Habiba Ali is a pioneer in the renewable energies field. She is the founder, managing director and CEO of Sosai Renewable Energies, an innovative company that brings reliable and affordable renewable energy products to those in Nigeria who need it most. Her sustainable energy solutions provide communities with unforeseen economic growth, increased capacity, and the potential for greater business development.
AWT: Congratulations, Habiba, on being named one of the awardees for the WE Empower UN SDG Challenge! What are your plans in regards to how you’ll use the money from winning DVF Pitch Night?
Habiba Ali: Thank you so much! I am still not sure what happened, as it seemed it all just zipped by this past week and I am thinking I will soon wake up. Regarding the prize, I would say it couldn’t come at a better time. We’ve had products—a full container of over 500 units—stuck at the ports for inflated duties for about seven weeks now. I reached out through all the relevant channels, but customs officials insisted that I would have to pay more than $25,000 in duties because of a switch to a new code. I was not sure where to find the funds for this—so the award money will be put to this good use.
I would then put the balance toward bringing energy to five new communities, which we had already scoped out for a mini-grid activity. So, the growth of our work is my main priority. I want to look back this time next year and share doubled efforts due to these funds and the opportunity it has provided.
AWT: You’ve been in the renewable energy industry since 2005—what was your introduction to the field?
Habiba Ali: I started using a solar cooker that my husband had bought for me from Germany, but I did not like it much because it was clumsy to use. We also had some solar-powered products to try out at home, which sparked the idea to set up an NGO to accelerate the adoption of renewable energies. I became the National Coordinator. In that role, I was invited to attend the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air Forum, where I learned about the health risks of using coal-powered household appliances, like stoves. This scared me. But, it also made me understand the health and environmental benefits of using clean-energy technologies. At the same time, coincidentally, I was also looking to break away from the NGO, so I started selling solar lanterns to curb the health issues and this was how Sosai began. We have grown from simple lamps to home systems and mini grids.
AWT: Tell us about how Sosai addresses poverty and community development in regards to having access to energy and clean water in Nigeria.
Habiba Ali: An improved cookstove from Sosai uses only 30% of the fuel consumed by cooking on an open fire, which translates to saving 70% for a family. This makes a big difference considering that families in Northern Nigeria typically spend 40% of their income on the fuelwood and charcoal needed for cooking.
Saving 70% leaves the family with money to spend on other household activities. This is the same with the kerosene used in kerosene lanterns or battery powered lanterns.
The people we serve are mostly subsistence farmers. Because the farming season only lasts about four months, they typically have no income for the rest of the year. Some do menial jobs and some resign themselves to fate. The renewable energy technologies our work provides makes it possible for them to earn a living year round. Women, for example, use the solar dryers to dry fruits and vegetables to resell, while men use the irrigation technologies to extend the farming season. As such, we ensure that people are continuously productive and can improve their economic situation.
AWT: Can you share a story about how a device like the solar lamp or the Watt home system that you offer on your website helps people in your country?
Habiba Ali: Saude lives in Rano. I want you to imagine her hut in the middle of nowhere. Imagine that a single kerosene lantern is the only source of light and a three-stone fireplace is the only means of cooking. The walls of this hut are black from the smoke of the fireplace. Saude is cooking dinner over this fire by the light from the kerosene lantern; she’s coughing. Her children are crying, waiting for food and she is doing her best to have it ready on time, but, because the wood is also wet, this meal is getting delayed.
Now imagine another scenario: Saude is cooking over an improved cookstove that produces 70% less smoke and that cooks the food in half the time. She has a solar lantern hung over the fireplace and her children watching a show on TV or reading a book in a well-lit room while they wait for their dinner.
The first scenario is the reality for many people without our intervention and the second is what we make possible with our technologies.