Africans You Should Know: Q&A With Innovator Eunice Ntobedzi Ahead Of African Utility Week

Eunice Ntobedzi innovator of EmPowered FinTech API/Service and Director of Sandico(Pty) Botswana

Energy Revolution Africa 2017
is hosted for the first time in Africa as a co-located event of African Utility Week. With a focus on community scale projects, it will provide a dynamic meeting place for solution providers, consultants, renewable energy producers and the African and global energy minds of the future.

Acclaimed innovator, Eunice Ntobedzi will be one of the speakers at Energy Revolution Africa, hosted as a co-located event during African Utility Week from 16 to 18 May 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa.

About Eunice Ntobedzi
Eunice Ntobedzi is the innovator of EmPowered FinTech API/Service and a Director of Sandico (Pty) Botswana, an energy service company developing decentralised off grid community scale Solar PV Energy Hubs in the SADC region.

Botswana Innovation Ambassador and nominated by President Obama for GIST in 2015 for her work on Energy Poverty and FinTech, Eunice was awarded a prestigious Chevening Scholarship in 2015/16 to further her work in the FinTech and Energy and received her MSc in Management with Enterprise & Business Growth at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow.

Eunice was offered a nomination for a UK Exceptional Talent Visa in 2016 by the University of Glasgow to encourage her to stay in the UK following completion of her MSc studies on the condition she established her FinTech/ Energy business in Scotland. She declined and returned to Botswana in August 2016 to continue her work in the SADC region. 

She was awarded a special public service award in 2016 by Unity Dow, Minister of Education and Skills Development, Government of Botswana for her work in 2015/16 in bringing Solar PV power to 20 remote rural schools in Botswana.

She has employed women electrical engineers to support the development of projects in Botswana and as part of the proof of concept project for the solar PV Community energy hub project. Eunice has promoted the opportunity of two Solar Apprenticeships targeted at women.

As a keen supporter of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) movement in Botswana and working to close the gender gap, she has supported events organised by The Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BIUST) to encourage more women to play their part in the sustainable development of the nation. 

This is what the successful innovator had to say:

What about the work you have been doing / are doing at the moment most invigorates and inspires you? 

I am excited by the opportunity and the lack of competitors, I have an early to market advantage and a great network of global partners. The size of the challenge ahead and the speed at which we need to roll out solutions is also motivating, Africa has for far too long lagged behind the rest of the developing world, it really is now time to catch up as our youth are now want to see their futures filled with opportunities and access to power underpins development.

Where in Africa are you active at the moment? 

Botswana is where I am based and it is from here I am developing my work, like most of Africa Botswana has over 50% of the population still without access to electricity. I am developing projects and partners in other regions of southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania) I have been invited by the EU to submit a proposal for a $8 Million program - Women in Sustainable Energy and I am currently working with a host of international partners pulling this together.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced so far? 

Unlike the northern hemisphere here in Botswana we do not have a developed support mechanism for incubating entrepreneurs and innovations so I often work in isolation, it is crazy to think most of my support partners are from the northern hemisphere. The funding community for start-ups and entrepreneurs is non-existent, we just do not have access to Venture Capitalists, seed capital, crowd funding opportunities like other areas of the globe and the traditional lending institutions just don't have the experience to support new digital businesses.

In your opinion, what impact will blockchain have on the power and energy industry in Africa?
Africa has historical adopted new technologies e.g. mobile over fixed line, I believe blockchain will provide a foundation for services that will underpin the formalities required to deliver the new services the energy industry require to scale beyond the Grid and provide a range of Off Grid services - Inbound customer securing, contracting, reporting, and service management.

You have said that you believe finance is the greatest barrier to the growth and access of energy in Africa. Do you see blockchain a part of the solution to this? Why?
If Africa is to meet its Power for All by 2030 target it will need to attract £Billions in private investment as FDI. This will only happen if those investors can see their investments having a return. We need to develop those sustainable and scalable business models, just like the Mobile communication industry has done in Africa. Blockchain is part of the solution to demonstrating how these business models can be developed here in Africa. Blockchain works with both mobile and cloud based technologies and EmPowered is demonstrating how.

Can you give us a brief outline of how EmPowered works?
There are 3Es to EmPowered - Entitled - securing of the In Bound customer, this platform creates and secures the customer using a minimum of 5 verifications two of which are unique to my applications and protected by IP. Once the customer has been secured they will be offered a range of services dependent on their status EmPowered provides this service utilising smart contracts and other functions. The third stage is Electrified when the service is delivered and then managed. My FinTech service provides the support to deliver the Energy services provided by the Energy Service Company.

Is this how you secured the funding for the first Proof of Concept Community Solar PV energy hub? 

The development of the PoC project came from a need to demonstrate the linkages between the power generation technology, power distribution models and the business models with the key outcome the development of new ways to attract investors into the off-grid market. EmPowered was developed from my research over the last two years, matched with new technologies with the market capabilities. The rise of off grid Solar PV in Africa has gained traction because of a number of factors all coming together at once:
• Cost of Solar PV technology has dropped by 80% over last decade.
• Rapid adoption of mobile phone technology in Africa supported by accessible payment platforms and other service provisions up from 5% to 60% in the last decade.
• Development of mobile/cloud/blockchain-based energy management platforms enabling the management of the equipment supplied and the integration of FinTech, i.e. mobile serviced micro financing of the loans.

Are there any other global blockchain funded projects that you feel are worthy of mention? 

There are a number of interesting new blockchain energy services developing around the globe. Most are servicing more mature markets in the Northern Hemisphere like Energy Trading, Community Grid Efficiencies to name a few, we are at the front of an emerging market and I have no doubt it will look very different in 3 years from now that is the nature of disruptive technologies! It is still at its infancy but will change the traditional relationships and create new ones.

Do you agree that an energy revolution is underway in Africa? Why/why not?
I feel three factors are changing the market. Affordable Clean Energy is one of the most important issues economies in Africa have to delivery, and with the cost reductions we have seen in the renewable sector along with the developments in delivery of decentralised power generation and distribution the challenge to give power for all is on if we can attract the FDI.

How do you feel about the way in in which energy is generated, distributed, used and managed in African countries at the moment?
We need to get government out of the way and focus only on regulation and open up the market to energy service companies, this has worked well in other regions around the globe, if we do this the market will grow quickly.

The Cost of Business as Usual will not take us anywhere!
What are you most concerned about when you think about the future of our energy resources?
We have the technologies now to completely change the way power is distributed and the cost continues to fall. My biggest worry is that we will not attract the international community to invest in projects

What are you excited about in terms of the future of how energy will be generated, distributed and managed?
I feel the energy market need to take lessons from the Telecoms market. In Africa we moved from the delivery of telecoms services delivered only by a grid to one of a decentralised service (Mobile) the energy market will respond the same way once the business models are develop and the FDI will follow.

Does the responsibility for the move toward renewable energy lie more with individuals (their homes/businesses), corporates or governments? Why?

It is a mix of all of these:
Government need to provide the regulatory framework and free up the market. 
Corporates will respond to market forces which impact on their bottom line, renewables now make good business sense.
Individuals will also move towards renewables mostly driven by the need to secure their energy needs and new financial services will provide the access to finances required.

Are there any particular projects in the energy sector that you are excited about at the moment?
I have been assisting emerging energy service companies develop new business models. In 2015, I met the directors of Videre Global, a UK start up out of the North East of England whose core business was retailing Solar LED lights and a tier one solar home system. Following advice and support from me they have now reinvented themselves as Energy Service Company and adopted my business models. In 2016 whilst I was completing my MSc we established Botswana’s first citizen owned Energy Service company Videre Global (Pty) Botswana and within six months secured our first contract for a community off grid Solar power station for the Ministry of Health ($500,000) the first of 45 to be developed over the next >5 years. Working with my partners in Botswana we have also secured investors to support three grid tied solar PV projects, one which is at an advanced stage in the development process.

How do you feel about the upcoming Energy Revolution Africa event as a co-located event to African Utility Week?
The IEA estimate Africa needs an investing of $700 Billion to meet the power for all targets by 2035. This underpins the potential for Africa to unlock its full potential and create jobs and prosperity. The focus African Utility Week provides on this challenge is an opportunity to discuss how we as an industry can meet the challenge.

What are you most looking forward to?

Seafood in Cape Town, meeting the global energy community all in one place and the opportunity to learn and share knowledge.

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