We have more women entrepreneurs, CEOs, technical experts and engineers – Kabir

About half of Nigeria’s over 200 million people have no access to electricity through the national grid. Those who do have access to the grid experience unreliable supply and regular power outages. Hybrid mini-grid solar systems are offering least cost solutions. In this interview, Hannah Kabir, founder and CEO of Creeds Energy, a professional solar solutions company talks the reader through the challenges, rewards and opportunities of starting and running a renewable energy company. She spoke to Stephen Onyekwelu. Excerpts:

Creeds Energy is eight years old, how has the journey been for you?
Starting a renewable energy company has been a worthwhile journey, always exciting to see ideas and plans take shape, crafting a team that has learnt to be resilient, flexible and to adapt in order to survive the various turbulences and obstacles faced by businesses in our climes.
Most importantly, it is rewarding to witness the impact of our work, by providing a basic necessity such as electricity. We have contributed to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 – affordable, reliable and clean energy, SDG13- reduce harmful emissions and increase access to modern energy, and indirectly SDG1- reduced (energy) poverty by stimulating productive use activities, we continue to power prosperity across the nation.

Women entrepreneurs, especially in the energy space are not common. How did your journey unfold as an energy entrepreneur in Nigeria?
Having worked in telecoms and information communication technology (ICT) for six years, I ventured into renewable energy and started Creeds Energy in 2012 after completing my M.Sc. in Renewable Energy Enterprise and Management, on a Petroleum Technology Development Fund scholarship.
Creeds Energy is a professional solar energy services and solutions provider, targeted at improving access to clean and energy efficient technologies, for households, businesses and communities.

I think the dearth of women in the sector was the case about 10 years ago. Of recent, more women are involved at all levels, we have more women entrepreneurs, CEOs, technical experts and engineers across the industry. At Creeds, we are deliberate about inclusivity in the makeup of our management and operational team, the interns we groom, as well as in the customers we service.

Your M.Sc dissertation was on solar hybrid systems for urban households, what are some of the results the field research, data collection and insights show about Nigeria’s renewable energy market, problems and opportunities?

In 2009/2010 my thesis findings were that despite the benefits of clean energy, hybrid systems were still cost prohibitive for urban households compared to the grid and fuel generators.
Now, with increasing fuel prices, higher cost of grid electricity and unreliability, solar hybrid backup and hybrid systems have become more competitive and cost effective for both residential and commercial and industrial applications.

What are some of Creeds Energy’s milestones in terms of solutions delivered to the market as products?
Our target for 2019/2020 was to expand our operations by providing solar systems to small businesses beyond Abuja to two other locations and we have achieved this in Rivers and Plateau States, providing solar systems on a lease to own model to both urban and off-grid small businesses. This was made possible by the blended financing from All-On and USADF.
Having installed over 300kWp solar systems across the country for households, schools, health centres, businesses, and corporates, and supported rural electrification projects, we plan to expand on these achievements to reach a lot more businesses and households across these three locations and more in the coming years.

Among other challenges, funding holds a large percentage of Nigerian start-ups back from scaling up their businesses, what has your fund raising campaigns taught you about this?
Patience, perseverance and hard work are required. Creeds Energy has accessed grants, commercial bank customer financing and blended financing in the past.
The YouWin! initiative started us up with a grant facility upon which we were able to lay a good foundation for subsequent financing from Sterling Bank, All-On and USADF. With various technical assistance support, we are still pushing, going through the motions and navigating the options to raise more funds and deploy more systems.
You are aware that fossil fuels are the direct competition of renewable energy resources and in the context of a lower carbon emission future, renewables represent cleaner energy. What options does Nigeria have given both its abundant natural gas reserves and natural energy resources too?
I don’t see other sources, even fossil fuels as competition or a choice of either or. In terms of achieving sustainable energy access targets, Nigeria, like other countries, would have to determine and leverage on the best mix of energy sources and resources to achieve desired targets and growth trajectories.

Where are the opportunities in Nigeria’s solar industry?
There are vast applications for solar PV applications ranging from electrification with solar PV systems and mini-grids, commercial captive power generation, agriculture and agro-processing. These can be complementary within urban, grid-connected locations or decentralised power sources in off-grid, rural locations.
The off-grid solar PV opportunity for standalone systems and mini-grids is estimated at between $10bn and $13bn according to IFC Analysis on Climate Investment Opportunities in Emerging Markets, 2016.
With a growing population and over 55 percent of Nigerian populace living without access to electricity, and failing grid supply, renewable energy, particularly solar PV technologies and applications, would play an important role in electrification.

When would Nigeria be ready to start making locally photo-voltaic solar panels and batteries? Why is Nigeria not able to do so already?
There are a few companies that have ventured into assembling solar PV panels in country and this is commendable. Several initiatives are also pushing for upstream activities especially for solar components to be produced locally.
However, like any other manufacturing sector endeavour, I would imagine it is dependent on the available raw materials, the skillsets, quality and standards process in place, other factors of production as well as the ability to compete both locally and on the international market.

While it may be a nice to have, if these dynamics are not aligned in our favour, it will be difficult to justify the competitive advantage and the financial incentive of setting up local manufacturing.

What are some of your expansion plans, short, medium and long term?
Creeds Energy plans to build upon its successes, learn from its mistakes and consolidate on its plans to become one of the top five renewable energy services provider in West Africa, distinguished by quality, integrity, professionalism and environmental stewardship.

Where do you see yourself as a female energy entrepreneur in the next 10 years?
I envisage that the next ten years will be pivotal for decentralised, emerging and converging technologies, policies and models for energy services provision. I intend to continue to contribute and be instrumental in closing the energy access gap.

Hannah Kabir is founder/CEO of Creeds Energy, an indigenous renewable energy company established in 2012. She has a MSc. in Renewable Energy, Enterprise & Management from Newcastle University UK. Her first degree was in Business Economics from Queen Mary University of London. Prior to setting up Creeds, Ms. Kabir worked for six years as a business analyst at Galaxy Backbone Plc, where she was instrumental in strategy and development as well as government relations.

Creeds Energy is a professional renewable energy services and solution provider addressing energy and electricity challenges by improving access to and promoting adoption of clean and energy efficient technologies. Under her leadership, Creeds Energy has installed over 300kW standalone systems across seven states, and project managed solar PV projects that have enabled access to better healthcare, better education and better productivity for individuals, clinics, schools, households and businesses across the country.

Ms. Kabir has over 8 years’ experience in renewable energy consultancy as well as off-grid and backup solar projects serving private sector, public and international institutions across Nigeria. She has developed competence in providing in-depth feasibility studies and community profiling, project management, demand stimulation, capacity building and monitoring and evaluation. As national consultant, she project managed and led the team of national experts supporting the NESP I mini-grid studies, site development and implementation monitoring of the 6 mini-grid sites ranging between 100-150kWp between 2015 and 2017, and continues to lead the local team on NESPII. As international mini-grid expert, she leads the INENSUS GmbH team in Sierra Leone, providing technical assistance to UNOPS, mini-grid operators and government agencies, in developing and operating 94 mini-grid sites under the Government of Sierra Leone’s Rural Renewable Energy Project

Ms. Kabir and her team are making great strides by easing access to clean energy alternatives and shaping the renewable energy sector through their work with private, public sector and international organizations. She continues to be an avid proponent of clean energy matters across West Africa and has contributed to the award-winning documentary on climate change “Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis”. As a TechWomen Alumna, Ms. Kabir continues to support young girls and women to embrace STEM career paths.

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