Habeeb Alebiosu Co-founder & CEO, Viathan
Nigeria’s largest integrated distributed energy utility, Viathan is applying energy and technology to industrialize Africa.
What trends or business operations has the pandemic permanently established or changed at Viathan?
Viathan had great plans for 2020. Despite the pandemic, it was a pivotal year for us. Our business model was tested. We had to demonstrate resilience, and we further understood the need to incorporate technology. Many isolation centers and eight hospitals in Nigeria relied on us for electricity supply. The state supported us by making sure we had the permits to travel around and carry out our operations during the lockdown. This was critical for our gas subsidiary, Gasco Marine, which needed to continue transporting gas from our head station in Abeokuta to our Lekki plant. This power plant is not served by any pipeline but relies on the transported compressed natural gas (CNG) via truck articulated gas skids. As people stayed at home, traditional utility services such as water were more important than ever. Like everyone else, we were impacted through our commercial and industrial customers, who saw reduced commercial activity—electricity consumption fell by some 57% in those segments. We used that period of reduced activity to implement major maintenance routines. The pandemic also piqued our interest in ICT, and we implemented a strategy to power ICT business. We currently power Africa’s first Tier-4 data center, Cloud Exchange, on our network. Viathan is also active in the gas space. Everyone is talking about the need to meet the 2030 agreements and the Paris Agreement, and gas plays a big role in meeting this goal. All considered, 2020 was a challenging year. I am glad we retained all our staff during this tough period, as per our social responsibility to the nation.
How are you contributing to the energy transition in Nigeria?
Gas is the primary transition fuel for migrating Nigeria toward a low-carbon future. Viathan’s business model is rooted in diesel displacement and replacement with gas. We produce and transport CNG to many, factories, residential estates and power plants. We can supply CNG to any location in the southwest with no access to gas pipeline infrastructure. Furthermore, Viathan’s gas powered plants, with a combined capacity of 51MW, continue to displace diesel from the electricity generation mix. In addition, we have plans to launch a floating solar-hybrid solution currently in the development phase. There are other plans and initiatives such as substituting our diesel-fired redundant capacity with battery solutions. Driving gas utilization is essential, as it is the primary transition fuel for achieving emissions reduction targets.
What other projects do you currently have up and running?
We have a number of large captive power projects in the pipeline as well as gas-related projects. While our CNG head station is up and running, we have yet to reach its maximum capacity. To drive gas utilization, we are practicing what we preach. We aim to convert all diesel vehicles in our logistics fleet to run on CNG. We also purchased our first 100% gas-fired trucks in January 2021 and have plans to acquire more CNG-fueled trucks. We are optimistic about the prospects of the autogas market. We are in discussions with the Lagos State government through its Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Transportation, and LAMATA to create frameworks that will direct investments in the autogas sector. Gas for transport presents a cleaner, cheaper, and safer alternative to diesel and petrol. Nigeria has a thousand times more gas reserves than oil, on a tons of oil equivalent basis. Hence, any initiative to integrate gas into the economy is a welcome one. Supporting policies is required to drive gas demand, incentivize off-takers, and send the right signal to the private sector to invest in the requisite infrastructure to develop the sector. We have the technical capability and access to credit to invest in developing the gas market. While we are a viable partner, the enabling environment needs be nurtured to reduce commercial, operating, and regulatory risk. Policymakers are now speaking the right language.