As a student, Ifeanyi Orajaka wanted to help communities in rural Nigeria obtain electricity. Having begun with an award-winning pilot project, which brought a six kilowatt microgrid to one village, he is now looking at providing millions of his countrymen with off-grid renewable energy. A grant through the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge is helping.
In 2013, Orajaka was a winner of the inaugural Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge, launched by Power Africa partner General (link is external)Electric (link is external) and the United States African Development Foundation (USADF). The Challenge, now in its third year, aims to drive African growth through reliable, affordable and sustainable power.
But it is Orajaka’s remarkable journey that helps explain not only why he and his project were chosen, but what fuels his desire to help lift people out of poverty through access to safe and reliable energy.
Back in 2008, as a student intern with an international oil company, Orajaka visited Nigerian oil facilities. He saw that rural communities near the facilities lacked electricity. “This spurred me and some of my friends to brainstorm how to apply our basic engineering and innovative skills towards making an impact in the lives of low-income rural dwellers. We wanted to design a platform that would provide them with access to electricity to cater for their basic energy needs,” he said.
Their idea formed the basis of a winning entry for the 2009 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Presidents’ Change the World Project Competition (link is external), which seeks to identify students that proffer solutions to real world problems. Thanks to the award, they were able to start a pilot project with funding from both the IEEE and a program run by the UNDP and Nigeria’s Bank of Industry. The group formed a social enterprise, Green Village Electricity Enterprises, which in 2012 became Green Village Electricity (GVE) Projects Limited (link is external), a fully incorporated, private for-profit company.
Green Village Electricity’s pilot project consisted of a six kilowatt (kW) solar-powered mini-grid in Egbeke, a small settlement in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Solar panels supply the electricity needs of some 140 homes in the village. For the first time, this community has basic lighting and electricity to power small appliances, a health center and a water borehole.
That pilot project, implemented in a remote settlement by a small unknown organisation, has succeeded beyond all expectations. It has opened up possibilities for rural communities in a country where electricity is in short supply. It has attracted local publicity and international attention and has brought together government and private funding to help GVE further its ambition of bringing clean energy to millions of people in rural Nigeria.
The Egbeke community project was then selected as one of the first winners of the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge in 2013. The Challenge began in Kenya and Nigeria with three winners from each country receiving $100,000 for their innovative off-grid solutions during the first year.
Since receiving the Power Africa grant, GVE has expanded its rural electrification business by 300 percent to impact 360 households and estimates it has impacted some 3,000 people in these communities. Since commissioning its first PV solar mini-grid pilot project in September 2013, which has already doubled to 12.5 kW, GVE has generated 78 megawatt-hours of clean electricity.
Additional funding is going to support these expansion plans. In July 2015, GVE received a US$675,655 equity and debt investment from the Bank of Industry in Nigeria and matching funds of US$65,535 from IEEE Smart Village, which partnered with GVE in the pilot project.
Orajaka says the funding will enable GVE to provide electricity to 200 homes in each of three villages through 24 kW solar-based mini-grids. And, if that project is successful, the Bank of Industry plans to expand the GVE off-grid program to 200,000 households — or more than a million people — in the next five years.
“My greatest joy comes from the fact that we are pioneering an industrial revolution, which has the capacity to impact several millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa, creating opportunities, improving lives, improving education, enhancing public health and security and boosting rural economic development and sufficiency in a scale that will surpass that of the mobile telecom revolution in the region,” he said.
Orajaka plans to continue the company’s growth through improved processes and procedures, attaining world-class standards as it aspires to bring off-grid electricity to millions of people.
He remains driven by the desire he had as a student to bring electricity to communities who have never had it before.
“Seeing smiles and warm gestures of appreciation from children in the communities we have impacted thus far continues to motivate me,” Orajaka says.