Dr Magnus C. Onuoha

Exclusive interview with Dr Magnus C. Onuoha, President of the Sustainable Energy Practitioners Association of Nigeria (SEPAN) and Executive Director of the Asteven Renewable Energy Academy.

At the upcoming Future Energy Nigeria, he is the moderator during the Knowledge Hub focused on practical training for students and junior engineers entitled: “The A-Z of installing solar panels”.

Let’s start with some background on you and your organisation.
I am Dr Magnus C. Onuoha, a Development Economist from University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria and an accomplished author, researcher / EU Trained Expert in MRV system. I am a Research Member Green Economics Institute at Hugh’s College, Oxford University, UK and African Heritage Institution, Enugu Nigeria.  

I am also a member of Governing Inclusive Green Growth Africa (GIGGA) - a network of about 15 researchers, academics and Civil Society that did a scoping work on governing inclusive green growth Africa. It was coordinated by the University of Reading, UK and funded by UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Between 2004-2015, I was a Senior Adviser at Nigeria's National Assembly where I brought my experience to bare especially in areas of energy (renewable energy and energy efficient sources), climate change, defense, Inter-Parliamentary Union (Young Parliamentarian Forum) among others.

I was also among the 10 man Panel of Expert/Consultants that drafted the recently passed into law Nigeria Climate Change Framework Bill by National Assembly. It is waiting assent by President Muhammadu Buhari. I am at present the National President, Sustainable Energy Practitioners Association of Nigeria (SEPAN), Executive Director, R&D at West African Green Economic Development Institute (WAGEDI), Gregory University, Uturu, Abia State. A Principal Consultant ASTEVEN Group/ Executive Director, ASTEVEN Renewable Energy Academy (ASREA) located at KM 40, Lagos-Ibadan Express Way, Asese Community, Ogun State. I am married with children.

About SEPAN
Sustainable Energy Practitioners Association of Nigeria (SEPAN) is a non-profit making organisation, incorporated in Nigeria. It is devoted to boosting access to clean energy services by ensuring its sustainable growth in Nigeria’s renewable energy mix, attracts investors to the sector as well. It also facilitates sustainable energy research and advocacy in Nigeria’s local capacity renewable energy sector and offers consultancy services to governments, local and international organisations and organised private sector (OPS). SEPAN’s pioneering role in Nigeria’s  local content drive renewable energy mix is seen by the establishment of  training centres by two of our institutional members-Asteven Renewable Energy Academy in Ogun State and Blue Carmel Centre in Kaduna State.    

Any energy projects that you are involved in the region currently that you are particularly excited about at the moment?
Yes they are legion. But two will suffice here. I am excited about National Green Campus Innovation (NGCI). NGCI is the deployment of low cost green solar products that are Lighting Global certified to replace kerosene lamps, paraffin candles, as well as provision of charging ports for students lap tops and phones in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions at low interest rate. It has been endorsed by World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC), and Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The proponents of the project are First Bank Nigeria, ASTEVEN Group and Federal Ministry of Environment, with SEPAN providing leadership and strong advocacy drive. It was recently launched in Kwara State in July this year.

I am also excited of the innovative multi-billion Naira solar tunnels project in Kwara State expected to power over 2000 street lights. The multiplier effect of these projects in terms of employment creation, income generation and emission reduction is enormous.

Any success stories you can share?
The coming into being of Nigeria’s renewable energy and energy efficient policy (REEEP) in 2015 ushered in the mainstreaming investments in renewable energies supported by Feed-in-tariffs as is obtainable in other climes is a welcome opportunity and I consider it as a success story.  Accordingly, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and Distributing Companies (DISCOs) should be proactive in providing regulatory framework for on and off-grid solution and the Nigerian Customs providing considerable duty for renewable products and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) providing standards and ensuring that fake products do not flood Nigerian market.

What in your view are the challenges of the energy sector in Nigeria and the region?
I consider the challenges in the sector as four-fold. First is the deficiency in our energy infrastructure over the years in Nigeria and being the biggest economy in Africa with over $510 billion as shown by the recent rebasing of the economy is a source of concern. The need to expand the services is imperative hence the drive towards renewable energy.

Second, the federal government through SON with the support from Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN) should intensify effort to the importation of quality renewable energy products into the country. Importation of substandard products by quacks has painted genuine investors in the sector in bad light. Thirdly, the cost of investing in renewable energy infrastructure is unreasonably high (interest rate alone is over 26%). Therefore all relevant institutions should ensure that there is a downward trend in this regard so as to achieve sustainable production and consumption in the sector.

Fourthly, there are palpable fears of Nigerians that sustainable investment in bio-fuel and ethanol aspect of renewable energy may lead to the challenges of food insecurity in the country. This fear is unfounded given that 43 % of the Nigerian land is arable, yet less than 10% is cultivated. However, we advise that investors should in the interim focus on non -edible and high oil yielding plants such as alamanda cathefica, jathropha curcas and azadirachta indica as against edible plants such as palm oil, cocoanut, sugar cane, cassava etc. Alamanda has higher yielding oil followed by jathropha and azadirachta.

How optimistic are you about business opportunities in Nigeria’s energy future?
I am very optimistic for the growth of business opportunities as long as the tools necessary to drive renewable energy development and improve energy efficiency are put in place. These tools require important rule changes and coordinated actions among several ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and must be backed by law. If  the renewable energy and energy efficient policy (REEEP) is passed as law, it will boost access to energy services and ensure the sustainable growth of clean energy contribution to Nigeria’s energy mix, by so doing ameliorate the electricity challenges in Nigeria by attracting investors to the sector.

What is your vision for the energy sector in the region?
I have a vision which of course is in tandem with that of SEPAN which I superintend: in the near future energy stakeholders and practitioners in Nigeria will commence the sharing and storage knowledge and not hoard it, especially in the areas of the provision of designs and development of templates on sustainable energy technologies for adaptation for the Nigerian environment. Developing and promoting technical mindsets especially in Nigeria’s research institutions to drive our sustainable energy technologies growth will to a large extent help the sector grow. The focus of these institutions is on technical mindset and not the business prospects, for it is only when we have gotten the technological foundation right that the business will thrive in the sector.

At the upcoming Future Energy Nigeria, you are the moderator during the Knowledge Hub focused on practical training for students and junior engineers entitled: “The A-Z of installing solar panels”. What will be your message at the event?
Yes, Nigeria is having success stories in the deployment of mini and micro solutions and most SEPAN’s institutional members have been part of it.

Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency (REA) is also re-inventing itself with the focus on the promotion of off-grid, mini-grid renewable energy solutions working with the private sectors investors to achieve fast rural electrification. My message as we prepare with enthusiasm for the upcoming Future Energy Nigeria is that I look forward to adding further value in Nigeria's renewable energy mix especially in the areas of training and capacity building.

What are you most looking forward to at Future Energy Nigeria?
I commend the organiser’s effort over the years in this regard. They should keep it up.