Bringing power to the people with renewable energy
Africa faces an enormous energy challenge, with growing populations and an infrastructure that is often unreliable. Modern renewable power options can bring electricity and development opportunities to areas that have never enjoyed those benefits, spur economic and industrial growth, and support increased growth across the continent.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, and the largest GDP, but Nigeria’s electrification rate is less than 50 percent, meaning that more than half of the over 180 million people in Nigeria do not have access to reliable electricity. This weak electricity infrastructure significantly hampers economic development – the World Bank estimates that Nigeria experiences the greatest number of power outages in Africa monthly.
Small and medium businesses are the hardest hit by unreliable power, with self-generation for business operations accounting for most of the business running costs. Many of Nigeria’s SMEs rely on using generators to provide power, but these machines can be unreliable, and the fuel and maintenance costs are high. According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerians spend about $14 billion on generators and fuel yearly in order to avoid crippling downtime for their businesses. SME’s play a vital role in driving economic growth and job creation on the continent. Connecting SMEs to alternative energy sources helps to minimize downtime and maximise productivity.
ICE Commercial Power, a Nigerian-based renewable energy provider, has a bold mission to connect the unconnected. The company develops solar projects that allow small businesses and underserved communities to connect to reliable and affordable clean energy, monitor their energy usage online and better manage their power consumption. Businesses participating in the programme can see exactly how much power they are consuming, and the associated cost. Partnering with Microsoft through the 4Afrika initiative, ICE plans to connect 10 000 SMEs to reliable solar power in two years. The Microsoft support includes business development, technical support with the Azure platform and go-to-market strategies.
A major technology component of the ICE operation involves utilising cloud-connected solar equipment, which helps facilitate remote monitoring and maintenance. In addition, ICE maintains an integrated web and mobile-based platform, which helps facilitate payments processing for customers.
“Our partnership with Microsoft 4Afrika has been very, very beneficial. From having access to the Microsoft tools and developer teams, we can say we are bonafide beneficiaries of the Microsoft 4Afrika programme,” says ICE Commercial Power co-founder, Maxwell Okperi. “A typical example is Microsoft Teams, which allows me access anywhere in the world to reach out to my team and monitor day-to-day operations. With the Azure platform, I am able to sit anywhere in the word and monitor day-to-day operations of the business, and I can track all the data I need to track, I can monitor revenue, I can even predict when I will have maintenance call-outs,” he comments.
ICE has made a significant impact in the time they have worked with Microsoft. During a pilot programme, ICE successfully leveraged Azure Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence tools to quickly source and identify over 5,000 potential small businesses that could benefit from the ICE solution.
“ICE has partnered with Microsoft to develop a robust cloud and software back-end to support the maintenance and management of deployed solar microgrids in the field. In addition, we are working with Microsoft to scale our youth training and employment efforts in target communities, says Emmanuel Ekwueme, CEO at ICE. “The partnership with Microsoft4Afrika enables us to leverage a powerful cloud platform to deliver quality service to our customers.”
ICE is also one of the startups that is a beneficiary of the Global Social Entrepreneurship programme . The programme has benefits aimed specifically at elevating startups addressing an important social and/or environmental challenge through their products, services or operations. This global initiative is designed to help social enterprise startups build and scale their companies to do good globally. Microsoft believes in providing the foundational building blocks to help social entrepreneurs create companies that can achieve worldwide impact.