Powering possibilities through minigrids
One-on-one with Manoj Sinha, CEO, Husk Power Systems
What was your vision in founding Husk Power?
Since the company was founded in 2008, our vision hasn’t changed. It is to create prosperity for rural communities that don’t have access to electricity, or who live in areas where the power grid is poor quality and unreliable. Electricity is the building block for achieving that objective, especially for small businesses. So for Husk, electricity is just the start. The bigger goal is to catalyze economic opportunity and create wealth. This is a very personal mission for me. I grew up in Bihar state, one of India’s poorest, and grid electricity was pretty much non-existent, which prevented many of my friends and family from achieving their full potential.
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
As the only rural energy services company building and operating minigrids in both Africa and Asia, we see huge potential for our own growth and the socio-economic impact we can make because of that growth. We put forward an ambitious set of 2030 goals at COP26 in Glasgow: building 5,000 minigrids, serving 500,000 businesses, benefiting 11 million people and financing the purchase of 5 million energy efficient appliances. By 2025, we will be well down the path to achieving those goals.
Can Africa achieve SDG7 by 2030? Related to that. If you have a magic wand, what 3 things would you change in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of minigrids getting to scale?
Can it? Absolutely. Will it? For the minigrid industry, that depends on 1) whether governments and regulators fully understand and embrace the value proposition of private sector minigrids, 2) whether there is access to affordable long-term finance in local currency and 3) the ability of private sector developers like Husk to put forward a pipeline of bankable, shovel-ready projects that can take advantage of enabling policy and capital.
Tell us about the recent achievements in Nigeria? What makes Nigeria attractive to Husk? And what are the biggest challenges and opportunities there? Which other countries is Husk Power eyeing?
We’re very excited about Nigeria. We launched a batch of 6 minigrids in November in the state of Nasarawa. It was the first time that type of scale has been achieved at one go. We felt it was important to move beyond commissioning a single site and demonstrate a faster pace of deployment. Nigeria is quite similar to the India market, so it’s a natural fit for Husk. People may not be aware of it, but the Nigeria minigrid regulations were essentially modeled after the policy in Uttar Pradesh state in India. Assuming there is local currency debt financing and we manage logistical challenges, we think we can build 500 minigrids in Nigeria by 2026. We’re also looking at neighboring countries, as well as others in the eastern/central and southern parts of Africa.
We’ve been around for more than a decade. In that time we’ve made a lot of mistakes, and we’ve learned a huge amount about what works and what doesn’t. That knowledge … is invaluable in terms of helping our team in Africa scale at speed. We’re not reinventing the wheel. It’s a huge advantage.
Husk is the only company working across both Asia and Africa. What learnings from India have translated to Africa?
We’ve been around for more than a decade. In that time we’ve made a lot of mistakes, and we’ve learned a huge amount about what works and what doesn’t. That knowledge — about logistics, procurement, site selection, engineering, community engagement, automation and digitalization, you name it — is invaluable in terms of helping our team in Africa scale at speed. We’re not reinventing the wheel. It’s a huge advantage.
When you are not thinking about minigrids and electrification, what do you do to relax?
Running is a relatively new passion of mine. It clears my mind and energizes me for the day. I’m a bit of a foody as well, and love to cook. I’ve also started to enjoy gardening, although to be honest it’s really my wife who’s got the green thumb, and I just take the photos 🙂
What other CEOs/companies do you look up to?
Satya Nadella of Microsoft is a CEO that I admire. He took a stagnant brand and transformed it into one of only two companies worth $2 trillion, and did it with a culture that focuses on things that I relate to: reducing complexity, being customer obsessed, having a growth mindset, working as a team and constant curiosity to learn more.
Favourite movie, television series and what are you currently reading?
I’m terrible at remembering movie titles, but I’m a Tarantino fan. As for books, I’ve learned a lot from the trilogy written by Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I’m in the weeds every day with the Husk business, and the books let me zoom out and do some big picture thinking.
What is the one thing that people do not know about you – something interesting!
I know some Jeet Kune Do, the martial art created by Bruce Lee that combines street fighting and gung fu. I was attracted to it because it’s less formal. You don’t have to remember a lot of moves, and mostly you’re just using the physics of momentum.
About Husk Power Systems
Husk is the leading rural energy services company in weak-grid and off-grid communities in Africa and Asia. We provide reliable, quality, 100% renewable power to businesses, households and institutions. Learn more at www.huskpowersystems.com