How PAMAfrica decided to take on Africa’s decade-old problem of electricity by Dr. Patrick Agese.
Africa has longed been called the dark continent, not just because it lagged behind when it came to Western systems of education, but because it turned dark when the sun went down. Aerial pictures of the earth at night show Africa has very sparse clusters of light, compared to other continents like North America which are bursting with light. According to the world bank, only 25% of sub-Saharan Africa has access to stable electricity, forcing many to resort to alternative sources of power such as petroleum-engine generators. This means that while 24/7 electricity is considered a basic amenity in the developed world, for most African residents, it is a luxury only the rich can afford. In the past, experts pointed to the regulatory environment as the root cause of the problem, prompting countries such as Nigeria, to privatize the power sector with hopes that the economics of capitalism will lead to greater efficiency- but this has barely been the case.
This leaves the question: what then is the solution to Africa’s electricity issues? In recent years, with the advent of technology, attention has turned to alternative sources of power, with solar being the preferred choice. Solar power is a cheaper and cleaner source of electricity, and it is becoming more affordable. This has led to the proliferation of private and government initiatives aimed at driving the uptake of solar technology as the solution to decades-old electricity problems.
One of the private entities supporting this movement is PAMAfrica, a Pan-African power organization, founded by Dr Patrick Agese.
Background and Company History
Dr Patrick Agese was born and raised in Southern Nigeria where he began developing solar projects from the age of 11.
He later relocated to the UK in his mid-teens to gain further education on technology. After working the cutting edge of renewable energy projects globally and achieving his Doctorate, He pays a visit to Nigeria. While many identify the culture and food to be the greatest shocks when visiting a new country, for him the greatest shock was the constant power supply. ‘I remember the first time I realized that electricity outages were a normal thing, I must have been in Nigeria for less than 12 hours, and just thought to myself ‘so you really mean I have no electricity right now, I need to charge my phone and its hot!’. Agese reminisced, “It was then that I decided I was going to contribute towards the solution.” Agese then went on to study Energy Engineering at the University of Reading and went on to obtain a PhD in Renewable Energy. In the hopes to return back to Africa and pass this knowledge back to future generations and solve the power issues once and for all.
Agese founded PAMAfrica in 2013, as a non-profit research platform that provided technical assistance to solar initiatives run by non-governmental organizations across Africa. His work led to the company’s nomination for the Black British Award in 2018. During this time, Agese observed the challenges that existed in the solar market, when it came to innovation and investments. “In order for solar to be a viable alternative to gas-powered electricity, it must attract similar tariffs for the end-user, and this can only be done when generation capacity is scaled” Agese explained. PAMAfrica has since remodelled to become a social enterprise that works to solve Africa’s electricity problems. The company has developed a series of solar products. One of their recent projects is the Solar Butcher Box which was developed in partnership with ButcherboxNG which allows consumers to pay little to no upfront costs, in relation to their power needs. PAMAfrica is designing, constructing and deploying “Solar Butcher Boxes” across rural and periurban markets across Nigeria.
The solar butcher box is a solar-powered kiosk that helps customers order meat/fish products more efficiently with inbuilt cold storage capabilities. It will run under a kiosk-as-a-service model which enables buyers to have quick access to freshly sourced meat and meat products, in pristine and healthy condition.
Electricity as empowerment
Dr.Agese believes that the quest to electrify Africa goes beyond an attempt to improve the standards of living. “Electricity is an empowerment tool, access to it, means access to opportunities for business. It’s all connected” says Dr. Agese. However, he soon recognized that to create the impact he desired, he needed to be on the ground, feeling the pulse of the problems, and creating the solutions to them. Dr.Agese visited his home in Nigeria in January 2021, just as London was reintroducing its COVID-19 lockdown. “I told my family and friends that I wanted to conduct a market feasibility study and I would be right back, but I was also happy to be avoiding another episode of staying indoors 24/7”. It only took a walk through Mile 12, one of Lagos Nigeria’s busiest markets, for Agese to see the market need for solar energy, prompting him to make the impromptu decision to stay in Nigeria- indefinitely. “I always knew I would end up in entrepreneurship, but I didn’t think it’d be this early in my career or let alone on a different continent,” He said, excited about the opportunities ahead.
Big dreams for a big problem
PAMAfrica’s mission is simple: improve lives by providing access to clean, reliable and affordable power. This mission will also support the continent’s achievement of SDG13, and reduce greenhouse gases emissions. The company is working with private entities in the commercial hub of Lagos to migrate to solar power, and thus save operations costs in the long term when it comes to petrol/diesel procurement. The organization is also seeking partnerships with local authorities to develop a state of the art mini-grid in various locations across Africa, with a focus on rural communities. “When you look at the numbers, the biggest need for electricity is in the rural areas, which is often marginalized in power projects.” Dr.Agese says “these areas tend to be dependent on agriculture as a means to livelihood, so access to electricity will mean better storage for products, reduced waste, and more opportunities for income.” In the medium term, PAMAfrica plans to domesticate the production of solar equipment, in order to lower costs and also create jobs. PAMAfrica plans to build, own and operate large-scale, long-life energy assets that deliver fair returns for investors, and high value for African communities