On the 5th of April 2018, Nigeria’s first renewable energy academy and solar plant launched in Kaduna State. Blue Camel Renewable Energy Assembly Plant and Academy is located in Kakuri, a residential suburb in Kaduna South Local Government.
On a recent visit to the plant for first hand experience, I notice how a now defunct Peugeot Automobile plant, Chanchangi Motors, and Coca-Cola plant are all lined up on the long windy road leading through Kakuri to Blue Camel’s plant.
At the end of a dusty drive spanning over 30 minutes, there is an imposing white structure dotting the landscape; Blue Camel is sitting on approximately 3 hectares of sprawling land in the near outskirts of Kakuri.
After a near 10-minute wait in the reception area, I finally sit down to a chat with Suleiman Yusuf, CEO and founder of Blue Camel. Even before the chat commences I am already awed by the inherent potential here and you will soon see why.
Blue Camel’s Design Lead, Abdullahi Muhammad, took me on a guided tour of the facility; assembly plant and academy inclusive.
Renewable Energy school
The school facility is largely empty, save for non-administrative staff and a few other workers. Mohammed explains that the first batch of 30 students had graduated from an 8-week long training before the school was officially launched on the 5th of April and the next batch will resume in June.
Blue Camel plans to engage and empower over 1,500 youths in the next 18 months. These students will be trained on the assembly, installation, and marketing aspects of renewable energy.
The school’s facilities and classes are scattered in different parts of the building.
In the hallway leading out of the reception area, there are two lecture halls for professional training, conferences and lectures; 60 and 40-person capacity.
A library with books and educational texts strictly on energy in general is centrally facing the two lecture halls. Even though not fully stocked, materials in the library are so carefully selected that in Mohammed’s words,
“A whole day spent here immersed in the literature will improve anybody’s knowledge on energy matters to a very large extent.”
Apart from strictly renewable energy classes, students in Blue Camel will also be exposed to a range of crafts that are still related to the core.
“From carpentry, painting to plumbing, there is a whole range of workmanship related to renewable energy that people ignore or typically do not associate with it,” Suleiman Yusuf explains, “We will train students across these disciplines” .
If tuition for all these offerings are charged regularly, they will probably be prohibitively expensive for the average Nigerian to afford. Blue Camel is combining a mixed philanthropic model to make the training readily available.
Apparently the first batch of students to graduate from the academy were trained free of charge inclusive of accommodation,feeding and transportation fare. Suleiman Yusuf explains a seemingly workable model.
“We will charge people that can pay and put the monies back into training those that cannot afford it. In association with agencies and organisations like the Department for International Development(DFID) and projects centred around marginalised youths, we identify the ones that cannot pay these tuition fees and train them for free.”
For its technical and entrepreneurial training, Blue Camel plans to charge up to ₦200,000 — excluding accommodation — for a 4-6 week course.
On how they plan to recoup these massive costs that will accrue from free and heavily discounted training,
“Generally, we need better work ethics on our part as Nigerians, in addition to equipping our students with the best technical skills available, they will also learn punctuality, accountability, discipline, and commitment among other important soft skills. They are empowered with a combination of all these, but most importantly, as a result of these trainings we at Blue Camel will also have a trusted pool of talents to draw on, ” Suleiman says.
Inside the engine room
The production and assembly facility is right next to the library. The assembly line itself has a 40-worker capacity standing workstation.
40 and 80-watt Blue Camel Solar street lights are the only products currently on the assembly shelf.
These lights are complete packages with batteries, photovoltaic cells and the bulbs all in one encasement. They are also water and dust resistant with an IP65 rating.
At the end of the assembly line, there is a Complete Knock Down (CKD) room where imported bits and pieces of products are stored before coming out to the line to be assembled. When will Blue Camel start actual manufacturing?
CEO Suleiman says it is going to take a short while.
“We currently do more than assembly as all metal components in all products are produced in this facility; we don’t import anything that can be fabricated here. We are slowly cutting down on import and hope to totally stop one day soon.”
The Quality Control (QC) room is right next to CKD and like the name implies, this is where final checks are done for strict adherence to standards.
On the opposite side of the hall facing the CKD and QC rooms, a door leads out to a showroom.
Regardless of its recent foray into manufacturing and assembly, Blue Camel still does installation of renewable energy structures so this showroom showcases a vast array of exciting products.
From different kinds of lighting; garage lights, garden and walkway lighting, signage lights, to refrigeration units, and energy roofing tiles all powered by solar energy.
There are other renewable energy marvels outside the academy and assembly plant. Unsurprisingly, the whole facility is powered by a 15.4kWh solar power system on the roof of a tensile car parking shed.
This of course will not be sufficient when production and training is in full gear because power consumption will increase drastically. Mohammed says the roof on the main building is equipped to be outfitted with solar roofing tiles and that this will happen once the energy needs increase.
Blue Camel has other proprietary products; a solar dryer for vegetables, and the Solar-Fi Hub.
The Solar-Fi Hub is an all in one business unit that is intended to solve the Nigerian infrastructural problem for small businesses. It is a kiosk outfitted with a cooling system, refrigerator, beverage makers and a television all powered by the sun.
The water distribution systems in Blue Camel are also solar-powered; a water heater and functional borehole all powered by the sun.
A plumber fixed the borehole and Mohammed says pipes in the water heater need a special coat that need the professionalism of a painter.
All these seemingly unrelated but necessary skills are the reasons Suleiman said students will be trained in diverse crafts.
From education, installation to manufacturing and recycling, Blue Camel Energy has potential to be pivotal to the complete restructuring of Nigeria’s clean alternative energy industry.