25-04-2018 | | By Nnamdi Anyadike
For decades, Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, has been plagued by a lack of power generating capacity that has handicapped its development efforts. Now, a pioneering local start-up claims to have developed a solution in the form of its A2 300 and A2 300D power assembly units that are on the verge of being rolled out commercially to critical technical acclaim. If the units perform as expected they could provide the sort of transformational change that Nigeria and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa’s power sector has long been waiting for.
These portable and mobile power/energy boxes take energy generated from a solar or grid source, treat it for storage in a battery bank and distribute it via outlets for utility consumption. And at a rated 300Watts of power they outperform their nearest competitors, which are either low capacity (60Watts) or are too pricy or bulky. The power units are the brainchild of a couple of Nigerian entrepreneurs, Engr. Patrick Okem Anyadike, CEO of Nutshell Concepts Ltd and Nutshell Concepts Global (email@example.com,) and Engr. Uchenna Macfitz Ugo-Alum, Nutshell Concepts Global COO and Chairman of A2 Factures that is based in New Jersey and in the process of establishing itself in Nigeria (https://www.linkedin.com/in/uchenna-ugo-alum-pmp-b6968534/). The A2 300 and A2 300D power assembly units are the companies’ pioneer products and are expected to retail at around $137 per unit.
Weighing between 5 lbs and 15 lbs, the A2 300 series provides 300 watts of continuous power consumption, which can be boosted up to 600 watts in surge power protection. It has 20amps steady charging capacity via photovoltaic (PV) energy. Engineer Okem and his partner have identified seven competitors “none of which” he says, “can match the price and technical performance of the A2 300.” These range from the Lumos (Y’ello Box) Smart Solar System that retails for $222 but only has a 60 Watts capacity to the complete home solar grid-tie power solution, with remote monitoring, supplied by Rensource Distributed Energy Limited that retails for $1,111.
The sheer scale of the challenge to electrify Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, is the backdrop which underpinned the development of the A2 power units. According to figures compiled from the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) electricity database and the World Bank, seven out of ten people in Sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity. In Liberia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone and Malawi 51.4 million people out of 54.3 million people, a staggering 94.7 percent of the population, live without electricity.
Even in Nigeria, whose GDP now dwarfs Egypt and South Africa and is ahead of Austria and Norway in the World Bank’s 2018 ranking, 55 percent of the population has no access to electricity. And for an economy of its size that is one of the lowest per capita electricity consumption rates in the world.
The reasons for this discrepancy in access to power in Sub-Saharan Africa are multifaceted and complex. The construction of an electrical grid involves very high infrastructural capital as well as operation and maintenance costs. And these are either not available to these countries or would simply overwhelm their individual economies.
So with the meagre grid systems that are in place being unable to cope with the huge rise in demand for power in the region many are turning to off-grid solutions such as diesel generators and roof top solar panels to power their basic needs. These though have their limitations. The limitation for diesel generators is that they are noisy and environmentally unfriendly. They also require regular maintenance and are fuel inefficient. The drawback with solar panels and solar power in general is that while start-up costs are falling, the capital expenditure (capex) required is still relatively high and power storage is problematic.
The A2 300 developers see the units occupying a niche that will enable less well off consumers to access power. However, they concede that they are not designed to be a complete replacement for grid electricity. “Any equipment, machine or appliance requiring high power consumption such as refrigerators, microwave ovens, heaters and air conditioners are better suited to power provided by the electrical grid,” say the engineers.
But in Nigeria and elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa that limitation may not really matter. Because as the partners point out, “the reality is that in underdeveloped-developing countries, maintaining a decent yet affordable living standard does not constitute the effective use of all these household appliances and equipment.” They also see a role for the units as a portable power source for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), off campus students, homes, campers, boat owners, etc.
The partners are confident that the closely targeted market research they undertook locally, ahead of the project, provides clear evidence that the units will be a success. “All is set to mass produce and draw the contracts. We just need financing. Once we get this, we will be mass producing in a matter of months,” they say.