Who would have imagined an internship with an oil company in the Niger Delta could lead to a solar startup? For Ifeanyi Orajaka, Chuka Eze and Ikechukwu Onyekwelu, it turned out to be just that. In their 20s, they are the co-founders of Green Village Electricity (GVE) Projects Limited —a company that has been providing electricity access to remote and rural parts of Nigeria through solar photo voltaic (PV) solar mini grids since 2012.
The trio began their journey in 2006 while they were interns at Shell Petroleum Company in the Niger Delta. Their work took them to remote villages, where people still lived without electricity access, despite being in an oil-rich region. These communities relied on kerosene lamps and candles for light and had to go to the village market to charge their mobile phones.
Orajaka, Eze and Onyekwelu felt compelled to change this. Today, their company GVE has 40 employees and serves 5,800 households through their various mini-grid projects. They aim to install over 200 mini grids by 2020.
Our team had an opportunity to meet these young entrepreneurs during a visit to the village of Bisanti, which has a solar mini grid installed by GVE.– but even that was through petrol-powered generators. A majority were dependent on kerosene lamps, candles and firewood. Lack of electricity was hurting residential and commercial activities, especially the processing of agro-products such as maize and cassava.
The villagers had no idea that the sun, which beat down on their roofs every day could actually be used as an energy source that could transform the way they lived and worked. That’s when GVE stepped in.
In 2015, GVE installed a 40 kWp solar mini-grid pilot project in collaboration with the Bank of Industry Nigeria (BOI)/United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Institute of Electrical Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in Bisanti. Utilizing a pay-as-you-go platform, the project provides electricity to all 200 households in the community. It helps keep streetlights on along the main street of the village, which ensures safety for women and children, while shops and businesses stay open longer. The project also focuses on capacity building by training locals to oversee the daily operation of the site.