In 2011 I founded Dawn Fuel Limited in retrospect perhaps not the best name as people often inquired if I run a petrol station. Dawn Fuel’s mandate was as follows :
Our mission is to promote energy self reliance and provide affordable electricity for under electrified communities in West Africa.
We intended to do this by selling solar power. It seemed like the right thing to do. Running a diesel generator cost ~ ₦100/kWh erratic grid power supply had doubled in cost over the few previous years and was now ₦12/kWh, solar hybrid cost between ₦25/kWh and ₦40/kWh. On the face of it there is no where else in the world where distributed solar hybrid power makes more financial sense. But we could not sell solar power.
We did one job in early 2012 refurbishing solar security lighting for a school in Ikoyi for which will we still have not been paid in full and that was it. We tried selling solar to home owners. We made the most meticulous site surveys that any solar EPC company in Nigeria does, shadow predictive and energy balance simulations, angle correction calculations, optimization for best average and optimization for maximum power. Our clients would read our reports/proposals and sometimes hand them over to other companies to execute. No one appreciated the value of our work. No one understood that all our mathematics was the difference between a system that works for 6 months and a system that works for 25 years. Nigerians do not respect craftsmanship and wonder why we have mediocre artisans. In 2012 I built the solar calculator 1 my first ever web-application, a tool to reduce the overhead on proposals by helping prospective clients evaluate the financial implications of going solar in a Diesel/NEPA environment. No one understood or used the tool. We continued churning out proposals hundreds of them still no work.
Remember this was my first registered company so I was foolish enough to listen to advice from all corners. Like a taxi driver who allows the passengers to touch the steering. I wasted two years of my life and millions of ₦ chasing government deals.
We even tried selling solar portable lighting, we did extensive market research in 11 states only to have one sharp guy from a large international NGO steal our market research template and co-opt it into some big light for Africa initiative. A Lagos market woman will not buy a solar portable lamp she will point to the solar street light and tell you solar power does not work.
Somehow Dawn Fuel survived by selling and installing inverters but it didn’t grow. Everything we touched, we set out to improve. From the onset it was clear that requirements specific to the Nigerian energy landscape were not being addressed by larger OEM’s either because they were unaware of these requirements or the market was too big or because they knew we would just buy whatever at the end of the day.
We envisioned mock-up assembly manufacturing for the simplest projects. I.e. making enclosures for solar portable lamps here from locally made bio-plastics. We bought a 3D printer that made me age prematurely. We dabbled in Cassava starch -> C3H6O3 -> (C3H4O2)n 2chemistry. We explored the modalities of solar panel mock-up assembly using PXLK3 instead of Plexiglas and using aluminum extrusions from a local window frame manufacturer and locally made plywood for the back frame. The idea was to make the heavy low tech components here and import light weight high tech components like photo-voltaic cells. The interest in bio-plastics was motivated by the desire to avoid heavy government regulated industries like oil and gas and instead transition directly from an agricultural product to engineering grade plastics. The same things you are thinking right now, one girlfriend after the other told me : “Dayo just go and get a Job”, “Dayo this is Naija, Inventor’s don’t do well in Naija”, “This one is just sitting at home collecting money from his parents”.
Soon realized we had to narrow our focus and do one thing at a time, we focused on power electronics. By the end of 2013 we had a milestone plan to build new 7 devices in 2014. By December we had built 4 devices, most we still can’t discuss as we still don’t know the status of patent applications submitted to the Federal Ministry of Industry Trade and Investment in early 2014 more than 2 years ago.
The last device we built was supposed to address the problem of why people were not buying solar. 4. Nigerian’s don’t buy solar for two reasons
- The financial models don’t work. Capital outlay for solar is expensive and interest rates in Nigeira > 17%
- Data for energy balance simulations is completely absent, smart metering doesn’t provide this data as it is typically specific to only one source.
We wanted a tool that would measure, extrapolate, analyze and provide dmd export for energy balance simulations. We could not find one tool that could do all these things and even those tools that could do were often as or more expensive than the solar hybrid power systems we were trying to sell. Hence the energy and power monitor was built. After the fact we found a million and one other use cases for our device.
- Optimizing mixed power source systems i.e diesel/grid
- Dimensioning solar/hybrid power systems
- Advanced demand management strategies for utility companies
- Sub-net plausibility checks for power theft detection
- Mini-grid management
- Resource allocation for shared power facilities in estates/office/apartment blocks
I’m sure you can think of more, seems every client we meet comes up with a new use case.