Engr Obi Vincent Ugochukwu is an inventor and Electronics Engineer with special interest in Mechatronics research. He is the founder of Creative Youth Research Fellowship (CYF) and also founder and director of OVUS Electrotech Nigeria Limited, which specialises in the fabrication of indigenous solar and mechatronic technologies. In this interview with O’STAR EZE, he suggests ways to ending epileptic power supply through the invention of locally made solar energy, among other issues.
Do you think solar energy technology has been adequately explored in Nigeria?
Not at all. We have not even started. This is because, most of the people, who went into the business before now stigmatised the people. The people are stigmatised so much that they do not believe that solar is real. But you can see that everything here is powered by solar. We turned off the street lights, but if we turn it on, you would find that every part of this compound and street will be lighted up by one small solar inverter. At Mbosi Girls Secondary School junction and other junctions in Mbosi here, you will find a small but powerful solar street light. I mounted them with the financial support of Engr Igboanusudu, a fellow engineer from Mbosi.
The first people that went into the business in Nigeria were not engineers but opportunists. Those of them that were engineers were not technicians, and those that were technicians were not engineers. I work both as a technician and an inventive researcher. It is hard to find the engineer, the technician and the inventive researcher in one man. So, these people get into the business and install products they bought from outside the country and they cannot maintain it or sustain it. It makes people like us that build the solar powered inverter from the scratch to be attacked by such people, because of their previous experience.
You might be doing a genuine project and they would be planning to owe you. But those that know us pay up and enjoy our reliable services. I was the one that installed the solar inverter in Nnamdi Kanu’s home, which made it possible for them to record all that transpired in his house during the military invasion and transmit to the world. I built the solar in Obi Igwe Oba Ajamma’s house in Asaba.
So, those who know us know that we are reliable. Unlike others in the business, we build the solar powered device from the scratch with local materials capable of powering refrigerators and AC, etc. We produce the transformers ourselves. For the first time in this country, we punch the lamination and do the coiling and the circuit ourselves, couple it and it is working. We do this every year with our IT students and they see it works before their eyes.
For instance, not everybody can afford the foreign solar systems that can be used to fully charge phones. So, we saw an opportunity in that too and started using cheap materials to build these simple affordable solar systems with which people can fully charge their phones even at night. In summary, Nigerians are not yet accustomed to using solar.
What innovations have been discovered with regards to solar that makes it more attractive in the present time?
There are a number of them. This idea of solar is such that the solar panel is just a battery. When the sun is shining on it, it can generate and regenerate DC power. But it is made in such a way that the voltage is higher than that of normal battery. The concept is that once the panel can work as a DC (Direct Current) source and the sun is shining on it. Once the power is higher than that of the normal battery, that panel can charge a battery. That is where the invention comes in. We, as engineers, now know that we can use a charged battery to power an oscillator and the oscillator will supply a transformer and the transformer will step it up. You now have your 220 volts or the DC volts to power your home appliances. It is now left for us to look at the limitations of the conventional power source and embrace the alternative.
We do not enjoy power supply here in Mbosi, there is no power at all. So, we resorted to solar system as a more reliable power source. Another limitation of the conventional power is that it usually burns people’s gadgets. So, we set the solar in such a way that it cannot burn gadgets. We customise the solar we build for you so that it suits your energy needs without spoiling any of your gadgets. Solar is also a soundless power source, unlike generator that makes noise. You might also use it to power your security gadgets like cameras for protecting your home or business places. We programme the solar gadget for you such that it will come on or shut down at specific times. It gives you control over the solar. This is one edge we have over others that import the solar they install from abroad.
We are out to solve the peculiar problems of the people as it concerns power; as long as they are ready to cooperate with us. After the military invasion in Umuahia, when everybody deserted Kanu’s home, I went there and repaired those components of the solar that were damaged. People were shocked. We give 10 years guarantee wherever we install our devices.
Are you satisfied with the level of patronage you enjoy in the solar business?
We enjoy zero patronage from the government. Government’s grant is not for people like us. The only grant I ever got was the one I got as a student in UNN. I got the grant from Prof. Nebo, our then vice chancellor. Then, I was into mass production of motorcycle and car parts, temperature controllers, incubators and furnaces. As the first black man to build robot that walked and talked in Abuja (broadcasted by NTA, Abuja) they gave me a plague with a copy presently in the VC’s office and my office. That was in 2005. I did not get any reasonable support from government, except to lodge us in big hotels.
I was invited to represent Nigeria in Japan as the first Nigerian to appear in that exhibition. I did not get any support and I did not go for that programme till today. It was there in Abuja that I was told to leave the robot work, that it was too advanced for Nigeria. I was moving faster than the whiteman in many technological innovations; our creativity is working faster but we are not getting the support. I have tried severally to reach the government, but I have not been able to do so. We build the solar powered streetlights from the scratch, using those things that had been condemned as useless.
Every local government in Nigeria should have, at least, one of OVUS’ 5kva solar inverter, so that they would have constant power supply for workers. Every street should have the OVUS solar powered streetlight that has sensors that make it come on and off by itself. Individuals and governments have the money but they invest it wrongly. I am confident that our indigenous solar technology can heal epileptic power problem in Nigeria.
What do you think needs to be done to minimise the challenge of epileptic power supply in Nigeria?
Persistent power failure in Nigeria is politically driven. The foundation of power establishment, regulations and laws are faulty, starting from the whiteman and workers at Kainji dam. My plan is to develop a 20 kva solar plant for each of the ten villages in Mbosi. That means Mbosi will be solar powered for the next 100 years. They will have solar power to watch their TV, and use other gadgets. So, if the government could empower private individuals to generate power through the solar system, the problem of power will be solved. Also, there is need to challenge the constitutional foundation of Nigeria and remove all those factors that are militating against our socio-economic development as a people. This can be initiated by the government or by the people through legal means.
What has been your experience as Nigerian inventor?
The experience has 20 percent social success and 80 percent social failure. Our inventions are hundred percent successful, but in terms of experience with our people, it has not been smooth. Our people have more confidence in foreign products than in our indigenous products. The tendency to support us in our inventions is no there. Our people lack orientation for invention. They see it that they have to buy everything. It is something that has been engraved in our subconscious minds over the decades. For universities that give us inventive ideas to develop, they would give us time and pressurised us to meet the deadline; and even if one is having challenges during the invention, one is not expected to talk about it. But when one is successful, they will take the glory.
So, if you are inventing anything or developing an innovation and you want to do it right, you have to sponsor it with your personal money. Government needs to build a culture of invention in the minds of our people. I have trained thousands of UNN, COOU, UNIZIK, IDAH POLY, ESUT, MOU, IMT, Auchi Poly students, and other citizens and foreigners in advanced electronics, solar, Mechatronics and softwares since 2003.