LIGHTING DREAMS THROUGH SOLAR ENERGY

By Penda Jonas Hashoongo
January - February 2016
Women in Business

With an impending energy crisis that is expected to affect not only Namibia but the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region at large, one woman has taken an initiative to play her part in providing alternative power solutions so that no Namibian is left in the dark.

Letisha Amushila, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Shwepo Investment cc, has, by providing electricity to houses and businesses across the country through the installation and maintenance of solar panels, belied the notion that the energy needs of Namibians, particularly those living in rural areas, can only be fulfilled by large enterprises like CENORED, Erongo RED and NORED.
To this end, Amushila has put together a six-member team which has been providing clean and renewable energy to Namibians for the past year.

“Shwepo Investments was founded by me in 2013. Before I founded this business, I was working in the energy sector, in a similar business with other colleagues.

We parted ways, and I went on to start my own business. The full operations started towards the end of 2014,” she explains.

Amushila, who has Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the institution previously known as the Polytechnic of Namibia and is now pursuing a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA), tells Prime Focus that she has since sought a partnership with her brother, who is a qualified electrical installer, to ensure the smooth operations of her business as she tries to provide electricity to the greater sector of the community that would otherwise find it difficult to access it.

“Renewable energy is the future. It is not only in the rural areas, but also in the cities because it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to pay the high electricity bills.
It is for this reason that we are campaigning for people to move from conventional power to the renewable energy source of solar energy.

I would not advise them to move from normal power completely because it is needed in most households, but if they can cut off the costs of things like geysers and cell phone charging, then they will find that their bills at the end of the month will be manageable,” she advises, while pointing out the distinct advantage of solar power being a one-time investment.
 
“The thing with solar energy is that it is a once-off investment. You invest in it once, and then you are sorted. The panels have a lifespan of up to 25 years. The batteries differ between 5 to 20 years.” She also reveals that “apart from saving costs, it is also a reliable form of energy. The people in the rural areas can also use it when they are not able to get electricity through entities like CENORED, Erongo RED, and so on.”

Amushila said while her company has provided countless homes and businesses with long-lasting renewable energy over the last year, her operations have not been without challenges.
“The challenges within this sector, especially with companies run by individuals from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, is the access to financing.

Currently, companies can apply to the Ministry of Mines and Energy to get funding for solar projects. But even if this is approved and your company is given a purchase order, you still need to find money somewhere else to buy the materials or pay suppliers in order for us to complete the installations because the Ministry only completes the payment after the installations have been completed.
 
That is our main challenge because sometimes you have many clients and many purchase orders, but the money to buy the materials is not there”, she notes.

Despite these impediments, Amushila aims to forge ahead with her operations with the knowledge that what she is doing will have a positive and lasting impact on the community at large.
She then singles out the prevalence of shack fires caused by candles which are left lit, particularly during the winter months, as something that she aims to curtail through her business.

“There are shacks which burn down in the informal areas every year due to the use of candles for lighting.

These are things which can be stopped if people have solar panels which can light their homes, instead of relying on these potentially hazardous forms of lighting”, the businesswoman continued.

On the growth prospects of Shwepo Investment cc, Amushila has a long-term projection of the company being a meaningful contributor to the local economy, which will translate into many jobs for Namibians.

She also sees the growth of the business culminating into it expanding to all four corners of Namibia.

Amushila advises the entire nation to recognise the need for renewable energy as an alternative to conventional power, while conceding that it is not realistic to make a complete shift to using solar energy for the country’s electricity needs.

“Renewable energy is the future, and that is where we are heading.
We should invest in renewable energy because it is cheaper, which provides a significant contribution to our economy, and it also creates employment opportunities for our people.

There are some government agencies which just use electricity for nothing and waste power. It’s better for them to move to solar energy because they only need it during the day.

In doing so, we can have more power for other vital agencies such as hospitals, which cannot go without electricity.

Since we are facing an energy crisis, it is important for us to recognise the need to shift to solar energy,” she concludes.