Conversation with Mustapha Abokede of Sunstretch Energy: Demystifying Solar Installation

This tweetchat was held on the 28th of July 2016

Sunstretch Energy is a social enterprise utilizing innovative ways to improve access to energy by removing the barriers that affect the adoption of renewable energy in Nigeria; starting with solar solutions. These barriers include education/awareness on renewables, financing and distribution. To aid awareness and interaction with components of solar home systems Sunstretch Energy has opened a Solar Experience Centre in Surulere

Mustapha Abokede is the Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Sunstretch Energy. Before working at Sunstretch Energy, Mustapha Abokede was with KPMG, Acumen Fund, D.light and was the Director of Operations at Andela.

Please give us a brief introduction of Sunstretch Energy

We are a social enterprise focused on bringing reliable and affordable energy to the citizens. We design/install solar systems and distribute high quality solar portables. We are constantly working to fix barriers that impact the adoption of solar including awareness, financing a list.

How do you know if you really need solar, instead of grid or inverter?

Solar lets you to take control of your energy access; with constant blackouts and noisy generators in Nigeria. Solar is a perfect solution.

What are the major components in a Solar Energy System?

Solar panels, Batteries, Charge Controllers, Inverters, battery rack, connection wires, DC breakers.

Just how expensive is solar and is it really worth it? (Both upfront and maintenance costs)

Upfront solar costs are high, though much cheaper in the long term and has greater protection from inflation. Most people do a generator change every three years and have nothing left to show for the PMS/diesel consumed through the years. Your solar home system could easily serve you till your kids become adults.

What are the various kinds of solar panel racking system used on roofs in Nigeria?

Most panel racking system is aluminium based, depending on whether it is roof mounted, pole or canopy mounted. Roof mounting poses the greatest challenge and requires a lot of innovation. Canopy mounted gives the greatest flexibility for bespoke designs. Artsy solar installations will become a thing.

What are some unique challenges that face people who install or have already installed solar?

For those whom have already installed, challenges are almost zero, except if the system was poorly installed. For those yet to install, it can include things like push-back from Landlord on roof installation, upfront costs, concerns on what happens when they move etc. We usually advice potential clients on ways to resolve their challenges and we would be happy to do that for anyone here.

What are the best kinds of batteries to use in a solar installation?

Three major battery types include Lead Acid, Absorbed Glass Material (AGM) and GEL — Gelled Electrolyte. GEL and AGM batteries last longer than regular Lead Acid in terms of staying power and life span. At less than 50% Depth of Discharge, you can get 5–7+ years of useful life from your GEL batteries. Depleting the batteries till they start to beep is a bad practice as it shortens the life span. We advise the inverter is turned off immediately if you start to hear that beeping sound.

Can’t an automatic turn off switch be installed?

Yes, you can install one and program it to turn off at a particular voltage. That beeping sound though is a warning.

How do you know what kind/capacity of panels, batteries and other components you need?

This is completely dependent on the wattage rating of appliances that you need to power and how long you need to power them for daily; including whether the system is completely off-grid or a hybrid. There are online applications to help with calculating this and we are building a customized solar calculator to be put online.

What is involved in monitoring a solar system?

Simply reading the numbers on your charge controller or inverter to determine how much power the solar system is generating to charge the battery; how much power you are consuming; and how much juice is left in the batteries. We have ideas for a remote meter and mobile app that will give you access to this info directly on your mobile. This is also possible if you have installed a charge controller with communication protocols embedded.

How often do you have to maintain your installed solar system and what is involved?

A well installed solar system requires very little maintenance - just cleaning the panels and general check.

Please check out Sunstretch Energy on their website and their Twitter page for more info on solar installations. Mustapha Abokede is always willing to help.