Linking Youths employment in the Distributable Renewable Energy Sector in Sierra Leone


By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya
We are in the era of energy revolution in the world. This is a time when innovation has taken over the grid system and now millions of rural communities are benefiting from a new off grid electrification system with the use of distributable renewable energy equipment. It has been plainly argued that centralized form of power and long distance transmission are not economically viable for rural communities. Sierra Leone is one of the many countries in Africa that is still grappling with energy problems in both urban and rural settlements. Most of the urban Communities are not fully electrified while nine (9) percent of the rural population is un-electrified. This raises the need for distributable renewable energy solutions in the country.

In June of 2016, the Government of Sierra Leone became the first country to sign through the UK’s Energy Africa Campaign an agreement(Energy Compact) to ensure power for all Sierra Leoneans by 2025. The Power for All initiative is championing the process of energy revolution in Sierra Leone and other African countries. With the leadership of the Power for All, the Sierra Leone Energy Revolution attracts decentralized solar enterprises and investors in the country to meet ambitious energy access targets in other to distribute more than 250,000 solar units by the end of 2017.
The present energy revolution championed by the Power for All campaign aimed to extend basic power supply to all people in Sierra Leone within the next 9 years. Power for All and its partners seek to shape policy, attract investment, and build effective, collaborative partnerships creating the conditions needed for the renewable energy sector to scale at a faster speed. Power for All has launched national campaigns in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
Part of the agreement signed with the UK Government requires the Government of Sierra Leone to eliminate tax on qualified internationally certified renewable and distributable solar energy products in other to ensure cost effective distribution of solar energy products in rural Sierra Leone. Many energy companies have been formed towards this drive including Ignite Power. Linking the Youths towards employment in the distribution of renewable energies in Sierra Leone is one of the fundamentals of the company.
Ignite Power is a company that operates in Sierra Leone and across other African countries providing distributable energy facilities for many rural communities. Here in Sierra Leone, the Company is rolling out its renewable project differently with a payment platform and strategy that allows communities in various parts of the country to pay little by little for their distributable renewable energy needs supplied to them. This Consumer credit helps poor people not only in Sierra Leone but also in other parts of the region in other to access off grid electricity.
The distributable energy equipment that are supplied to these rural settlements only use solar as the only source of energy. With a minimal amount paid on a monthly or weekly basis to the Company, rural communities can able to access the electricity through specific type of renewable energy equipment acquired. Explaining how the process is carried out, the Head of Ignite Solar in Sierra Leone, Mr. Herman Chinery-Hessi said “it is a kind of mobile money system where people pay a minimal fee on a monthly basis after a specific solar equipment has been supplied to them”.
He said what they as a company is working on in rural Sierra Leone is a lightning system where the equipment can charge a mobile phone, be able to use it as a torchlight and simultaneously able to play a radio set. It can cost about $7 to $8 United States dollars in other to be connected to the self-styled mobile money system as well as a monthly subscription of $2 dollars for a period of two years. Once the weekly/monthly subscription is done at base, the equipment is automatically credited where ever it is.
The cost of charging mobile phones, listening to radio set and as well using torchlight on a regular basis is costly especially for rural settlements but with the purchase of solar equipment like these, it will be a risk worth taking which the Communities may intend to take especially when the off grid system is yet to reach out to major rural settlements across the country. Mr. Chinery-Hessi said once this payment is completed, the equipment will now permanently belong to the subscriber which the person can use for a considerable period of time without having to purchase batteries to listen to radio set or powering the torchlight or home. The risk of leaving the phone’s battery to a charging point and someone stealing it or exchanging it will also be addressed if someone purchases this solar equipment.
The Youths of Sierra Leone especially from the Ataya Bases in the rural areas are primarily the major beneficiaries in rolling out this distributable renewable energy project. Ignite Power will train the youths on a monthly basis free of charge and all the youths need to do is to show up at a particular center and receive the specialized training on solar installation and maintenance to become armies of solar top up sellers and installers like the Barefoot Solar Women.
An estimate suggest the Ataya Base Organization has more than seven hundred thousand youths across the country. With two groups divided among them, intensive training will be provided for these youths in sales and installation of the said solar unit while the another group will be trained and certified on setting small businesses in selling top ups or mobile money for the solar equipment.
Like other solar companies presently in the country as a result of the Energy Compact signed between the UK and Sierra Leone Governments in June of 2016, it is the intention of Ignite Power to bring up to 250,000 units of the solar equipment in the country which may require ten or more top up points across the country. The youths are the forerunners of this scheme. Each time one wants to top up his solar equipment, the Ataya Base members will be the first contact point. The 250,000 solar equipment intended by Ignite Power to be shipped into the country require the youths to play a key role to do the installations. Mr. Chinery-Hessi said part of the monies paid for the installations of the equipment will go for the Ataya Base members.
While they will be knocking at the door steps of solar subscribers, the scheme will create lots of employments for the youths and as well capacitate them to be would-be entrepreneurs in the country. As a country which had experienced a brutal and bitter civil war before and presently grappling with economic problems, Mr. Chinery-Hessi opined that “the youths must be engaged and they must see a bright future. That is why we are going to properly train them on the installation and in the financial aspect selling the solar top ups”. According to Mr. Chinery-Hessi, the employment and engagement of youths in a country like Sierra Leone which has a bitter experience in the past (War and Ebola) reduces crimes, ensure better outlook and portray them to a brighter future. While he was describing them, he said “the youths are younger, they are sharper and they are brighter” adding “if you don’t give them work to do, they will do things you don’t want them to do”.
Even though they are not going to discriminate from the capital city and the Western Rural, Mr. Chinery-Hessi believes that if one flies a plane in two years time over rural Sierra Leone, it will resembles as if these communities are situated in urban areas. As long as these distributable renewable energy products are sufficiently distributed in rural communities, the cost of the government of Sierra Leone spending huge monies on transmission energy will be drastically reduced with the help of the environmentally friendly renewable energy solutions. The main objective of this environmentally friendly energy initiative by Ignite Power is to provide affordable clean power to poorer rural folks in Sierra Leone with the ultimate aim of creating employment among the youths of the country.
At present, the Company is receiving moral and positive response from the Minister of Energy during the rolling out of the renewable solar project in the country. Although there is yet any financial support from the government of Sierra Leone, the Ignite Power Boss believes if the government can invest a certain stake into this business model, they can able to have a say into their renewable energy initiative in the country. But since part of the agreement signed with the UK Government requires the Government of Sierra Leone to eliminate tax on “qualified internationally certified renewable and distributable solar energy products in other to ensure cost effective distribution of solar energy products in rural Sierra Leone”, Mr. Chinery-Hessi confirmed that they have benefited from such tax concession.
Even though the renewable energy campaign still stands up to 2025, the new distributable renewable energy revolution is expected to continue beyond this date in rural communities. Mr. Chinery-Hessi from Ignite Power wants to serve the youths by engaging them into business models that will capacitate and transform them to more responsible youths of the country. “We intend to make what we are doing sustainable and to make it grow”. He said when they first introduced their 500 pilot products, they tested them including the installation and payment system and are now satisfied that the system is sustainable and cost effective for the rural people. He said they intend to continue with this process “till Sierra Leone needs no more light” especially when the Company had put in place financial instruments offshore to enhance the process.
In a modeled business like this renewable energy distribution, the reciprocal payment or subscription for the equipment is essential and plays a vital role towards the sustainability of the process. However, the Ignite Manager is very concern about this. He said “as long as people continue to pay for our products, we are going to stay here for as long as the energy is needed”.
For now, the fact that this solar energy initiative is in country, the youths who occupy a considerable segment into the population of Sierra Leone need to grab this opportunity and become either renewable solar installers, repairers or entrepreneurs in the future.