The day was March 29, 2020 — in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Nigerian Federal Government issued a lockdown in Lagos, Abuja, and Ogun. Immediately, Nigerians had to confront the reality of spending far more time in their homes.
Several clients and friends I was in contact with had to confront the reality of keeping their kids comfortable at home for longer hours consistently. I received an influx of calls and texts from many people who had been skeptical of hybrid energy systems in the past. Virtually all Nigerian households produce and consume their own energy at home, for use when power from the central grid fails.
Whenever grid power fails in Nigeria, everyone’s reality falls into one of the categories below:
- Auto-instant or slightly later switch to an individual or Estate owned generator
- Immediate switch to back-up power supported by inverter + batteries and/or solar panels, meaning a decent part of the home is still powered
- Generator use at night (due to cost constraints)
- No back-up power access, as some households, cannot afford generators or a solar system and have to make do with solar portable lamps, rechargeable lanterns, kerosene lamps or candles
As the lockdown commenced, our team at Aspire immediately started to explore ways to keep delivering a better energy experience safely, while also looking out for clients in almost 300 sites across 12 states in Nigeria. Getting approval to function as an essential services provider, in Lagos was an important piece of the puzzle. We were pleased to get that clearance in good time. This clearance enabled us to complete one new important project, 30kW of new solar installation mapped to 45kW of smart PhotoVoltaic (PV) and battery inverters, plus 100kVA generator during the earliest weeks of total lockdown.
We took several precautions to our operations and created a communication plan that ensured understanding and adherence. Our aim was to ensure that we did not have any COVID transmission within our team or in interactions with our customers.
Next, we moved on to the strategy for effective remote working — intent on ensuring that a large percentage of any service calls received can be troubleshot and resolved remotely. Over the years, we had favoured the installation of smart hybrid inverters. Most of these can be remotely monitored, enabling us to remotely troubleshoot any faults, sometimes before they arise. As a result, we are well-prepared for site visits when required, as we already have a sense of how to resolve the issue.
This has really helped with our effectiveness — and will continue to be improved upon in a bid to deliver top-notch after-sales service. For instance, being able to remotely check on a client whose transformer has “blown”, without having to make seemingly intrusive calls makes everyone happy.
24-hour generation & consumption trend from a home without any PHCN power — June 2020
Sample logs from one of our customer sites for April 2020
A few things were critical for our operations during the lockdown:
1. a combination of the real-time tracking of the generation/consumption trend graph and fault logs above,
2. the physical indication of the warning codes on the inverter screen (as shown below), and
3. the customer-centric mindset of our dedicated service team.
We were able to resolve most of the issues reported over the phone and got to help clients learn more about their systems in the process.
Warning indicators on solar hybrid inverters
At Aspire, we care deeply about the customer’s experience. Server rooms running independently on back-up power without any employee on-site, pharmacies serving clients without having to turn on the generator and residential customers being able to conveniently work from home without incurring additional costs from the estate or personal generators. All are examples of the experience we are working to deliver.
For us, the lockdown further validated some of the hypotheses around focusing on power systems that we can interact with remotely, and we will continue to forge in that direction. Though, it requires a good blend of the right technology, affordability, and dedicated team, especially in a market like Nigeria.
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