An interview with Kwabena Okrah

Ghanaians have been suffering from the effects of a mismanaged power grid system for years. Ghanaian hospitals and schools are often the hardest hit, with the inconsistency of electricity causing shorter operating hours and increased closures. Without a constant energy supply, hospitals and schools rely on generators, but diesel to power the generators is not cheap. Consequently, schools and hospitals increase their spending on fuel costs, which results in higher prices for patients and students who then bear the costs.

The Orgone Foundation is an American non-profit, started by five young Ghanaian entrepreneurs. The Foundation seeks to address electricity challenges in Ghana through an energy poverty alleviation program (EPAP) for hospitals and schools. Specifically, Orgone Foundation provides schools and hospitals in Africa with sustainable electricity services so they can focus on their work.

The group develops and operates projects in partnership with Orgone BD, an energy development firm. Their ultimate goal is to work with various US solar photo voltaic (PV) panel manufacturers to raise capital* and other needed resources in the amount of $9.9 million to invest in alleviating energy challenges for nearly 70,000 Ghanaian lives. The number of Ghanaians who will be helped indirectly by Orgone’s work is an estimated 1.3 million of Ghana’s 25.9 million people.

The EPAP begins as as a 24-month program that will provide reliable electric service through renewable energy (solar PV) for schools and hospitals. The two-year cycle is monitored through relevant key performance metrics and includes the number of lives impacted. It is a self- sustainable program, run by highly trained energy professionals from Africa with functional expertise to cover engineering, finance, marketing, policy, and environmental sustainability.

Orgone’s activities include: building and operating small-scale solar plants, providing energy monitoring audits, hardware, and software. The organization also provides reliable energy at affordable costs, and hires locally to achieve its mission of sustainability.

Ayiba’s Akua Agyen sat down with Founder and Executive Director Kwabena Okrah to learn more about the electricity challenges Ghanaians face, the Orgone Foundation, and his group’s vision for the future.

How did you get involved in energy use?

I have always been fascinated by energy/electricity growing up as a child and so I decided to pursue an educational path that would enable me to pursue a career in energy/electricity delivery space. Specifically, a BSc in Electrical Engineering, a MEng Systems Engineering Management, and then later a MBA from Columbia. 

How did Orgone begin?

I started Orgone with a few colleagues in the energy space by performing pro-bono consulting services to the national power generation company in Ghana. The idea was to provide an objective perspective to the Ghanaian power generation sector, while we developed an understanding of the challenges that the country was facing.

Where does the name Orgone come from?

It comes from a word that explains the concept of a perpetual form of energy that brings about life and can sustain it forever. We wanted to capture the essence of our long term vision for Sub-Saharan Africa, as it takes patience, persistence, and fortitude to deliver our mission. It sounded like the name of a mystical chemical element from the Superman movie, so we adopted it.

Why Ghana?

I chose Ghana because I have relationships there, haven grown up there as a child. These relationships have proven to be priceless, as it has facilitated the identification of local talent and partnerships to establish a Ghanaian office.

What projects does Orgone have lined up?

We have three solar PV power plants with combined capacity of 90 kW to be installed in Ghana. These projects are to provide renewable energy to schools and hospitals so that they can focus on their core operations despite the challenges that the country is facing with the sporadic availability of electric power.

What are some challenges you and the team have faced thus far?

The biggest challenge we have faced is identification of what works for Ghana. The translation of value propositions or energy solutions that work within the US to fit the Ghanaian market space is not an easy task. What we have learned is the obvious: what works in the US may not work for Ghana if there is not a deliberate effort to customize the solution to fit the local market’s changing needs.

What has been Orgone’s greatest accomplishment?

Our greatest accomplishment is the deployment of two pilot projects to remotely monitor energy usage and collect data on consumption to develop insights that are helping the end users to identify opportunities for energy efficiency gains and energy “cost-cutting.” One of these pilots is at the library of Ashesi University located at Berekuso (near Accra), Ghana and the other is located at the Best Western Premier Accra Airport Hotel at the Airport Residential Area in Accra, Ghana.

What are the barriers to electric energy growth in Ghana, today?

There are a few barriers to the growth of electricity service delivery in Ghana that are mainly driven by the inability of the current system to efficiently recover revenues from the end-user for using the power delivered to them by the utilities companies. This prohibits future investments in the power sector for all forms of infrastructure development to include renewable energy as investors face a high risk of not being able to recover their investment costs. The temporary unavailability of fuel for non-renewable forms of energy such as natural gas fired power plants is another barrier to the growth of energy/electric service delivery in Ghana.

What is your vision for the future of electric energy in Ghana? In Africa?

We see Ghana and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa as major market with a huge need for electricity service to power the untapped growth in maximizing the potential for manufacturing or industrialization that is currently constrained for many reasons, one of which is the availability of cost-efficient and reliable electricity.

What is your vision for the future of Orgone?

My vision is to grow into an energy solutions developer and energy service delivery firm that has a strong understanding of what works for the local market. We would like to become the firm that new market entrants will reach out to for local partnerships to help them to “hit-the-ground” running.

How can Ayiba readers help Orgone’s initiative?

If you see an alignment between our mission and that of your organization’s corporate social responsibility program, please reach out to us to explore potential partnerships. Send us an email at info@orgonefundation.com.

Any advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?

I would encourage up-and-coming entrepreneurs to build their companies around complementary services and products versus building competing value propositions. If this is done well, it presents an easy path for an “exit strategy” as bigger firms that have a need to extend their service offerings can view the entrepreneur’s company as an acquisition target. This positioning also makes the entrepreneur attractive to funders that can help grow their ideas or companies through partnerships or investments.

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