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by Ismail Akwei, at 06:22 am, March 08, 2018, Money Moves

Young Nigerians in the U.S. return home to solve age-long electricity crisis

For decades, Nigeria and many other African countries have failed to sustain electricity generation in the face of a high population growth rate.

Many experts and professionals in the energy sector have offered many solutions including the expansion of dams and exploration of other sources of power such as nuclear energy.

The talk shop brought no significant change to the problem which mostly affects businesses and poor people who cannot afford generators and power plants.

This prompted three young Nigerian friends in the United States to return home and share their expertise in addressing the issue. They walked the talk and created ICE Commercial Power, a solar technology company aimed to deliver lower cost clean energy solutions.

(L-R) Ifeanyi Umejei, Ceydrick Reynolds and Emmanuel Ekwueme

Named after its founders – Ifeanyi Umejei, Ceydrick Reynolds and Emmanuel Ekwueme – ICE designs and installs modular solar microgrids powered by photovoltaic (PV) panels complete with a smart metering system with the capability to monitor energy generation and consumption.

But, what prompted the choice of solar technology and how did ICE Commercial Power come about? Face2Face Africa asked the founders of the company.

“After a trip I took to Nigeria in early 2016, during Nigeria’s most recent recession, it occurred to me that high electricity costs were the driving factor preventing economic productivity. The group then gathered to attack this problem, then quickly realized that declining costs in solar technology could provide the perfect solution,” co-founder Ifeanyi Umejei said.

He relocated to Nigeria and grew the business which currently has three offices across the country. It wasn’t an easy and smooth move though.

Follow the interview with ICE Commercial Power co-founder Ifeanyi Umejei below.

How did you prepare for your move to Nigeria?

Ifeanyi Umejei: I was able to prepare well enough to make the transition relatively smooth. Unfortunately, there are aspects of Nigeria that are highly complex and will hardly reveal themselves to visitors (both good and bad). This presents a significant challenge to adjusting living here no matter how prepared you feel before you make the transition.

How did Nigerians receive you and what were the results after a year of operating the business?

Ifeanyi Umejei: I felt warmly received for the most part, actually to an extent of my surprise. I am grateful that I was able to quickly adjust the messaging to be regionally specific. What I mean by this is that we originally established the business with the intent to drive social impact. However, once you are on the ground, that message doesn’t work as well. People in Nigeria (generally speaking), don’t tend to make decisions based on social impact. So our business and the messaging around it had to demonstrate a capacity to generate strong financial returns in order to get people’s attention.

The results of operating the business for one year has been great. I think the fact that we have a program already in operation, makes this thing real for all stakeholders involved. Around here, people tend to only trust what they can see. You can design the most attractive model in the world, but to many people, it’s purely an academic exercise until they can see it’s real-life application, the interest will be minimal to non-existent.

What do you intend to achieve in the short and long-term?

Ifeanyi Umejei: In the short term, we hope to secure funding to drive our heavy capex model. Once we can get that off the ground it becomes an operational management exercise. How do you grow the business in a smart and efficient way? I think this brings me to the long-term vision.

In the long term, we hope to achieve sufficient scale and pricing decline in the raw materials where we can provide solar to end users at zero upfront cost. My thinking is that our product makes sense and will definitely save lives, and also provide increased opportunities for people to grow their livelihood. However, we will see scalability challenges in the event the people who need our product the most are unable to afford it.

Do you have any recommendations for the Nigerian government and any advice for Africans like you in the diaspora who want to relocate to the continent?

Ifeanyi Umejei: As far as the Nigerian government is concerned, I may stand in the minority for saying this, but I have been quite impressed. I’ve seen in a short time the easing of regulations to the point where I think it was mentioned somewhere that Nigeria has become one of the best places to launch solar microgrids. I’ve met with several government officials, and they seem warmly receptive to the efforts being made to create captive generation grids through solar. I think there’s a joint realization that Nigeria needs to catch up with the rest of the world; and if I may dare to say, I think people not just in Nigeria but all over Africa are increasingly exploring the thoughts of an African nation launching itself as a global influencer. There’s a lot of pride in this part of the world, but progress had been hampered by extreme self-preservation. With the old thinking moving away and collective/collaborative survival trickling into the subconscious, I believe the future is extremely bright here in Nigeria.

If you’re an African and would like to relocate back to Africa, make sure you move back with something you’re truly passionate about. I think this is the only way it will work. If you’re moving back to take from Africa, it doesn’t have enough to give right now, so you will quickly be frustrated. But when you’re dedicated to the giving of yourself and your passions to this society, you will get so much more out of the experience. Another misconception is the idea of coming in to save Africa. African’s don’t want to be saved, you will not succeed. Africans, have an idea of how they want to live and go about their lives. You must first try to understand what that entails, then find ways to partner with the people to help create this reality in a more efficient and productive way. Africa works, it’s just so complicated to understand, and that doesn’t scale well. Figuring out how to simplify the African vision to something that scales well will see Africa create an incredible presence in global discussions.

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