Grant Shapps of the UK visits PEG in Ghana

TL:DR;
The Honorable Minister Grant Shapps from the United Kingdom (UK) on Wednesday November 11, 2015, visited the PEG Ghana Solar facilities at East Legon, a subburb of Ghana’s capital city — Accra. PEG Ghana Solar is a local firm pioneering the provision of affordable solar energy solutions, and quality after purchase service to thousands of customers around Ghana.

According to PEG officials, the visit of Honorable Shapps; the current minister of state at the department of international development in the UK, focused on solutions to the country’s energy challenges and power crisis facing the African continent as a whole.

As part of his official tour, PEG Ghana Solar was selected as a must-see company in Ghana for the honorable minister. Rexford Nkansah of #TheAfricanDream was there to cover the occasion for you and brings you this account.

Why do some organizations making positive impacts sometimes remain out of the spotlight you ask? Well PEG, (formerly Persistent Energy Ghana, but now simply known as PEG) for long, have missed my attention because firstly, I’m not all knowing, but secondly too is the fact that many of the selfless and dedicated organizations in Ghana trying to make an impact in whatever little or big way they can, do not receive the needed attention from the local media sometimes and this is where #TheAfricanDream steps in to discover them and highlight their work. So now I really don’t feel so bad for glossing over PEG because I now know about them and hopefully, you too will after reading my piece.

Several emails come through my inbox, some of them landing in my spam folder, specifically the promotional ones. For whatever reasons, via whatever Gmail engineering, Adele – the HR of PEG – managed to pull off this dodge-the-Gmail-spam filter and had me reading her email.

Esther, head of Customer Care at PEG, introduces Honorable Grant to her team

Indeed, I am glad her email didn’t get caught by Gmail’s spam filters this time, for it’s been a wonderful experience for me to have been a part of this once-in-awhile visit of Honorable Minister Grant Shapps.

For starters, Hon. Grant Shapps is indeed a gentleman of respectable age and smartness, although I’m told his passion for progress and development turns him into a talkative sometimes, which is fine by me. A young-looking, middle-aged man, with so much charisma, and undeniably, keenly interested in Ghana and Africa at large.

After traveling around and jumping from one African country to another, Shapps’ concern is pinned on making sure the UK seizes any innovative opportunity to grow the African continent in whatever ways they can, especially in sustainable innovations and initiatives, hence the interest in PEG.

Adele Adefe, the HR at PEG, helped with the hosting of Wednesday’s event

Know too, that when the UK says little, it means big, as in providing over 300,000 US Dollars in support of PEG and other similar initiatives in Ghana and beyond. Do the math, and let me know how much that translates into cedis. What is cedis? Ghana’s currency, all part of the upcoming “Ghana’s not-so-great economy 101 course” I will personally be launching soon.

After being in touch with Adele for about two days, the moment of truth presented itself. Behold! I met Adele in person, and no wonder she works at a solar energy related organization, for the energy she emits is vibrant indeed. Maybe bigger and better than Dr. Light of The Flash. Simply put, Adele wasn’t the villain here, she’s the heroine rather pushing for great and talented Ghanaians to join the PEG team through her work as its HR person.

The CEO of PEG, Nate Heller, was first on the bill of speakers, and was keen to share the vision of his organization with all in attendance, who came from varied backgrounds and experiences, skills and qualifications, including the ‘Barcamp Man’, and co-founder of the Ghana think Foundation, Ato Ulzen-Appiah. The atmosphere was a professional one, with one or two media houses present and all aiming to catch a glimpse of the glorious initiative from PEG. At least I saw reps from Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Business TV, Online TV, and ATV (Amansan Television), all Ghanaian media outlets.

Was TV3 present? I didn’t spot them. Did they get invited? Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t tell. Anyway, folks at #TheAfricanDream will encourage more press from the Ghana media fraternity for initiatives like this.

What is PEG?

In a sentence: PEG sells solar energy solutions to Ghanaians in big and small cities on installment basis, provides after sales services, puts smiles on faces of customers, then ropes in more. That’s their cycle, and that cycle is so important, as Mr Shapps pointed out, there are over 600 million people on the African continent that need light and electricity to power basic functionality, such as seeing and performing other basic tasks you might probably take for granted if you haven’t experienced the Dumsor phenomenon yet.

As they say, a million mile run begins with a first step, and the first step PEG has taken is to provide this basic right of affordable access to energy and electricity, as I choose to call it, to Ghanaians for a start. With currently over 27 support centers around the country that are signing up of new customers by the tick of the clock and providing quality on-and-off-site after purchase too.

The battery pack, a part of a complete solar energy solution package from PEG

The Business Model

The business model behind PEG is simple, and not the first, as it’s already in effect in Kenya. It works this way.

I grab myself a solar panel, a rechargeable battery (to be charged with the panel), two solar battery enabled bright white bulbs, a bonus radio, all neatly packed in a box for an initial deposit of 99 cedis.

So right from day one, with less than 100 cedis, I can enjoy some great FM radio tunes, get bright light for my kids (if one has kids at all) to use for studying in the night, and use our heavenly-given sun-shine to rejuvenate the energy in the attached battery pack which is lost during usage.

After grabbing this MKopa branded-and-distributed-by-PEG devices, here’s the catch. I make a payment of 2 cedis every day. How? Via my phone, using the mobile payment service provided by almost all the network operators in Ghana. Therefore, I pay 2 cedis each day to keep my lights on, until I finish paying a total cost of just 829 cedis over a period of around a year. Not interested in bit-by-bit payment?

Well PEG allows for upfront cash payment in full, which is slotted at a price point of just 680 cedis. Paying upfront allows for cheaper cost, but for those who can’t, the installment mechanism is a blessing. After a year of installment payment of just 2 cedis a day, should amount to 829 cedis.

When paid upfront, total cost of PEG solar power solution stands at 680 Cedis.

Upon successful completion of payments, one becomes a successful owner of a solar panel et all that comes in with the package. Sweet, right? Need one? They are available in all the regions of Ghana except the 3 northern regions, and definitely closer to you than you might think. I learned an office in Koforidua (where I reside) at Oteng House is where one of the agents in Koforidua operates from.

Two light bulbs, a battery pack, a solar panel, and small radio: all to take home on day one, for less than 2 dollars, and pay remaining cost in installment over a year.

For installment payment, an amount of 2 Cedis is paid via Mobile Money payment system, for a period of a year, after making down payment of 99 Cedis. 2 Cedis daily for a year, plus the down payment of 99 Cedis should amount to 829 Cedis.

Will gradually get there

Did I get one of the solar product for myself? Nope! Why not? Well, my phone lasts me through a day or two when power goes off. And indeed, power does not go off that often in my area anymore. Maybe once in a week, minus weekends. For my laptop, I visit a nearby Vodafone Cafe shop to top up my battery juice, and get going with work as well. If PEG had a model that supported the charging of laptops, for even a slightly bigger price, I would have slapped myself, run to the nearest Visa ATM singing Hallelujah. On my return, I will simply tell PEG, “Shut up and take my money and just give me that laptop re-juicer!” But I hear something of that nature is coming soon so we stay hopeful for now.

Fun fact: Speaking of VISA cards, did you know Unibank in Koforidua doesn’t support Visa Cards at their ATMs? Aren’t we in 2015?

My biggest problem with energy isn’t getting one to charge my phone, heck I can live without my smartphone for weeks or months (pulled one off when it got spoiled). My greatest concern rather is having juice enough to power my laptop, which by design, has a poor battery span. Thus, I await PEG to make my day with a solution to this puzzle of mine or till I buy a laptop with a more durable battery life…

Well, back to the tour of the PEG facility with Minister Shapps: we continued our tour with the visiting minister at the PEG facility, which is unfortunately hidden in plain sight, thanks to a ridiculous physical address given their business by the Accra Metropolitan Authority which Google maps or even GPS will marvel at. During my trip to attend the event, I kept my hopes high, expecting to enter an underground facility. PEG isn’t underground, but when you see their address, you likely may not believe that. Later on I realized PEG is on Google Maps, just only takes a bit of persistence to find! Besides, you don’t expect to find a solar energy solution jackpot like PEG at the backyard of your house now do you? Good things don’t come easy, but as PEG’s basic priority, they’re constantly reaching out and expanding so patience is virtue and soon, they will come up with more solutions for us all.

A beautiful place to work, nice conducive environment, lovely employees, all working around the clock to ensure quality devices and service. And speaking of customers, the PEG team have positioned their staff in ways to handle specific parts of customer care.

Check the address…

The Customer Care Structure

I had a conversation with Andrew, who works in the Agent Care Division – under the Customer Care Department, headed by Esther Dokuwaa Ofosuhene – and he was more than excited to walk me through the work involved in caring for their customers via correspondence with agents, and replacing devices in the field that malfunction under warranty when needed. Oh, and whiles we talked, the Inbound Division, led by Mavis, took calls from customers who experience issues or wanna learn more about the devices and services from PEG. Sometimes, it’s all about the voice, and these customer care representatives have voices that get the tick of approval among many callers, or at least with mine!

The Outbound Calls Division play their part of this innovative Customer Service game well enough to follow up on customers and make courtesy calls to learn what works best, and challenges faced. This unit, responsible for educating customers on mobile money services and collecting installments owed the company, is headed by the charming Dorcas (because you have to be suave if you are going to extract money from a debtor)

But all the above steps don’t happen, unless the Activation Division take step by step sign up calls from PEG agents in the field, called in-house as Direct Sales Representatives (DSR). They just missed the L in that title; we could have had a camera there!

The activation division signs up new customers, does the due diligence by screening to ensure clients understand the payment terms and connects new customer details with whatever product is given them in the field, allowing them to actually use the devices. This team led by Setor, who happens to be the ‘Supergirl’ of their division for their in-house quarterly awards. Without this activation step, a MKopa Solar energy system is a mere piece of brick.

Inbound Calls Division under the Customer Care Department in action

Curiously twisting and turning my head relentlessly, trying to look out for something I might have missed and behold alas, behold, a list (or a chart?) of ‘target’ against ‘actual’ parameters set by the Customer Care Department. See! Considering their target compared to the actual performance recorded on the chart, it was clear more work needed to be done. I got worried at first, but realized, hey, they set those target parameters they wanna meet themselves. Well, man makes rules, not the other way round. Maybe they’re setting unrealistic targets considering Ghana’s working environment and conditions? Maybe.

But the bottom line is, the customer care office didn’t have a sleeping mat, a couple of pillows and a fast spinning ceiling fan, on which the customer care team would take turns sleeping their way through the day. They seemed active at each of their assigned post, and I’m sure customers left the call lines with smiles on their faces or atleast contentment in their minds. The next time I visit, I’ll go look for that chart, hoping to see their targets have been met in full!

A Bit of Tech Spice

Anyway, the energy system has in-built SIM mechanism, that allows remote activation. This isn’t in any way to intrude or spy (like the NSA or CIA do), but rather, to ensure customers rolled on the installment payment plan finish through their payment, otherwise, the device is rendered useless remotely by the PEG Team. Smart move, considering how fellow customers can change their minds without warnings. This check in place means PEG keeps their business model running whiles providing an awesome, innovative, and a basic necessity to the masses.

I also had a quick chat with Aziz as well, a fine gentleman who works with the inventory division. Of course, Aziz and teammates are the first point of entry of the MPoka devices. After corresponding with their Kenyan technical counterparts remotely, these devices when they arrive, are configured for the Ghanaian setting, before ready to use, and Aziz spearheads this task!

Honorable Shapps’ (did i hear someone say, Honorable Snapp instead? Oh well, tongues slip occasionally so we won’t mention names here) visit to PEG was an honorable one, and will in every possible way put PEG on edge to continue providing innovative power solutions.

Mr Shapps also expressed much love for the work PEG is doing and the milestones they’re achieving. His capacity and office, also assured PEG, and other energy innovations in Ghana of the UK’s support and funding when needed. One could easily gather from his short speech how enthused and excited he was about bringing joy into the eyes of many via providing portable energy means to the poor far and wide.

Not a detonator. Its for turning on or off the solar energy light bulbs.

Similar to the experience the honorable minister from the UK narrated, about how similar solutions were solving real problems in the lives of Africans in Tanzania. Indeed, solar is the way forward for many, including myself and it’s about time we all embrace this renewable and clean energy, and spread the word as well.

With the amount of sunshine the African continent receives every day, harnessing the benefits of this natural energy source emitted is a sure way of reducing dependence on nonrenewable energy for generation of power for our homes and economy drivers.

Picture every home in Ghana having one kind of a solar dependence system. Imagine how much energy could be taken off the natural grid, leaving more energy-room for industries and bigger business than can’t readily run on solar.

Mr Shapps assures the audience and Africa at large of their continuous support for sustainable energy solutions.

Solar, isn’t the holy grail. Solar power can’t be used to power an earth moving machine, neither raise temperature enough to melt gold or ore. Technically, although possible, one might require a solar panel the size of Africa to provide energy for a mere 60 seconds part of a spaceship launch. Any research to back that? Nope. I’m just exaggerating (but it might be true), but you get the point. Solar energy can power a lot of things though.

However, areas where solar energy could be readily viable is where the blow needs to keep hitting, and PEG is spearheading such opportunities in an innovative, cost effective way. No wonder the honorable minister is impressed.

Conclusion

TheAfricanDream will keep a close eye on how PEG evolves and unfolds to become a major force in the solar energy solutions for Ghana, and ways the International Development of the UK are or will support this honorable endeavor and we are sure their doors are open to ideas and suggestions so go ahead and contact them with some of your brilliant ideas.

About Rexford Nkansah

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