Kenya has several notable solar power distributors including M-Kopa Solar, who hosted our After-Office Hours in June on our Office Space on Ngong Road. Mkopa uses locally adopted payment schemes including pay-as-you-go and microfinance.
With Mkopa Solar sitting on one side of the spectrum, Western companies have also helped sponsor efforts to introduce decentralized solar power solutions in the country. One such company is Trama Tecno Ambiental (TTA) that also sits in Nairobi Garage.
A world leader in renewable energy sector, TTA is a company that has focused all its efforts on changing the way energy is used, through substituting fossil and nuclear fuels with renewable energy, transforming the design criteria of buildings to promote energy independence, and making universal access to electricity possible in the most disadvantaged areas.
Today, TTA has solid international experience, having carried out numerous projects in most regions of the world including Europe, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Oceania and, more recently, in Asia.
This month for our ZoomIN we sat down with TTA’s Africa’s Unit Lead Alberto Rodriguez, M.Sc. Who is a member of our Ngong Road office. We took the opportunity to get to know him a little more and learn what has shaped his success as a leader. Here is what he had to say:
NG: Alberto, you come across as a very well-spoken and worldly guy… Tell us about your career journey so far.
I studied Industrial Engineering in Spain as I always liked to dismantle appliances and fix them, and I was good in Math. Towards the end of my degree I took a course on solar energy and I knew that was my passion and what I wanted to work and advocate for. After working for 1 year as a solar project engineer in Europe I took a 2-year masters on Energy and Environment shifting universities every semester in Spain, France and Sweden (ME3 Master programme).
This experience was very enriching and made me very adaptable to different cultures and countries. I always wanted to come a work on sustainable energy development in Africa, so the right opportunity came, and I took it.
I came to Nairobi in February 2013 to write my Master Thesis about sustainable and economically viable business models to electrify rural villages of East Africa and here I am… In the past 5 years I have been able to create and develop local team of engineers and consultants, implement successful projects across Africa and contribute my 2 cents to the solar energy space.
NG: Five years on kindly share with us your experience working in the African Region and as Trama TecnoAmbiental Africa Lead?
My experience during these, almost, 6 years has been great across Africa. My experience varies from the horn of Africa (Eritrea and Djibouti), East Africa to West Africa and southern Africa.
Solar energy has no longer a bad reputation as it used to have before, and people and businesses are more and more adopting solar energy solutions for their own consumption.
Challenges and obstacles rely more on the adequate regulatory framework and permitting and pricing around renewable energy projects, which sometimes make the project development side expensive. More subsidies and support are still needed.
I have had the opportunity to play a role as a technical consultant in the current proposed mini-grid regulatory framework for mini-grids in Kenya, which should be passed later on this year. I have also participated in high-level projects around mini-grids
In my experience and vides, solar energy has the potential to make national tariffs less dependent of fuel prices fluctuations, and therefore cheaper electricity. We are also starting to see good local capacity and knowledge within African professionals, from installers to consultants and trainers, which is a good sign of the market evolution.
NG: By the way, you keep on mentioning the word mini-grids. So what exactly do you mean by that?
A mini-grid is a remote rural renewable energy infrastructure (often solar on the generation side) that provides electricity services to a population that was underserved before through a power generation plant and a distribution network. Typically mini-grid operators act as “mini-utilities”, such as Kenya Power does in Kenya, and charge clients on pre-paid monthly basis or on pay-as-you-go basis.
NG: Excellent. Shifting a little to your work at the office, what does your day-to-day look like?
It’s quite exciting and dynamic. I am in charge of the Africa region, starting from the strategy level, business development, to project management and execution, as well as to establish the local team and capabilities in Kenya.
One week I am on the field supervising the installation of a solar power plant and the next week I may be in the office in Nairobi or somewhere else for business development. It requires a lot of multi-tasking skills, commitment and passion.
NG: What are some of the key highlights through your career journey?
Perhaps, the day we commissioned the solar PV mini-grid in Mpale, Tanzania together with the ENSOL team after 2 years of project development. I worked on this project since inception to completion and that was very fulfilling, as well as working together with a local Tanzanian company.
NG: As the Africa Lead for Trama TecnoAmbiental (TTA) and with an international experience how does Kenya compare with other countries when it comes to adoption of solar energy?
Kenya stands-out particularly in the solar off-grid energy market, and there has been recent developments in grid-connected projects, such as the 55MW Garissa project and few captive projects as well for industries and shopping malls.
There are a handful of companies selling thousands of solar energy products for lighting and phone charging, not only in rural areas but also in peri-urban areas. In the mini-grid space, where we are most active, we are expecting the World Bank project, K-OSAP, to get started, while some privately lead projects are happening in areas where the grid is not present or weak.
The potential for solar is however, much greater what the current deployment pace, especially for small to medium size net-metering PV projects.
NG: Who influences you most in your career and life generally and why?
I wouldn’t say I have a person who has influenced me the most in my career, but rather several people that came across my life at various stages and important moments.
The first one who comes to mind is my father, who has always supported me and believed in me, I have always looked up to him. Mark Hankins (CEO of ASD) was an inspiration for me during my initial professional years in Kenya.
NG: We see you in the office working long hours – that is when you’re in town anyway (ha-ha). As a leader how do you achieve a work-life balance?
I certainly try to achieve it. For me practicing sports, cooking and spending quality time with friends and my partner is essential; to be a good manager you have to be a happy manager, your mood is contagious!
NG: What is your living philosophy?
It has changed over the years, but something has prevailed all the time; be positive about life, work hard for your dreams and always eat mindfully.
NG: You do come across as a very positive and energetic person. How do you fill your free-time?
Trekking and long walks over the weekend and in my free time it has helped me to organize my ideas and plan my life since many years ago, its kind of a meditation for me.
NG: Two words of advice to young entrepreneurs that are starting off?
Patience and persistence.
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