[Interview] Oluwole Eweje, CEO-WATT Renewables Corporation
Wole, you’re the founder and CEO of WATT – but what does that role look like today? Is it different to when you founded the company?
When we first started, our focus was on fine tuning the idea, understanding the different landscape where we planned to operate, pitching our ideas to various stakeholder groups to better understand areas where fine tuning was needed, developing the business, and sharing our vision with our clients. At the same time, we were trying to convince investors that the model was commercial, environmental and financially viable and it was a good business model for them to want to invest in.
Today however, my role has slightly changed. Whilst I’m still working on the previous areas I’ve mentioned, we’re now also growing every aspect of the business (human capital, research and development, improving on system design to meet an ever changing technical and commercial landscape) and ensuring our operations run smoothly. We are also ensuring that we continue to provide shareholder value and that our overall growth trajectory meets our objectives.
What led to you founding the company?
It was simply the desire and belief that we could make a difference. I grew up in Nigeria, I understand the challenges people face when it comes to inadequate infrastructure such as digital connectivity, water, roads, power infrastructure etc, and how it makes trying to get anything done an uphill task. From our experience it was obvious that, we could actually make a difference, alleviating some of the pain points that people were facing when it comes to infrastructure deficit; we chose to start with power. Overall, this culminated in a single focus to try to reduce energy poverty.
What are your core roles and responsibilities at WATT?
Supporting department leaders as and when required, working with investors and shareholders to grow the business, and supporting our clients to better understand their needs and how we can reduce some of their pain points. I also get involved in working directly with communities to explore how WATT can best support them to enhance community development.
What do you enjoy the most about working in the energy sector?
Put simply, the impact our power projects have in communities where we operate. We provide sustainability for communities, especially communities that have very few businesses. In emerging economies where energy poverty is particularly high, being able to see the impact that our projects provide is what’s most gratifying. For example, utilizing redundant power from our solar installations that is used to keep local lights on at night.
In addition, it is equally gratifying seeing our organisation continuing to grow. It started off as just an idea about five years ago, and we’ve been working on it non-stop to get it almost to one hundred full time employees, 300+ sites under management and hundreds of projects in the pipeline waiting to be executed. We feel truly blessed.
In your opinion, what are the most exciting opportunities coming for the energy sector, and where and how do you see WATT having the greatest impact?
For me, it’s seeing how other countries, particularly in West Africa, have opened up to outsourcing their power needs. For example, in telecoms, there are hundreds of thousands of towers across Africa, but only a small fraction are powered with something sustainable. Telecoms operators have recognised that they would not be able to do it all by themselves and they would need energy partners such as ourselves to come in and support them to provide reliable, and clean energy solutions.
In addition, looking at the C&I sector, there are many projects now that are also starting to outsource their power needs as well. According to the Africa Solar Industry Association’s (AFSIA), Africa Solar Outlook 2023, more African countries are adopting solar energy, particularly in the C&I market, with industrial solar power installations in the continent growing by over 60 per cent in 2022, taking cumulative solar capacity past the 10 GW mark.
WATT is active across communities in Nigeria, what do you enjoy most about working with people in these social and business communities?
I think it’s always seeing that sense of ownership once the project is completed. Observing the tangible benefits our solutions bring: boosting connectivity and reducing noise pollution by swapping out typically used diesel powered generators with our solar or battery powered solutions.
It’s also really interesting speaking to business leaders and our partners about the benefits of the services we are providing, whether that’s helping reducing cost or helping them get closer to their emission targets. It’s a win-win for all parties. It’s good for them financially, it’s good for their brand, and it’s good for them environmentally as well.
What did you want to be when you grew up? How is it different from what you do now?
An Aeronautic engineer! I got accepted into some universities but couldn’t afford it. So, I decided to be a generalist, learn a variety of different skills in a variety of different disciplines.
Designing, building, fixing planes is very different from providing power of course, but to me, I think the provision of power is actually a lot more gratifying, because there’s a lot more impact associated with it. There are far more lives that I believe we’ve been able to touch and support.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who wanted to get involved in what you do, what would it be?
I would always encourage them to get involved. The work is not as glamorous as it might seem from the outside. It’s a lot of work. Also, it can’t be about the money. That’s what I tell people. There’s got be something else that is driving you. If it’s about money, there are a lot of easier ways to make money.
However, if it is truly wanting to make an impact and not having to worry about all the heavy lifting you’re going to have to do, then absolutely come on board and jump in with both feet.
Oluwole Eweje is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at WATT Renewables Corporation.He leads WATT's leadership team and guides WATTs strategic growth plan. Wole created WATT from its inception.