Nairobi-based solar company Ofgen was founded in 2014 as a spin-off from Strathmore University’s Energy Research Centre.
According to the co-founder and director Jibril Omar, the company’s primary goal is to enable commercial and industrial businesses in East Africa achieve cost savings, while sustainably consuming and generating energy. The firm currently has a workforce of 15 people.
Africa Sustainability Matters caught up with Omar for an interview.
Here are the excerpts:
What is the total installed capacity of Ofgen’s developed solar projects? What’s the target going forward?
To date, we have installed projects with a total capacity of 4.6MW plus 7.9MWh storage. A further 15MW is at various stages of development across Eastern Africa. Moving forward, we target to develop 10MW annually. Our clients comprise listed entities, multinationals and private companies.
Being in the renewable energy space, Ofgen would generally pass as a sustainable company. What other sustainable practices have you adopted, beyond the clean energy aspect?
Transportation services account for a large percentage of carbon emissions from fossil fuels. With this in mind, our subsidiary Solar E-Cycles is going big on developing affordable and environmentally clean solar-powered tricycles and four-wheeled cycles, while enabling low-income communities afford them through pay-as-you-go model. Our end goal is to offer affordable, eco-friendly mobility and power to homes and businesses.
What is the capacity of the back-up storage batteries you have installed?
Energy storage technology has progressed globally with entry of big players such as Tesla who manufacture storage products for mobility and energy applications in domestic, industrial and utility sectors. We are proud to have been pioneers locally in implementing about 10MWhrs of industrial scale storage solutions for our on-grid and off-grid clients resulting in onsite stable power supply and cost savings. To this end, we have collaborated with leading global technology providers (including Tesla Powerpack) to scale up these solutions locally here in Kenya.
What are the benefits of installing solar back-up batteries?
Over the past 2-3 years, pricing for energy storage solutions has been decreasing globally as the technology scales up. Here in Kenya, hybrid solar PV (photovoltaic) and energy storage solutions have increasingly become competitive, particularly in instances where the grid is weak or non-existent. Notice that clients’ energy needs are different and unique and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We, therefore, provide tailored engineering solutions based on a client’s unique circumstance.
Beyond EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contracts, what is your other revenue-generating model?
We offer fully maintained solar PV system through equipment lease arrangements of up to 20 years. During this period, electricity generated by the PV system is supplied at a cheaper rate than what Kenya Power charges – with better price inflation than the energy market– resulting in cost savings and long-term control over the company’s operational costs.
What is your expansion plan going forward and how do you plan to raise funds to fuel growth?
Currently, we have widely ventured within the East African region (Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda). We are focusing on creating and building partnerships with financiers in order to strengthen our presence in the wider East African market.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted your operations? What strategies have you adopted to navigate the crisis?
The Covid-19 pandemic has immensely slowed down business. We have experienced delays in order placement, supply chain, logistics and project implementation. Our staff have also had to work from home, which has also slowed down operations. The strategies we have put in place to navigate this crisis include setting up a virtual communication and reporting system for our staff and clients.
What silver lining have you found in the current crisis related to your business model and operations?
It is our expectation that we shall see more preference by clients who prefer entities with local and permanent presence like ourselves. The sector is still predominantly serviced by foreign establishments who naturally entered the East African market due to maturity in their home markets. Due to the ongoing crisis, a number have had to close shop temporarily and repatriate their staff.
The Treasury is understood to be preparing a policy framework for creation of green economic zones to host green technologies, including assembly lines for solar projects and electric cars. What is your take on this step?
This is a commendable step. We would encourage policy makers to engage more with industry players in policy formulation. In order for the green economy implementation to be successful, it must be mainstreamed in policy planning and budgeting processes at both the national and county level. This entails embedding green economy policies and initiatives in County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP’S) as well as sector plans linked to the annual budget process. This can be coordinated with different stakeholders operating at different levels transitioning to green zones, resource mobilization and putting up a system that will monitor and evaluate the progress and performance of this plan.
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