Business & Finance

Sparta's Christopher Onwuasoanya Using Solar Energy to Make a Difference

July 21, 2014 at 12:29 AM

SPARTA, NJ - Sparta resident Christopher Onwuasoanya is not just talking about a problem, he is doing something about it. In Nigeria, where his parents and siblings live, much of the country relies on private generators for power. Onwuasoanya said, “Individuals, businesses, everyone has two, three, four generators.”

At $560 billion, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and the 26th largest economy in the world, yet it is not uncommon for the average Nigerian citizen to only see power for two hours of the day, supplied by the national grid. Some villages go for weeks or months without being able to turn on a light without first powering up a generator.

Onwuasoanya found himself out of a job in March 2013. He decided to use his skills to try to make a difference in people’s lives. By May he launched Atlantic Waste and Power and began selling and installing solar power generation systems to people in Nigeria. So far he has been able to do six installations. 

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With each effort there have been lessons to be learned. Learning the logistics of getting the equipment not just to Nigeria, but then to the final destination, has been challenging. He said, “I would not be able to do this if not for having my family there to help.”

The minimal power available to the Nigerian people impacts their daily way of life. Onwuasoanya explained the typical day of a person in a village in Lagos. The power is off until 6 p.m. when the children are home from school.  At that time the small gas powered generator is turned on to power some lights and fans. After 10 p.m., the diesel generator is then fired up to power appliances like a freezer, refrigerator and air conditioner. This runs until 5 a.m. when is it all shut down. 

The price tag for a solar system is comparable to the amount of money an average family will spend on fuel to run a generator for a month.  Yet, in a culture that does not borrow or lend money, the price tag has been a barrier.  “They do not want to write a check for the lump sum,” said Onwuasoanya.  He would like to get the banks involved in helping to provide funding to the residents.  That investment could, in turn, help to boost the local economies by allowing people to be more productive and efficient.  “But that is in the future,” he said.

With a population of 170 million people, 50-60 million are not connected to the power grid and they only produce 3,000 to 5,000 megawatts of electricity. By comparison, South Africa, with a population of 55 million, is able to produce 46,000 megawatts of electricity.

Onwuasoanya says that nearly every day there are reports of people dying from fumes from the generators.  “They keep them dangerously close to their homes to deter theft.  Everywhere you go,” he said, “you hear the noise, see the exhaust and smell the fumes of the generators.” 

Adding insult to injury, the power company would come around to each home every month to collect the bill, whether or not power had been available at all. That has recently changed with new legislation requiring a minimum amount of power to be provided in order for them to expect payment.

Having installed a system at Onwuasoanya’s father’s house, he is now the only one in the compound with reliable power. Nearly everyone else who lives in the compound comes to his home to charge their cell phones.  With a reliable 2G system they can use Facebook and search the Internet.  Twenty first century technology relying on an antiquated power system, until now.  

Onwuasoanya expects to return to Nigeria next month for additional installations.  

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