HomeIndustry SectorsBusiness and marketsOGHOSA ERHAHON: Less funding, no problem! Just be prepared

OGHOSA ERHAHON: Less funding, no problem! Just be prepared

We caught up with Oghosa Erhahon to find out more about her belief in volunteering, the meaning of digitalisation, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our worldview and especially the impact it will have on funding the African energy and power market in the years ahead.

The article appeared in ESI Africa Issue 1-2021 on pages 78-79.
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Among Oghosa’s job titles are energy and sustainability analyst, lawyer and consultant, former power program associate for UK/US donor funded development programmes (UKNIAF (DFID) for the Nigeria Power Sector Program) on the Nigeria electricity supply industry, and health-enthusiast homemaker.

Oghosa, it’s time to rewrite your social media profile – what do you want to tell the world about who you are?

I am an active volunteer. I believe we can all give back in some way, big or small. Also, I have become very conscious about my and my family’s health, so there have been many new kitchen practices like juicing, which I absolutely enjoy!

Has COVID-19 affected your work?

The pandemic has changed everything. If someone told me we could be as effective working from home as from an office before 2020…it would have been a hard truth to sell. My work has been more productive, not needing to commute and avoiding face-to-face meetings. In the future, as we already are witnessing, work will become flexible, but I think one downside is that the workday never ends. The amount of time spent at my desk is something I am still working on, aiming to achieve quality over quantity.

How has this changed the way the industry should factor in crises?

So, this is an interesting one. I think the COVID-19 lockdown exposed how reliant African nations are on importation. Nigeria, for one, had a massive slowdown in the distribution of solar modules and metering systems because although the pandemic might have reduced installation capacities – several economies were in lockdown – electrification products were scarce. Within the power and energy sector, I believe it’s about time more countries took the initiative to encourage locally manufactured systems, particularly as the markets expand.

What project are you so proud of you don’t mind forever being linked to it?

It is probably too early in my career to pinpoint just one; they are all so exciting! But being a part of The Energy Talk has exposed me to several challenges in the energy and climate change space. These podcasts share stories from across the world from people and communities transforming lives! A lesson learnt is that everyone has an energy or climate-related story. Energy is part of our every day, and as the world tackles climate change, we see more communities affected by the challenges of global warming. One conversation I look forward to this year is on COP26 where we can review progress, what’s happened during the pandemic and where the world should be heading.

Who were your mentors, and how did they inspire you in your career? As a mentor, what message would you pass on?

My granny is my first and foremost mentor; I do not think she knows this. But my granny went to school for the first time in her 40s, and she is 80+ now, and still reads to stay informed. It has been an absolute blessing watching and learning from her life. Others in no particular order: Kofoworola OlokunOlawoyin (the Head of Legal Advisory and Contracts Unit at Eko Electricity Distribution in Nigeria), Diane Chadwick-Jones (former Human Performance Director at BP), Colin Pritchard (Senior Research Fellow at University of Edinburgh) and Chibueze Ekeh (CEO of Ceesolar Energy) have been phenomenal in my journey so far.

For my mentees, whom I think I learn more from these days, the most important thing I would pass on is to keep educating yourself. Keep up your reading and write articles or papers on your knowledge. Since the pandemic has taken several conferences and workshops online, it is all accessible now! Stay updated on the industry, ask questions (there really aren’t any silly questions), and enjoy yourself on your journey to success.

In an ideal world, you are president of the world’s biggest funder of electricity projects in Africa. What is your priority?

The obvious would be to increase access to electricity supply through grid-tied generated power. Electrification uplifts communities out of poverty and creates opportunities, especially for women and children. One other thing I would make a top priority is educating on electricity usage. I believe it would be wise to prioritise energy efficiency education alongside electrification. People should know how much electricity their appliances use and have control over them; likewise for industries and institutions. So I’m excited to be working on building Teagan Energy, where we aspire to provide solutions for optimising energy efficiency and management in Africa.

What industry outside of the power and energy sector are you looking at for inspiration? Why has this industry caught your attention?

Currently, the Tech industry has caught my eye. I have been privileged to work and learn from some of the most brilliant people in the African Tech ecosystem. Technology is everywhere. Even within the energy and power industry, digitalisation plays an influential role in the management, accessibility, and transmission of power. So, finding inspiration from Tech in my work in the energy and power sector is very uplifting!

If you could wish away a challenge to your organisation or the industry as a whole, what would it be?

The dependence on international aid. I think international aid has done exceedingly well for the energy industry. Still, it’s time African leaders either met halfway or picked up the slack and faced crises and opportunities head-on.

ESI Africa is celebrating 25 years in the market and has witnessed challenges and successes. In your opinion, what were the most significant milestones in the evolution of Africa’s energy sector over the past 25 years?

Some of the most significant breakthroughs would be the increased level in financing power projects in Africa, primarily through IPPs, either solar or geothermal. There has also been the impact of electricity regulatory frameworks across the continent. But there is still so much work to be done, whether it be access through power pools, interconnection for grid systems, feed-ins, or electricity metrics towards electrification. The good news is that the increase in opportunities through financing, capacity building and even the inception of circular economies that promote efficient energy systems has been fabulous to witness in the past years.

What lies ahead for Africa in the next 25 years?

What lies ahead is Africa’s power sector awakening to diverse technology generating options to match the increasing demand (and population). In my opinion – in the coming years, gas to power optimisation and renewable and efficient systems will take up most of the energy mix. This energy mix has been a long time coming, especially now that we are witnessing the taps of funding for fossil fuel projects closing – which sounds scary. Still, by 2030 we should expect less funding as the world moves through the energy transition, and Africa should be ready for that.

Bonus content: Oghosa Erhahon also responded to these questions

If you had the opportunity to meet someone famous, who would it be? Why that person, and what would you talk about?

Ursula Burns. She was the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company and former CEO of Veon. I must have watched and read every single one of her interviews. She is not your typical ‘famous person’, but she has inspired me in so many ways over the years! She was the only black woman in the room for most of her career, and somehow, this has been my experience as well, working in the energy and power sector as a woman.

Ursula inspires me to keep pushing; being a pioneer sometimes will not benefit you directly but changes so many narratives along the way. I would love to meet her – and we would talk about everything from being a corporate executive, team building to never giving up on her hair!

What trends are delivering change, and what challenges and opportunities are arising from these developments? 

Digitalisation is a massive trend now. It’s an exciting time as the power industry actualises digitalisation through metering (on both the transmission and distribution network), payment options, monitoring. The whole lot! On the one hand, digital transformation of the market expands opportunities to improve transparency and accessibility. While on the other, digitisation means the inception of access to electricity for many communities. However, lacking access to an Internet connection, one of the many challenges in sub-Saharan Africa; the progress of digitisation will be challenging. ESI

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.