finds competitions and student challenges to be helpful to testability: “Sometimes you might have things vested in you, but if you don’t flex the muscles, you would not really know how strong they are or where you need to tone.

“So, in the case of the Initiate Challenge, the abilities tested were domain knowledge which was in the energy space, creativity, business sense, and I think very importantly, also communication. I’d say communication is very important. Those four key things we were tested on. Students who want to grow themselves and stretch, not just assume that you know, or you are able to, you can enter challenges and see how you perform.

“The outcome of the Challenge is not a final say on your ability as a person, just an indicator of growth.”

His advice to other students would be to think of challenges and competitions as a platform to build resilience: “The fact is, things might not get easier, and that’s when we begin to see what we have… We need to build capacity to deal with complexity rather than wish them away.”

Akpeji has started working as a project engineer for Cape Town-based specialised solar consultancy SoLink alongside his studies. In the back of his mind, he continues grounding all of his choices in a vision to build capacity that contributes to the African energy transition in a just way. “I realise that building capacity is very important to implementing ideas sustainably.” ESI

About Initiate

Initiate is the Enlit Africa hub for startups, innovators, postgraduate students and young talent to meet the utility professionals, corporate executives, public sector innovators and investors to discuss, share and pilot ideas. The Young Talent Challenge is an annual competition meant to encourage learning from and networking with the energy sector beyond textbooks. Get involved, contact nazlee.fredericks@wearevuka.com