Exclusive interview with Jim Howlett, Director Pan Africa Solar Group and panellist at the upcoming Future Energy Nigeria in Lagos from 13 November 2018.
Let’s start with some background on you and your organisation, Pan Africa Solar.
Pan Africa Solar has been working in the Nigerian power sector since 2012, initially developing utility-scale solar projects, and more recently expanding in the off-grid space. In early 2017, we launched a joint venture with BBOXX (PAS Solar) to provide stand-alone Solar Home Systems to off-grid households in rural and peri-urban locations.
PAS Solar now operates in six states in northern Nigeria and will expand nationally in 2019. Earlier this year we established a Commercial & Industrial solar business and plan to have our first customers signed up over the next few months.
In the region, what energy projects are you involved in that you are particularly excited about at the moment?
I'm particularly excited about what Pan Africa Solar are doing in the off-grid sector. We anticipate good growth in this sector in both the short- and long-term.
Any specific success stories you can share?
I have really enjoyed visiting and speaking with our PAS Solar customers and listening to their stories about how the 50W system that we offer makes a difference to their lives or businesses. Quite a few of the business owners have told me about the very real savings they now receive as a result of switching to the 50W solar home system, in some cases they no longer need to use a generator to light their businesses.
What in your view are the challenges to the energy sector in Nigeria and the region? And the renewable sector in particular?
I think we are all aware of the major challenges that the on-grid energy sector is facing in Nigeria. These challenges are across the entire value chain. There are institutions that want to invest in on grid renewable energy projects in Nigeria but at the moment are waiting to see progress on some of these challenges.
In the off-grid sector, huge opportunities exist, but challenges remain these include payment platforms for customers located in rural areas, import duties on solar home systems, incentives for new businesses to enter the sector.
As an industry we also need to think about proper disposal and recycling batteries, we are going to see a large uptake of standalone solar home systems over the next year or two and so the industry and Government need to think about how we are going to manage this important environmental concern.
How optimistic are you about business opportunities in Nigeria’s energy future?
At the moment I would say cautiously optimistic.
What is your vision for the energy sector in the region?
In terms of Nigeria, I think we're going to see a lot of growth in the off-grid sector. This has become a focus for the Government and there are a number of development agencies and financing institutions starting programmes to help fund renewable energy off grid projects. So I think we can expect to see the off grid market change quite a lot over the next 12-18 months.
At the upcoming Future Energy Nigeria conference, you are part of a session on “Practical solutions for the renewable energy industry” during a panel discussion on How can Nigeria finance rapid integration of renewable energy? – can you give us a preview of what your message will be at the event?
I think what has worked for PAS Solar so far is being prepared to start small and then grow the business in a particular way.