What are Engie Africa's operations in Nigeria?
We are an integrated solar company providing access to energy to people at the bottom of the pyramid and in rural Africa. We are in six countries in East Africa, and in West Africa we are in Benin, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria. In Nigeria, we started operations in early 2019 selling solar home systems, but since then we have merged with two other companies within Engie called Mobisol and PowerCorner, which enable us to also develop mini grids. Through the merger of the three companies, we changed our name from Fenix to Engie Energy Access early in 2021. Engie Energy Access is the only player in Africa engaged in solar home decentralized systems for rural dwellers, all the way to mini grids. We have big growth ambitions for Nigeria. COVID-19 disrupted our growth plans, but today we are back on our growth path, and this year we should commission our first mini grid, connecting about 950 households. Then, we have plans to develop 30-40 mini grids every quarter.
Is solar the easiest and fastest way out of Nigeria's persistent power issue?
Absolutely, and we have not even scratched the surface yet because solar has only recently reached a point where it is efficient enough to power your basic needs such as lighting and basic appliances, and it is also now affordable enough. Because Engie and multiple companies offer financing as well, it is now more accessible than it used to be. We have 40,000 customers and have impacted over 160,000 people, who are already cutting down on the unnecessary journeys they had to make to buy diesel or petrol for generators. As more people see that, more will start migrating to this cleaner energy.
Given that Nigeria has been trying to solve its power issues for decades, why has greater attention not been given to solar energy as a solution?
Nigeria has two problems with energy: first, the grid needs to grow by a factor of 50 to be able to serve everybody. We still have about 70 million people who are off grid. Natural gas can help with the grid side, but then there is a huge market for those of us playing on the off-grid front. The federal government is supportive, and part of its 2030 goals is to bring electricity to 25 million households through off-grid companies such as ourselves. There is a government program called 5 million connections specifically geared at mini grid companies such as Engie Energy Access, giving us access to financing to build mini grids, and paying us a subsidy for each connection that we make. In fact, our work complements the government's strategies to solve Nigeria's energy problem. We focus mainly on households and smaller industries in those villages that rely on our energy, such as rice mills, welders, seamstresses, and so forth.
What is your business model, and how do you finance your operations?
Because our mission is to deliver energy to those people who are underserved or completely unserved, and as those people tend to have the lowest income in Africa, it has to be affordable. We are taking a huge risk, but when they upgrade from candles and kerosene to lights powered by our solar systems, and they can purchase appliances such as TVs, radios, and fans, they also have the potential to earn more, as they can be more productive with their time. A study has also shown that once a person has light in their homes, it reduces their risk of contracting malaria by 60%. The risk of default is significant for us, and our financing mainly comes from Engie, but we also look at external financing. In Nigeria, the government has clear policies, and we also receive some grants from the World Bank. We also have access to financing from commercial banks in Nigeria with favorable rates.