Nigeria is a country bedevilled by many ills. But one which many agree is up there among the most pressing is the matter of electricity. Aside from the billions of dollars plunged fruitlessly into the sector, a more specific problem is the recurring problem of the national grid which is centralised. Decentralising this grid is where Switch Electric comes in.
The Nigerian electricity grid is unreliable and economically extractive. This stems from the fact that for most of its existence, the grid has been run as a single monopolistic company. Although that is now changing, the founders of Switch believe that the antidote to this is decentralization. For this purpose, they have designed a proprietary cryptographically secure hardware device, code-named Maxwell.
Speaking with this reporter, the CEO of the company, Ifeanyi Christwin Junior said the evidence that Nigeria’s centralised grid has failed is all around us, especially with people depending on power-generating sets to provide their own electricity.
“The problem Switch is addressing is one that is familiar to most Nigerians. The truth is that it is incredibly hard to obtain resilience and stability from centralized systems. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that the vast majority of Nigeria’s electrification needs is being met by individuals and business running their own private diesel/petrol-fueled generator sets.Ifeanyi Christwin Junior
“The complexity of running all those generators is usually just limited to the complexity of each individual user’s needs while running a single grid for everyone is overwhelmingly complex,” he said.
Meet Switch Electric
Switch Electric was founded in August 2020 by 5 innovators who were then students at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. They included Ifeanyi Christwin Jr, God’sdelight Jude, Isaac J. Newton, Mmerichukwu Anosike and Glory Amadife. Isaac and God’sdelight spearheaded the startup’s hardware and cryptographic developments, while the rest of the team focused on market research and finding problem-solution fit.
The company was officially incorporated 18 months later in February 2022. Its focus is to enable the adoption of decentralized and distributed modes of electrification for Nigerians. As Christwin explained, Switch is working to formalize a market for energy infrastructure that scales horizontally rather than vertically. In essence, anybody or any organisation with the means could generate electricity and retail the same to users around them for a fee.
To achieve this, Switch has designed a cryptographically secure hardware device, code-named Maxwell. The device, scheduled to be released in 2024, would provide metering and peer-to-peer electricity contracts. Thus, entities providing electricity at a micro level can employ the device for metering, charging etc.
“Maxwell has received over 15,000 pre-order requests, with significant interest from pay-as-you-go solar providers, housing and estate developers, microgrid projects, and energy cooperatives all looking for solutions to enable them to become a peer provider of electricity with very low complexity from sources like solar, or diesel generators,” Christwin said.
The startup is also looking to launch a Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Network (DePIN) code-named the “M3tering Protocol“. The aim of this infrastructure is to accelerate capital allocations towards decentralized and distributed energy infrastructure such as rooftop solar and battery storage stations.
“This protocol would allow anybody anywhere to plug into the technology that Switch has been researching and developing since 2020, and become part of a global horizontally scaled energy infrastructure,” Christwin said.
Funding and achievements
So far the company has remained bootstrapped and funded with capital from its founders, grants and credits from ecosystem partners and contributions by public goods communities. Switch Electric has also funded some of its projects using project-based financing and plans to do more of that for her future projects.
The CEO said as far as growth goes, in its formative years Switch Electric participated in the 2021 cohort of UNN’s Roar Nigeria Hub’s incubation program where the founders were mentored by characters like Afam Daniel Madu who guided them through those times. In 2022, the startup became one of the first African signatories of the UN Energy 24/7 Carbon-free Compact. By so doing, it is pledging to use its technical innovations to accelerate decarbonization locally and contribute to meeting Nigeria’s SDG assignments.
The startup was also nominated among the top 5 metering companies by the Nigerian Power Sector awards 2022 for its technical innovation. In 2023, Switch Electric began tokenizing Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) on top of the IoTeX blockchain via Maxwell’s cryptographic functionalities.
Going into the future, Christwin says Switch plans to launch a Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Network (DePIN) code named the “M3tering Protocol” in the coming months. The protocol, which the team has been working over the past 18 months, is with the aim of accelerating capital allocations towards decentralized and distributed energy infrastructure such as rooftop solar and battery storage stations.
“This protocol would allow anybody anywhere to plug into the technology that Switch has been researching and developing since 2020, and become part of a global horizontally scaled energy infrastructure. This is especially in the global south where energy infrastructure is seriously lacking and an opportunity exists to fill this infrastructure vacuum,” Christwin said.
Switch Electric’s system seeks to leverage a network for individual/peer participants to create a different kind of energy infrastructure. one that feels more like the internet, than like a grid. With this new kind of power grid, Nigeria would move closer towards solving the perennial problem of electricity supply for its teeming population.
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