In Nigeria, power outages and energy shortages are a common occurrence for businesses and households. The cost of running diesel generators for hours on end to keep operations running smoothly adds up quickly and the unpredictable energy supply makes it difficult for companies to plan and make decisions.
But as the country aims to provide electricity to an estimated 90 million people without access by the end of the decade, innovators have launched a smart meter project, thanks in part to an unconventional source of funding.
In 2018, The EnAccess Foundation, a Netherlands-based nonprofit with the mission of promoting and developing open innovations for the benefit of energy access organisations around the world launched. It was a much needed answer to a global problem.
The Energy Access Challenge in Nigeria
Across the developing world, about 660 million people will be without access to electricity in 2030 with 85% of those living in sub-Saharan Africa according to the International Energy Agency, IEA. In fact, Nigeria had the world’s largest energy access deficit in 2021.
This is despite the fact that it has been recognized that if the wellbeing of vulnerable people is to be improved, universal access to energy must be achieved, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7), which aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”
This lack of dependable power is a major constraint for both individuals and businesses, causing yearly economic losses estimated at USD $26.2 billion, or 2% of the GDP, as stated by the World Bank.
The Power of Open Source in Solving Energy Problems
In Nigeria, a group of energy experts saw the possibility of using Open Source technology to revolutionise the energy sector. They saw an opportunity to create a smart meter project that would empower businesses to have better control and stability over their energy usage.
“I wanted to find a solution between polluting fossil fuel and expensive solar solutions. I couldn’t find a good IoT prepaid meter that was not expensive. I wanted to find a way where I could invest in a solar project and meter with the ability to make projections – allowing customers to use what they know they will be able to pay for, thereby reducing their barrier to energy access”, says Daniel Komolafe, founder at First Electric, a Lagos-based solar energy company and developer of the Smart Meter.
But he soon realised that creating a proprietary solution would mean extra costs for his company and create obstacles for other energy access companies that faced the same issue.
“We approached EnAccess because we needed funding to develop our idea and we looked at the risk of making it Open Source – which is that somebody will copy and commercialise it. Because the idea is ours, we could implement it faster than whoever wants to copy it,” he says.
So, they took a bold step and made the project Open Source. This means that any energy access company, no matter its size, has access to the Smart Meter technology and the information it provides.
Small Company Making Big Strides: First Electric’s Open Source Solution
Open Source innovation is an attractive option for small and medium-sized energy businesses with limited technology budgets as it helps to save cost. This, in turn, leads to greater efficiency, allowing companies to reinvest in their operations and ultimately drive growth.
According to Komolafe, the decision has created more opportunities and aided the progress of the company.
“Asides the money that we are receiving from EnAccess, there is also a marketing platform that allows other developers to connect with us. EnAccess has showcased us to the world and allows other people to come to us. I didn’t even realise we were going to get these many requests for partnership. I think the notion that an idea will be stolen is just based on fear and not on any kind of reality,” he says.
Nonprofit Support Driving the Impact of Open Source Energy Solutions
Misconceptions about Open Source innovations can lead to missed opportunities for organisations to leverage the benefits of Open Source innovation, such as increased collaboration, cost savings, and faster innovation. For Michel Fripat, chief technology officer at Solarly, a Cameroon based solar energy company, adopting Open Source makes impact much more possible and aids profitability.
“An advantage of the Open Source project is that anybody will be able to easily start their own projects in any other market. If we have one way to communicate that we have implemented, that would be easier to implement that project on the field. Of course, one needs to make some modification based on your reality,” he says.
Open Source makes it that much easier for others to make slight changes, modifications, or even fix problems – with proprietary technology, it’s either complicated at best or impossible at worst.
“What we have observed in the [Energy Access] industry is that Startups have innovations with different use cases and this comes with customisation needs,” says Danny Friedrich, CEO at Pineberry. “So if you look at any Open Source project, you find out that you need some time to do your introduction.”
In a scenario where different players are developing their own solutions to the same problem, each using their own unique methods and technologies, we see a lot of “re-inventing the wheel.” This is where compatibility issues come in and make it difficult for new innovations to be integrated into existing systems. It can also slow down the pace of progress and limit the ability to scale up successful solutions.
While Open Source projects can present a learning curve, a user or adopter of Open Source technology has the advantage of being able to see the latest updates, bugs, and contributions to the project anytime. Projects like the Open Smart Meter, which is supported by EnAccess, also come with that added layer of quality assurance.
As the world shifts towards more sustainable solutions and the demand for clean energy continues to grow, investing in Open Source energy solutions is becoming increasingly important. Companies that embrace this trend now will not only help to address pressing energy needs, but also position themselves as leaders in the industry.
For companies looking to make a difference, partnering with EnAccess provides a unique opportunity to support innovative technologies and contribute to the Open Source in Energy Access community. By doing so, they can play a crucial role in shaping the future of energy in Nigeria and beyond.
Are you interested in using or adapting the Open Smart Meter in your own company’s operations? If you need help getting started or trouble-shooting along the way, EnAccess offers free support. Just let us know how to reach you by filling out this form, and we’ll be in touch.