AEEP Energy Champion Conversations: Olaedo Osoka
The AEEP Energy Champion Conversations is a series of interviews that highlight the work of inspirational energy experts in Africa and Europe. We meet passionate promoters of a sustainable energy transition and hear their insights on the biggest achievements so far and most pressing challenges ahead.
Universal access to clean, appropriate and affordable energy is a prerequisite for well-being and economic development as envisioned by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the EU’s Comprehensive Strategy with Africa.
As the gateway for joint action on a green energy future, the Africa-EU Energy Partnership (AEEP), in this series accentuates visions of key energy actors on how to achieve universal access to affordable, sustainable and modern energy services in Africa.
OLAEDO OSOKA, Chief Executive Officer (West Africa), Daystar Power Group
1. When, how and why did you start to work for a sustainable energy future?
I’m Nigerian, I was born in the UK but spent most of my life growing up in Nigeria. In Nigeria, the reality was and still is a lack of sufficient electricity supply, resulting in unreliable grids and widespread use of expensive and polluting diesel generators. I saw first-hand the environmental, health and economic impacts on an economy reliant on diesel generators. On our street, most people had multiple generators, because you needed a main generator and a smaller back-up generator just to make sure there was redundancy when the primary generator broke down. We were privileged to have diesel generators – most people did not even have that.
Looking at data from the Rural Electrification Agency of Nigeria, we, as a country, spend 14 billion dollars annually on diesel and petrol generators. Even across the broader region, consumers are either faced with no grids, and have to self-generate electricity, or they are faced with an expensive grid. In either case, people are dealing with lots of pollution, unreliability, and high power costs. It was very clear to me, from my local context, that what we were used to was not sustainable, it was not working, it was broken.
Thanks to globalisation, there was a reoccurring theme on sustainability, environmental impact, and clean energy, and with my background it became clear to me that perhaps this is a way to solve the issues we are facing. In 2017 I joined Sunray Ventures, with a mandate to help build high-growth companies that create environmental and socio-economic impact in different industries in Africa. Daystar Power, which focuses on clean energy solutions, was one of the first businesses we built. With Daystar we are targeting commercial and industrial businesses, with the mandate to help them go green and reduce their power costs by around 20 to 40 percent. Reducing power costs is key to creating a sustainable local industry and building what we want to be globally competitive businesses on the continent. Initially, I started with a focus on Nigeria, first building our legal team and then I transitioned to business development and in 2019, I was offered a role to lead our business expansion across West Africa.
2. Tell us about some of the most successful steps that you have been involved in so far to achieve sustainable, affordable and modern energy for all in Africa?
There is so much we need to be doing and there is so much potential we have, so I can never feel comfortable saying “this has been a success”. We are taking steps in the right direction, but we need to massively amplify the steps across the board, beyond me, beyond Daystar, beyond the industry. Some of these small steps in the right direction have, firstly, been capacity building. Currently, we have a team of more than 100 people who are trained to design and maintain solar plants. When I think about my impact, it’s about building the generation of people that are coming, that can scale whatever we are doing now. That’s why we are always looking to increase participation and to build a pipeline of local talent, men and women on the ground that have the skills to not only work but also to lead the transition.
The second aspect is diversity; 33 per cent of our team in management are female. Working with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and one of our investors, the IFU – the Danish Development Finance Institution, we have made a strong commitment that by 2024 women will make up, at a minimum 40 per cent of our entire workforce. This is a minimum target, but what is important is that we build accountability and intentionally work towards a clear target. In addition to building capacity generally, we want women to be at the forefront, leading this transition.
Thirdly, it’s about scaling and the commercial attractiveness of our offering. Early on, in 2017, it became clear that the cost of these power systems was a barrier to entry and to people transitioning. Over the last decade we have seen the system costs reduce by over 70 per cent, but still, when talking to a manufacturer about opening a new manufacturing line or investing in solar, they won’t do it. Their corporate group might have made commitments on a multinational level, but for businesses in Africa it only makes sense if they are saving money. So, the point is really about how we have been able to scale during the last three years and how effectively we are offering companies up to 30 per cent saving with no capital expenditures and we have rolled this out across four countries and installed and operate plants in ~300 locations in West Africa, including some real light house projects. It’s about how we manage to, not only sell a story, but convince industries to see that they have a responsibility and our job is to help them walk a cleaner and more affordable and reliable path. Finally, it’s about financing. We have now raised more than 68 million dollars in capital to make sure we offer commercially viable solutions without our clients having to have upfront capital expenditure.
3. Africa and Europe have an established and dedicated partnership on energy. What do you see as the particular strength of this partnership? If we had an initiative to intensify and accelerate that partnership’s impact, what would be your aspirations for such a framework?
The strength of the partnership is that it is like a bridge, and bridges are important because they connect and fill gaps. The bridge has the potential to help Africa leapfrog by drawing, not only on financial resources in Europe, but beyond. Looking at a practical example, in 2019 Africa had a population of 1.1. billion and a total installed capacity of 6,3 GW of solar. Europe had an installed capacity of 138 GW of solar and a population of 742 million. Not only do we in Africa have the potential to produce more solar energy simply because of the better irradiance, but we also have a population that is growing at a rate of 2,7 per cent a year with a demand for power. In this context, the strength of the partnership is to leverage the research and lessons from the approaches that have and have not worked in Europe towards building stronger, cleaner, and smarter. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of other continents.
4. How do we ensure that the shift away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy solutions happens in a just way that includes even the most marginalised groups in society?
The first salient point is alignment. If you look at the talk versus the action in many countries it suggests that this is not a priority. We need to see comprehensive alignment on the fact that the status quo is unethical and no longer justifiable. With that alignment, the next question becomes what hard and fast decisions do we need to make towards a just and timely transition?
In terms of actions, different stakeholders have different roles to play. Firstly, governments must build enabling environments and laws that encourage investment and participation that focuses on the marginalised. As an example, if the private sector knew that the government has a target of electrifying a particular rural area, and companies knew that by participating in the process there are certain financial incentives that the government can offer, then perhaps we would see faster private sector deployment to those areas.
Secondly, it is about accountability. Each of us have a responsibility and we can be the voices for the voiceless. We can hold our leaders accountable by asking concretely, what steps are you taking? As business leaders we should be asking what are you doing, when and how? We also need more data since much of the data on demand is fragmented. Typically, it is easier to make a business case when you have data and you can make informed business decisions. If we have data on a very granular level on areas and segments that are marginalised this can empower the private sector and the government to have a better picture on demand and gaps and perhaps, we can the cluster some of these, based on synergies, into bankable projects.
Thirdly, it’s about dedicated financing. Marginalised people are typically in this position because they have lower financial capacity, so how can we create more patient and long-term capital? The average incomes in areas of rural electrification are such that in the short run people cannot afford to pay, but ultimately access to affordable energy has the power to alleviate people from poverty and create financial opportunities. It requires patience and a long-term perspective. We need to build local financing ecosystems tailored to the local context. Finally, we must develop diverse local capacity. If marginalised people had a seat at the table, there would be less marginalisation. Outcomes are more likely to be just when the actors are just and diverse. Ultimately, if we are building a diverse base in the industry, our perspective, impacts and reach will be richer and more diverse.
5. What motivates you to keep pushing for a clean energy transition?
The scale of the problem. Looking at the level and pace of development on the continent, for me, clean and more reliable and affordable energy is a critical leaver to unlock development. We can’t build economies on the back of polluting and expensive energy. We will not have local and global champions with the current status quo. People will remain impoverished if they don’t have electricity. This is the context I was born into; I inherited this challenging context.
I find myself privileged to be in a position where I can build what are effectively steppingstones for those coming after me to jump on. This is my perspective; my role is to be a stone, to rapidly build a higher step for other people to walk on. It’s a responsibility. I would like to leave this earth better than I found it. I am also clear in my mind that the generation that comes after us can’t find us in our current state. I have work to do, to inspire others, to encourage others and to build so that other people can run from where I stopped.
Olaedo Osoka is the Chief Executive Officer for West Africa at Daystar Power Group. She has previously worked as the Senior Manager at Sunray Ventures and as a lawyer in Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie’s corporate and commercial teams. Ms Osoka holds a degree in law (LLB Hons) from the University of Essex and a masters of law degree (LLM) from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is also a member of the Nigerian Bar.