For over a decade, one 48-year-old businessperson in Ghana has been peacefully developing a multimillion-dollar oil and gas outfit named UBI Group. Salma Okonkwo is a woman to head an energy business in Africa. “I don’t stop when the door is being shut. I find a way to make it work,” Okonkwo told Forbes. “That’s what propelled my success.”
She expands her reach throughout the energy sector of Ghana, Working on an independent solar farm side project that may become the largest in her career. Ghana’s largest solar farm is being built by Okonkwo, known as Blue Power Energy, slated to start in March 2019 with 100 megawatts of Energy. It is set to be among the largest in Africa.
“Most of the multinational companies that come to Ghana don’t put in infrastructure. They operate a system where they invest very little and they take it away. They sell their products and leave,” Okonkwo says. “I’m hoping to provide employment and add to Ghana’s economy.”
Okonkwo spent her childhood Accra, one of 14 children born to a Real Estate agent and developer mother and a cattle-dealer dad. She often visited her grandmother in the ancestral village of her family. She is a part of the Akan clan, whose women usually trade products they produce, such as smoked fish or sandwiches, to ensure their kids are provided for–which left an unforgettable mark on Okonkwo. “The women didn’t know how to read and write, but they knew how to make a margin,” Okonkwo states.
After finishing graduation from an all-girls boarding school with limited running water, Okonkwo shifted to Los Angeles for further studies at Loyola Marymount University. (Her family could afford her tuition fee.) She got a degree in 1994 and worked for a food brokerage firm in California. Then she was recruited by oil and gas firm Sahara Energy Group; Okonkwo returned to Accra in 2003 for the work.
Within a few years, Okonkwo recognized that the firm could expand by starting up retail gas stations. She introduced the concept many times over the years, but every time she had been admonished. Officials told her they would not alter their business plan as it would be political and might require a lot of expense in infrastructure.
The Early Days
At 36 years old in 2006, Okonkwo determined she had heard “no” too many times and stop trying it herself, focusing on bringing liquefied oil gas to the difficult-to-reach area of northern Ghana, where many households still depend upon lighting firewood for Energy. Since Okonkwo’s father was from Northern Ghana, she firsthand knew how the business could live to change there. “It was just too hard to pass up the opportunity,” Okonkwo recalls. “It looked quite lucrative.”
But Okonkwo hit an early problem When she realized that she didn’t take into consideration a factor: The North had little storage facilities for the liquified gas. She would have to construct the storage herself to get it to the remote area and was she already struggling to secure financing. So Okonkwo pivoted and began trading oil and diesel wholesale. A contract to provide fuel to Dallas-based Kosmos Energy arrived in 2008, followed by one with Hess in 2008. In the early days, she funded the operation by mortgaging a few possessions that husband and her family had inherited.
From 2008, UBI opened its first gas station. She soon owned 8 outright and handled another 20 with partnerships. That caught the sight of Singapore-based multinational company Puma Energy, which had 2017 earnings of $15 billion from operations in 49 nations. Puma obtained a 49% stake in two of UBI Group’s subsidiaries (retail gasoline stations and wholesale fuel distribution) in 2013 for approximately $150 million.
Solar Energy in Africa
After the partial acquisition in 2013, Okonkwo States, she started developing her solar firm. She concludes that the organization will spend nearly $100 million–funded by about $30 million in loans to make 100 megawatts of solar energy by early next year. Earlier this summer, construction began. The plan would be to include another 100 megawatts.
Despite all the sunlight in Africa, solar energy is not a striking energy supply on the continent. Most solar farms are focused on Kenya and South Africa. In 2009, Morocco declared plans to build one of the largest solar farms in the world. The first of the three phases of the project opened in 2016. “I don’t know of another large-scale project like this in Africa that’s led by a woman,” says Arne Jacobson, who has been studying renewable Energy with a center on Africa since 1998 and is currently the manager of Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy Research Center.
The project is also personal for Okonkwo. 50% of the solar farm will be found in the village of her father in Northern Ghana. The remainder will be expanded out everywhere the North, which is the poorest area of Ghana, according to Unicef. The organization says the region has witnessed the smallest progress concerning poverty decrease since the 1990s. “Power is fairly expensive in countries like Ghana. If they can keep costs low, this is will be a profitable venture.”
There are so less employment possibilities in the North of Ghana instead of farming that most women move to Accra searching for work. Many can just get jobs as “Kayayo”–working in stores selling products for clients, sometimes called “living shopping baskets” They reside in slums and frequently endure harassment, theft, and even rape. Okonkwo, intending to make a better choice for some of these women says Blue Power Energy has created hundreds of jobs in northern Ghana and that more than 650 will be generated upon completion.
The ultimate goal of Okonkwo is to deliver inexpensive Energy to Northern Ghana by the solar farm, which she believes will incentivize corporations to create permanent jobs there. In the meantime, she’s starting a day-care center in Accra for kids born to Kayayo women, where, as she describes, they can “get educated and expectedly break the cycle.”
“I want to bring support to my people in the north,” Okonkwo says. “Then there will be more Salma’s all over the place.”
About Blue Power Energy Solar Farm
- Blue Power Energy is an energy service organization that specializes in Renewable Energy.
- BPE is the first green power suppliers that focus on green energy production.
- Blue Power Energy is organized towards powering Ghana and Sub-Saharan Africa’s economic growth by providing power.
Healthy, active communities are a critical part of our vision of developing a sustainable energy future for Sub Saharan Africa and Ghana.
The large scale PV solar farm is the First Utility-Scale Solar Energy Project in Bolgatanga, Northern Ghana. The PV farm is creating adequate electricity for 50,000 homes.
They make energy happen on greenfield and brownfield sites. As an independent developer, they combine the very best technology, locations, and partners for the establishment of responsible and sustainable solar projects.
The success is based upon the local connectivity of our developments, a ruthless focus on the level of operations, combined with international scale and price competitiveness.
With globalization and industrialization, we imagine that Sub-Saharan Africa using its resources is going to be a significant player in the world economy within the next 30 years. Power is a vital aspect in the actualization of the economic growth. As an emerging market, it’s crucial to support this adequate electricity.
Blue Energy Power is set to deploy power to the communities to food and agriculture stability without hindrance.
While they have plans to create renewable energy on a large scale, we also encourage and help to equip companies and people with the resources to generate renewable energy.
The goal of the green power is to feed the National Grid (power transmission system) with electricity from a renewable energy unit the energy source is entirely renewable energy. Blue Power Energy is dedicated to clean energy and nurturing the future one community at a time.
Blue Power endeavors in making cities more sustainable, abolishing hunger and poverty, combating climate change, improving health and education whiles are protecting woods and our oceans. BPE intends to achieve all these goals with the intent of having no one left behind.