Conversation with Suleiman Yusuf of Blue Camel Energy: Decentralized Energy Solutions for Nigerians

This tweetchat was held on the 19th of May 2016

Suleiman Yusuf is the CEO of Blue Camel Energy Limited, an Abuja based Renewable Energy and power back-up solution provider. They design and build solar powered water supply systems, Solar Street Lights, Inverter energy backup systems and other solutions include mini-grids solar solutions. They also import, stock, supply and maintain Digital Inverters, Deep cycle Batteries, Solar panels, Solar Charge Controllers, DC and AC Submersible Pumps as well as Energy Efficient lighting solutions.

Suleiman Yusuf left his job with the Federal Government of Nigeria to become an entrepreneur that provides clean energy solution. He was involved with one of Nigeria’s most impressive Green housing projects. This project is the highly acclaimed off-grid Luxury apartments in the Guzape area of Abuja. The project is of utmost importance because it demonstrates the viability of Green housing in Nigeria. Suleiman Yusuf is one of 5 leading men in Nigerian’s Green Energy Industry. Another is Segun Adaju.

What is your message to Nigerians who are struggling with the current energy challenges?

Nigerians need to know that they do have an alternative source of energy besides what we are used which is cheaper, cleaner and environmentally friendly so we all need to look out for RE solutions. I guess it’s high time we drop our high expectations on Government and resolve our energy problems by ourselves.

Policy is still key to get market certainty and attract investors?

Certainly, but only for as long as we choose to remain at their mercy, I have been off the grid for 1 year at less than N1,000 daily.

Is decentralized energy really affordable for the average Nigerian?

Certainly, but start-up cost is high therefore there must be some sort of consumer financing…we spend more on fueling our Generator set. A 24kWh solar solution will cost you N24.00/kWh over 10 years and N13.3kWh over a 24 year plan, this is cheaper than what Nigerians are currently spending for uninterrupted power. Whoever can afford 2 fuel a generator can afford solar power solutions.

What would a Nigerian homeowner say is the top reason for going off-grid; Savings, Less Noise, Others?

For Savings: Yes! Less Noise: Yes! For those who are environmentally aware: off grid, off fossil is the way

What has been the governments’ response so far?

I guess we are about to see a new response level but i am not convinced that it’s aggressive enough considering where we are. we can achieve 6000 Megawatts in 2 years via rooftop solar solutions with the right government policies and incentives. just 1 million rooftops installed with 6kw solar PV systems will increase power generation by 6000 Megawatts. it requires investor friendly policies by Government. Government needs to treat Renewable Energy (RE) as a critical infrastructure to demonstrate any seriousness, Renewable Energy companies.do not has access to foreign exchange from CBN. This translates to a 30% cost to the consumer, another 20% duty on batteries can further crash RE solutions if scrapped. a big issue is how to deal with the Quacks in the Industry by providing technological. trainings.

How are Nigerians responding to decentralized energy solutions?

We are fond of acting only when we are neck tight as Nigerians; response in the past few weeks on fuel scarcity & grid drop has sent everone looking for solutions. Most of my clients are regretful of their prolonged ignorance after we deploy RE solutions. We’ve been working and researching tirelessly to provide cost and environmentally friendly solutions and lots of people are going off grid. We’ve been engaged in providing customised solutions for rural energy needs, small scale business, industrial solutions and more. Too many problems with centralised solutions from energy loss in transmission, energy theft at distribution, pipeline vandalisation, obsolete transmission network, corruption amongst officials, existence of generator importation cabals, Oil importers cabal etc.

What is the biggest environmental impact of using off-grid solar energy?

The nonexistence of proper battery disposal plants in Nigeria, we have banked on this luck for too long, there should be policies in place for battery disposal and recycling. I can’t figure out any other risk, Just leave one at your trash bin for an hour and you are not likely to come back and meet it there

How durable are these energy solutions?

Solar PV modules have about a 25 years lifespan before their efficiency begins to drop significantly while batteries are replaceable at 3–9 year intervals, depending on the quality, type and usage. Batteries are the most expensive component of the solutions, its lifespan is very key. Most Nigerians using inverter solutions that lament about short battery life and this is due to epileptic grid supply, poor system design and engineering, lack of standards, etc. are amongst the factors responsible for short battery life.

Can solar be deployed for industrial use?

Yes, the thing with Solar is that it is scalable; industrial energy need is usually cheaper. Most industries can choose when to operate during the day time hence, they do not need battery bank for storage unlike residential where you have to store your power into batteries in the day for usage at night. Battery storage is more expensive than the inverter & solar component. Industrial solar solutions are therefore cheaper; 1Megawatt solar plant for grid tie will cost about $1.2million and about $2million for battery tied.

Does Blue Camel Energy offer financial services to its customers?

We’ve always provided a soft landing for our customers despite not having access to funding; we offer 50% down payment and 25% payable over a two month stretch. However we have comenced an official platform; Blue Financing where you can buy and enjoy one year payment; visit bluecamlenergy.com.ng for more details.

What is your biggest challenge as an energy entrepreneur?

Government participation in RE deployment has created massive disbelief to consumers due to their failure to handled projects The biggest challenge now becomes the time and energy involved in convincing each and every client to invest in RE solution. This is the reason why we developed the totally off grid 10 apartments building in Guzape, Abuja. We therefore urge government to play a regulatory role and stay away from RE contracts as it only seems to worsen the bad case. Over 10 Billion Naira has been annually deployed for solar street lighting and borehole in recent times by Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN). Most of such projects failed only 6–12 months down the line thus creating the image of solar being a failed technology in Nigeria.

The next challenge is the attitude of Nigerians towards repayment of funds for services rendered. We also have challenges with access to funds for scale hence we often depend on importers who have no other motive than profit maximisation. The so called SME funds are still not accessible by RE entrepreneurs due to the conditions attached; e.g. Bring Certificate of Ownership (CofO) of Landed properties etc. I’ve been there and mine is pathetic. I provided cash collateral at 120% of the requested loan and guess what; i was asked to provide “additional tangible collateral”, really pathetic yet same funds still laying down at CBN.

What do you feel need to be done to change the energy situation in Nigeria?

Government can scale up our energy generation by 6000 Megawatts by providing the enabling environment for people to adopt rooftop solutions. This can be achieved by setting up a special bank for RE to provide consumer financing to Nigerians who are already spending a lot daily on fuelling generator at over 13,000 megawatts and are quickly destroying our environment

A housing policy on minimum solar generation requirements per building before building plans are approved maybe a way out. Water heating consumes about 20% of energy in most household hence integration of solar water heaters at building stage.

Access to foreign exchange at CBN rates and reduced custom duty on RE equipment will not only reduce cost by 40% but also increase employment. Standardisation policies (SON) must wake up to its responsibilities to curb the influx of substandard materials for better results. There is a need for incentives by way of tax rebate, duty waivers, foreign exchange access, carbon credit etc.

There is a need for RE inclusion in our schooling curriculum to increase awareness and interest in RE matters; A Former minister of power was proud to announce to the world that he runs an inverter in his house. Imagine if 50% of unemployed youths were skilled in RE.

Learn more about Blue Camel Energy from their website and Twitter page.

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