Interview With GEAPP’s Joseph Ng’ang’a

By Jubril Tobi Oguntola, Africa.com

Founded by the IKEA Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Bezos Earth Fund, Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) is an organization that seeks to improve access to electricity for the hardest to reach communities in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, through a holistic approach that brings together national governments, communities, private sector partners, development finance, and more. Over the next decade, GEAPP, alongside the World Bank and the African Development Bank, aims to provide 300 million Africans with electricity access. With 85 million of its people lacking access to electricity, Nigeria is a focal country for the Alliance.

Joseph Ng’ang’a, GEAPP’s Vice President and CEO of the inaugural Africa Climate Summit, visited Nigeria alongside a delegation that included Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation; William Asiko, Vice President and head of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Africa Regional Office; Wale Aboyade, interim Regional Head for Africa at GEAPP; and others for a series of dialogue with stakeholders in the country.

Joseph began his career as an Investment Banker at Bank of America in Charlotte, North Carolina, before going on to found Renewable Energy Ventures, a company that provided consultancy services on renewable energy, in Nairobi, Kenya. At one time, he headed the Regional Office for Africa for responsAbility Renewable Energy Holding, a $4 billion asset management firm headquartered in Switzerland. He was also the co-founder of Renewable Energy Holding, a company that invested in renewable energy projects across Sub-Saharan Africa. Before he joined the Rockefeller Foundation, where he was the Executive Director, Power & Climate Africa, he grew Renewable Energy Holding into a $121 million company.

In your view, what is the most significant barrier to achieving universal energy access in Africa, and how can it be overcome?

I think there are three leading problems to universal energy access. The first are the business models that governments have implemented so far. While they are extremely well oiled machines, they are flawed such that even countries with well-developed electricity infrastructure struggle sometimes. The fact they are government run organizations also makes them susceptible to all the problems of inefficiency that usually arise from similar organizations. Beyond this, they require enormous investment on an annual basis for smooth operation. When governments can’t come up with these funds, it will inadvertently lead to problems.

The second barrier to universal energy access is the technology that has been used. Historically, governments have generated electricity either through hydropower or gas-powered plants. Both of these can lead to electricity fluctuations for a number of different reasons, either due to drought or fluctuating oil prices. They also require heavy long-term investment, which governments might not have the capacity for. With solar and wind, resource investment is more accelerated.

The third and final barrier to universal energy access are the policies and regulations in place in countries with energy poverty. Most of the countries with energy poverty have policies that place power generation in the government’s hands and regulations that mandate every citizen to plug in to that utility, with all its challenges. Now, with developers having access to capital and the capacity to develop private power generating plants, what we need is to implement the right policies to incentivize their participation. That way, more power can be generated and the consumers’ needs better served. However, doing this will require making governments comfortable with ceding the power they’ve historically held.

Nigeria recently increased its electricity tariff for a subset of consumers. What are your thoughts on that strategy? What effects do you see it having on access to electricity for the country’s underserved demographic?

I believe each country has the right to determine the strategy it wants to pursue for its electricity sector. For Nigeria to have enacted such a policy, it must have determined that it is the right thing to do to further develop its electricity sector.

What percentage of Nigeria’s 85 million people without access to electricity will the GEAPP’s projects serve when they are completed?

There are a third of Nigeria’s citizens with virtually no access to electricity while the rest of its citizens suffer from intermittent supply. With that level of unelectrified, there is a lot of work to do. GEAPP is working with SE4All to drive electrification for as many unelectrified people as possible. However, there is no concrete percentage being targeted.

Is the project evenly distributed across the country’s six geopolitical zones? Or does it focus on some communities above others?

The project’s distribution will be determined by the results of a comprehensive study of the country, which will identify the optimal places to deploy renewables, including mini grids, metro grids, and grid extensions. Based on the result, we can determine the locations that will benefit the most from a DRE grid and then build one. Thanks to SE4All, plans are already in place for this study.

How successful has the GEAPP been in its efforts to help Nigeria enact policies to accelerate energy transition?

GEAPP isn’t directly involved in the enactment of policies in the country. For instance, we had a team in the former vice president’s office which helped structure an energy transition line and develop an investment pipeline. Beyond that, we are working with the Nigerian government to transition from fossil fuel powered buses to electric buses. Beyond this, we developed a macroview of the investment opportunities that will drive a clean energy future for the country and are providing support for the projects geared towards this goal. I should also say that we are not involved in the move towards the disaggregated energy approach where states generate their own power. Nevertheless, we’ve had governors come to us to request our support with drafting the policies that will guide their approach.

What are some of the significant achievements of GEAPP in Nigeria since its inception?

Nigeria has 11 DisCos that are not well capitalized to serve their customers. GEAPP is working with the country to ensure that is no longer case. We are currently deploying Solar Interconnected Mini Grids (IMGs) across these DisCos. The plan is for these IMGs to complement the DisCos by supplying electricity to communities during the day while the DisCos supply them at night. We are also a part of the National Electrification Project, a World Bank supported Nigerian government project, which will see the deployment of a hybrid solar power plant in the University of Abuja. When operational, the project will power 388 streetlights, thereby enhancing illumination and security on campus. Beyond these, we are also working with institutions to identify the right policies required to improve electricity access in the country through the provision of data that can guide said policies.

Besides Nigeria, where else is GEAPP focusing its efforts on?

Apart from Nigeria, we consider Ethiopia, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo key countries for GEAPP projects. Beyond that, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria and Togo as members of the GEAPP Leadership Council Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) Consortium countries.

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