Profile: Christie Etukador, Sunlight Energy Ventures – Finalist, West Africa

Sunlight Energy Ventures - ChristieBrief Biography

Christie is the CEO of SunLight Energy Ventures, a solar energy social enterprise she founded with her husband. Prior to this, she held a lecturing position at Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria where she taught Renewable Energy Technologies to Final year students in the Department of Electrical and Information Engineering. She also consults on renewable energy-related matters helping clients efficiently utilize any available energy resource at their location, as well as teaching them how implement energy-saving measures. Most recently, she was one of the five participants from Nigeria in the TechWomen program: a US government-sponsored program for emerging women leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics from different countries of the world where participants are attached to Technology companies with professional mentors for a six-week mentoring programme. For the Techwomen program, Christie had her mentorship at SunPower Corporation – a leading Solar Energy company based in San Francisco, California where she had a very rewarding experience learning understanding the rudiments of running a successful solar energy company. Christie holds a Master’s degree with distinction in Energy Engineering (UK) and Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering (Lagos).

What is your off-grid energy business? Can you give a brief overview? How long have you been working on this business?

I have been in the off-grid energy business for 5 years now, consulting and designing solar home systems for residential homes. I started out designing and consulting for Komo Energy – an energy company based in Abuja, Nigeria; before proceeding to take up a lecturing position at the Covenant University, where I taught on the design of renewable energy technologies. My experience with Komo Energy inspired the setting-up of Sunlight Energy Ventures to be an active player in the off-grid energy business.  Sunlight Energy Ventures is involved in the design and installation of renewable energy electricity systems with particular emphasis on solar energy (mini and micro grid) installations.

-What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy?  Are there any key people who inspired you to work in this area?

My inspiration for getting involved in the off-grid energy business was spurred when I went for my Masters studies in the United Kingdom. There, I was privileged to see the vast advancements in the use of renewable energy resources to alleviate energy problems. Upon my return home, I was determined to see the energy problems of my country resolved using renewable energy given the vast availability of solar resource in my home country Nigeria. My TechWomen experience further bolstered my resolve in using renewable energy resources as a means of alleviating energy crisis in Nigeria.

 -Have you lived in an off-grid community?  What is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?

I haven’t lived in an off-grid community but I have visited several such communities, mainly in Northern Nigeria and Mali. It is always a sad experience to see whole communities in this age of rapidly evolving technology who are not connected to the grid and are not able to enjoy modern amenities as they should.

Growing up off-grid puts communities at a disadvantage, as they are mostly cut-off from a lot of the benefits of modern living. People with access to stable and reliable energy will certainly appreciate the benefits of such a privilege; however, in my country Nigeria, there is still a huge gap between energy demand and supply as it were. So, although there are many areas where people have access to power from the grid, the availability and reliability of supply is still a far cry, especially in the rural communities.

-What are the main things you have learned while working as an entrepreneur in off-grid energy? Your biggest success and biggest failure? Key epiphanies or turning points?

The key learning points from my foray into the off-grid energy business is the vast opportunity available for the deployment of off-grid energy systems to serve many communities without access to electricity; and the willingness of these communities to be connected to a source of reliable power – provided the financial terms for connectivity and access are fair and affordable. Electricity access makes so much of a difference to the lives of those who have access to it. My biggest success thus far is being involved in a consulting capacity in the design and installation of a functional Solar lighting system to power a market of over 40 shops in Abuja, Nigeria, with flexible and affordable payment terms for the users. That notwithstanding, procuring quality, warranted components is still an issue/setback in the business.

-What has surprised you most about working as an off-grid energy entrepreneur?

My biggest surprise really, is the low penetration and utilization of Solar and other renewable energy sources to provide electricity to so many communities in dire need of access. Considering the natural endowment of Nigeria and Africa in Solar energy, it remains a continent crying for the utilization of this and other resources available to it for the much needed development on the continent.

-What has been most difficult/most rewarding?

The most difficult thing in the business is the travelling involved in reaching communities to conduct feasibility studies and the costs of transporting equipment and personnel considering the far-flung distances of some of the communities. One needs to endure a lot on the roads because of the terrain some times and other dangers which may occur on the road while travelling over such long distances. While the excitement of seeing a place hitherto without access to electricity being lit up finally, serves as a fitting reward for whatever challenges are encountered in the process.  The hope and expectancy of the residents of rural communities to be connected to an energy source; seeing their level of eagerness and the warm receptions gotten in several communities visited also serves as a morale booster.

If you could share some wisdom with yourself 3 years ago, what would it be?

Things are not always as they seem and your expectations of people will not always converge with your own ideals; however, you cannot stop reaching out in the pursuit of your goals and dreams with hope and much faith.

Where do you hope to be 3 years from now?

A lot more experienced and competent in my field of renewable energy; being a name to be reckoned with in the business of renewable energy consulting, design and installation, in Nigeria and beyond.

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