SUNNY OUTLOOK

Ghana 2018 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Omane Frimpong, Managing Director of Wilkins Engineering, on its pioneering work on solar in Ghana, the need for more government support, and areas of opportunity in the sector.

Omane Frimpong
BIOGRAPHY
Omane Frimpong founded the company in 1993. He has a vast range of experience in the electrical engineering sector spanning a period in advance of 30 years. He has gained past working experience from Volta River Authority and the Ministry of Energy. He has an MBA in finance from Sterling University in Scotland and a degree in electrical engineering from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

Wilkins Engineering will celebrate 25 years in 2018. What have the major highlights since you started the company?

Wilkins Engineering is one of the pioneers of solar energy in Ghana. We first started talking to the government about solar in 1988, and at that time it did not make sense to anyone because it was too expensive, at around GHS0.12 (USD0.03) per watt. However, the government somehow agreed and we did a small solar project for about 2,000 homes. That scheme was fantastic and it opened politicians' eyes to the potential of solar. We are proud to say that our involvement in solar energy has brought a great deal of awareness to renewable energy in Ghana.

How does Wilkins Engineering seek to maintain its growth and what does it expect from the government?

For the first 10 years, it was difficult working in solar energy and we had to find ways to diversify and do more work in conventional energy. That is how we have been able to get to our current point now; the company would not have survived on solar alone. Without effort and commitment from the government and industry, there is no way to scale up the solar power industry because even today solar is expensive. This support and assistance has not been there until recently. Capital costs have come down, though we still have some serious problems in terms of government policies in our sector. It is difficult because I was a former President of the Association of Ghana Solar Industries and we contributed to Ghana's Renewable Energy Act 2011. Under that act, the government committed to have 10% of the country's energy mix comes from renewables. Today, renewables still only make up less than 1%. For the last five years, we have had some support from the German National Chamber of Commerce and have managed to get an Energy Commission. Then, the effort moves from government and the next step comes down to individuals such as Wilkins Engineering with great renewable energy models.

What are some of the reasons why solar power has not become a popular solution here?

Although rooftop solar products have particular problems, the potential is still there today. If we take a group of 50 houses and install solar on all their roofs, we can network the system and install centralized storage capacity that can deliver electricity to that group of houses even at night. However, developers see solar as too expensive and it also competes with other power options. We approach developers with a financial package where the builders leave the electrical part of the build to us. This is what we look at and it is viable because electricity is extremely expensive, and if we can provide reliable renewable energy that has a reasonable rate this is optimal. Therefore, one of our focuses now is to resemble an electricity player, but concentrate on renewable energy.

What will be the greatest opportunities in the energy sector in Ghana overall?

The Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), which is the major energy distribution company here, runs at about 25% losses, and there is technology today to reduce these losses to about 10%. Every 1% loss is worth about GHS100 million (USD22.1 million); therefore, it could save a significant amount. Unfortunately, ECG is government owned and it gets paid whether it works or not. This is, therefore, something we need to change; we need to correct its inefficiencies as one would with any commercial entity, though this will take a great deal of investment. Once that is done, electricity tariffs will come down. One of the areas we are developing is micro-grids; however, when we go to meet the people who can afford these alternative systems, their roofs are not big enough for the generation capacity they require.