"My dream has always been to create solutions that address most of the challenges faced by Nigerians and Africans living in slums at the bottom of the pyramid, especially the problems of access to energy and quality education".
A Giant with Feet of Clay
85 million people with no access to electricity: this means kids who will never set foot in a school, families who will never have the resources to build a proper house, and much more. This description, far from being fictionalized, depicts the hazards of energy poverty in Nigeria which, ironically enough, can boast the biggest economy in all Africa.
As we all know, however, energy poverty can be a burden even in countries with a good performance in their wealth indicators, and that's exactly the case of Nigeria: despite a whirling growth and a thriving economy, it laid the foundations of its development on the massive export of oil. Not only such a wealth is unsustainable and rooted in the fossil fuels industry, but its distribution is deeply unequal: the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men ($29.9 billion) could be enough to end extreme poverty at a national level.
Yet, 5 million citizens still face hunger and more than 112 million people are living in poverty. But there's more to it: women, who make up between 60 and 79% of Nigeria's rural labor force, are five times less likely to own land or to have a decent education: over three-quarters of the poorest women in Nigeria have never been to school and 94% of them are illiterate.
That's where Chiemela steps in: as she tells us, her aspiration is to " Drive clean energy Inclusion, as […] investing in renewable energy will increase the African nations' GDP, create jobs […], and reduce dependency on fossil fuel Importation". Interestingly, Chiemela picked the word "inclusion" to be paired with "energy": a choice of words that is way more meaningful than what It looks like.
Lighting the Way
The fruits of such a sustained effort were soon to be reaped: on 2019, she launched Solaris GreenTech Hub, her own startup. The service it provides is the design and manufacturing of solar booths, which are then deployed to rural and peri-urban communities that are disconnected from the national grid or without access to a steady power supply. The booths, Chiemela outlines, "Serve as power stations for the communities they are deployed to […] giving community members access to clean energy at a very affordable rate".
A Journey of Minds and Hearts
" We are planning to deploy up to 100 of our solar booths to communities In Nigeria by the end of 2023 […]
I see a future where our solar booths are deployed and can be found in every rural and peri-urban community in Nigeria and Africa without access to electricity or the national grid".
Quite a bold agenda, right? And yet, as we are learning year after year, no venture is bold enough when dealing with climate change: after all, grave problems call for radical solutions.
Nevertheless, the road leading to a widespread penetration of renewables in Nigeria still requires some preparatory steps. In this regard, Chiemela shares with us that one of the most delicate tasks will be to create awareness in the local communities, as in Nigeria "There are lots of myths surrounding solar systems and climate Issues". Many rural dwellers are convinced that solar energy is not as efficient as the traditional electrification systems, but also that climate change is not a real emergency, and even a hoax.
That's why Chiemela and her team, in addition to their core activities, undertook several sensitisation and awareness programmes dedicated to Nigeria's rural communities, with the aim of educating their members to the impacts of the climate crisis, but also on how to reduce their carbon footprints and how the solar systems can be beneficial.
Africa's energy transition, after all, must stem and thrive in people's minds and hearts, before being transformed into power plants, distribution grids and decentralised solutions. Lucky for us, Chiemela has grasped it long ago, and embodies today the best of both worlds.