by ‘Ifreke Inyang
Ifeanyi Orajaka is a corper who has won a UNDP project competition. He is the youngest of the winners of the Access Challenge. He started the Renewable Energy project when he was in school and has won several awards.
What’s your educational background?
I am a graduate of Electrical/ Electronics Engineering (Communication Engineering Elective) from the Federal University of Technology Owerri. I did my secondary education at the Federal Government College Okigwe, still in Imo state. I developed a passion for renewable energy systems in my third year in the university and went on to execute a renewable energy project through the motivation of my Head of Department Engr. Dr. E.N.C. Okafor as my undergraduate project.
What part of Nigeria are you from? And what were your childhood
I am from the South-eastern zone of Nigeria – Anambra State to be precise. Right from infancy, I always had a bias for engineering particularly electrical/ electronics engineering. Then, I used to rip open faulty electronic gadgets that come my way to understudy its composition. I made my choice of studying engineering as early as my primary school days and actually chose to study electrical/ electronics engineering while in JSS 3. Also, the motivation and support I got from my parents, siblings, teachers, lectures and my uncle, Engr. Godwin Orajaka who is a mechanical engineer and who has been a great mentor helped make my childhood ambition a reality.
Tell us about your Renewable Energy Project.
The project idea is on the provision of an efficient micro-scaled renewable energy system which is aimed at supplying the basic electricity needs of a remote settlement with no prior experience of electricity. At the very least, the system is design to provide energy for the lighting of the individual houses in the settlement, charging of phones and other low-energy electronics gadgets, communal water supply and powering of a basic health center in the settlement.
The project is also modelled to enhance the socio-economic standard of the inhabitants through basic electricity/ safety sensitization exercise and the employment of selected inhabitants to mane the system.
What inspired you to start this project and what were some of the challenges you had to surmount to make this possible?
The quest to apply my engineering knowledge and innovative skill to make an impact on the lives of low income remote settlement dwellers by providing a platform that will grant them access to electricity to cater for their basic energy needs inspired me to embark on the project. This I hoped to achieve through my project idea entry in the 2009 Institute of Electrical/ Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Presidents’ Change the World Project Competition which was geared towards, identifying students that proffer solutions to real world problems.
Also, I ventured into developing the project idea to inspire Nigerian youths that they too can make significant impacts by developing on their creativity because I know Nigerians are very creative people. The encouragement and commitment I get from my colleagues (Chuka Eze and Ikechukwu Onyekwelu) and my super mentor (Engr. Prof. Gloria Chukwudebe has also been a great inspiration.
One of the toughest challenges I faced was from a very close friend during the conceptual stage of the project idea. He was of the opinion that we could barely make headway in the IEEE Project Challenge when we had students from more advanced countries like United States of America, Europe, China, Japan and India to contend with. But today, I am very glad that I did not give in to it.
Apart from that, I and my team have also faced some other challenges in getting local partners for the pilot phase of the project considering the fact that it is new field with little popularity.
When did you apply for the Access Challenge?
I and my Team commenced our application for the Access challenge on the 10th of November 2011 but precisely completed all the sections of our application on the 24th of November, 2011.
We hear your presentation was brilliant. Tell us about it.
The presentation was basically centred on the project idea, its current status, and the justification for the project as a viable business venture. I further discussed our target market, opportunities/ innovation, competitors, and market expansion strategy. I went on to discuss our project/ business models, milestones and impact projections. Afterwards, I discussed the project execution timeline, financial models (which included 5-years project deployment rate, annual revenues, equipment cost, investment outlay and cost of capital projections for the project) and the project team.
Lastly, I talked about the risks likely to be involved in the project deployment, our mitigation strategies and project evaluation/ success indicators.
What did it feel like to emerge as the youngest winner of the Access
On emerging a winner in the ATRE project challenge, I felt very happy and humbled. I saw it as a great inspiration towards greater accomplishments to come.
Did you enter the competition with the feeling you would win?
Prior to the competition, I and my team had been considering securing partnership with UNDP for the monitoring/ evaluation of our project in line with global best practices. Thus when we got informed of the competition, we saw it as a perfect platform hence we gave it our best shot and were optimistic that even if we did not emerge one of the winners, we would attract enough awareness to achieve that goal.
What other awards have you won?
I hold an award as an IEEE outstanding student humanitarian for emerging a winner (4th out of about 200 project entries globally) in the 2009 IEEE Presidents’ change the world competition.
I also hold an award as the Most Resourceful Collegiate Council Member of the Junior Chamber International Nigeria Collegiate Council 2011. Junior Chamber International is a global organisation of young leaders and entrepreneurs who are groomed to become active young citizens in their various localities. The Nigerian Collegiate comprises of members in various tertiary institutions all over Nigeria.
What is the next phase for you – What are doing next?
The next phase is to strategically re-structure the project model to reach as many remote settlements as possible through a social enterprise aimed at efficiently and responsibly meeting the basic energy needs of our target market at the most economic cost to suite their income levels inline with global best practices.
What is you honest assessment of the situation of power and alternatives to energy in Nigeria?
Considering the current ailing situation of the Nigerian power sector and the huge capital investments required to make appreciable impact, I am of the opinion that off-grid renewable systems is the future for a more stable energy sector. Grid-tied system would have been a better option but for the near paralyzed nature of our power transmission and distribution networks. I see a revolution similar to that of the wireless mobile telecommunication industry.
Though the renewable energy industry is still in its infancy and is currently being sabotaged by corrupt practices of armatures and unscrupulous practitioner, I see it being repositioned into a more refined and regulated industry that will reinstate consumers’ confidence to the Nigerian power sector.
Have you tried to commercialise what you did? Do you think it will be a viable business venture?
When I conceived the project idea, I was only concerned on the provision humanitarian services geared towards enhancing the living standard of rural dwellers through an off-grid renewable energy system. However recently, I and my team have been working towards structuring a win-win blend between our humanitarian origin and a commercially viable enterprise to provide efficient renewable energy products/ services at an attractive cost to our target market taking their income levels into consideration while making some profit.
Do you plan to go for further trainings?
I believe there is always room for capacity development and I totally agree with the saying that once one stops learning, he/ she start dying. I intend to embark on further trainings/ R&D for better ways of developing and delivering renewable energy products and services through efficient/ economically viable models to expunge the status quo in the Nigerian Power sector.
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I look forward to acquiring essential managerial and business development knowledge and skill sets to enable me transform the project into a commercially viable social enterprise that will become a visibly dynamic player in the renewable energy industry of Nigeria.
How do you relax and unwind?
I relax by playing indoor games, taking solitary walks, seeing movies discussing with friends or taking naps.
What will be your biggest achievement in life?
I wish to live to be remembered to have made significant positive impact and an inspiration to a whole lot of people of different races from different regions of the globe.