Indigenous Changeover Switch Saves Lives through Smartphone Innovation

Amadin Ogbewe.

According to a 2023 report by the Society for Planet and Prosperity, GCA Capital Partners and Climate Advisers Network, 75 per cent of electricity consumed in Nigeria comes from diesel and petrol-powered generators with a supply of about 25,000 megawatts while the national grid supplied less than 5,000 megawatts. 

The  sheer numbers seek innovation to ease the stress of many, who often have need to turn and off their generators, even at times when it might not be safe to do so. For instance, there have been reports of homeowners and residents being accosted by robbers at night, while switching off their generators. 

Power runs the world, and ideas are akin to lightbulbs going off in one’s head. These two things play a major role in a developing nation like Nigeria. Godwin Gbemi Alomaja is a man with an idea about power generation and solving gaps in the system.

Alomajo is the young Nigerian electrical engineer fashioning automatic changeover switches controlled by smartphones. I scheduled an interview with him to speak on his contraptions, and naturally, I expect to find him in a futuristic workshop, but I’m mildly surprised to find that the address  given me is a church, and his workshop is a modest space in one of the quarters.

Even before he speaks to me, I realize this is a story of innovating in peculiar circumstances. Perhaps this is the case for all innovations.

“I have loved electrical from the beginning. When I was much younger, then I used to loosen my father’s radio. Loose everything. I would scatter the electronics, looking for something… From the onset, I’ve had a passion for electric and electronic,” he says with a big grin.

Alomaja narrates how he began fabricating automatic change-over switches when he was still in school. He had gained recognition from the managing director at his industrial training placement when he deployed the system.

He speaks on his motivations for developing the indigenous automatic changeover. ‘Indigenous,’ he says because he fashions it from locally sourced materials. 

Though he’s an electrical engineer with his sight set on grids and circuits, he also seems to be driven by altruism. “At a time in Federal University Akure, the technical personnel, as a result of switching the entire load of the university from the generator to the national grid, got electrocuted. Couldn’t this death have been averted by automating the switches so that he doesn’t have physical contact with the electrical panel of the university? That actually inspired me to come up with the whole idea of providing an indigenous automatic changeover,” he says.

The excitement in his demeanor is palpable as he explains the process of his device. He says the changeover is special as it has a brief lag period wherein the load is taken off the generator before it is shut down.

“Once I think of a problem, I think of a solution, how do I address this, and I have a passion for innovation. I have a passion for technology. I want to rule my world… I want to really explore the engineering aspect of it. That inspired me to come up with a mobile app.”

He speaks on how he decided to add the touch of the smartphone control, which can turn on and off the generator while also controlling specific appliances remotely from anywhere in the world.

Alomaja says this was a competitive edge which offered new opportunities including parents being able to handle their homes from work, safety for users who might have to leave their homes late at night to operate their generators.

We’re seated in the warm serene environment of the church in Abuja where he works, lives, and worships. While telling me about his challenges, his optimism never wanes and his smile is almost never off his face. At this point, I’m impressed that the security hasn’t bothered us for taking up ample space for our interview.

“He’s not a small man here. The church recognizes his capacity and diligence,” an electrician tells us as Alomaja scurries to show us a demonstration of the device with the church generators.

He speaks about the prospects of smart homes in Nigeria where a house runs on automation in various ways. He also tells me about the many ideas flying around his head. This is a geek in his element. The excitement gets to me.

“I’m looking forward to having an app whereby it can be like a electrical service app. Whereby if you have any power challenge in the house, maybe little maintenance, you just log in. And if there is a problem, then an electrician will be matched to you and come and fix it for you.”

Alomaja’s challenges include lack of funding, adequate manpower, and little time as he shuffles his full-time work with the Transmission Company of Nigeria and fabricates his switches in his spare time. His work in the power sector grants him knowledge on a deeper level to make a broader impact on society.

It brings to mind, my conversation with energy finance specialist and engineer Chibueze Ekeh, who insists investment in innovative solutions is key to solving our power sector challenges. 

“I wouldn’t say experts are our issues. You know Nigerians, we are very very capable. Today, we’re doing well in the world of music, movies and such. So we’re very talented. And we also have very good engineers here, you’d be surprised to know. I would say (we need) investments in terms of really creating those solutions that actually meet the need of people in different areas”. 

As Alomaja ponders on the possibilities for the power sector, he steadily ends his statements with “…by the grace of God” In Godwin Gbemi Alomaja’s story, faith and determination intertwine seamlessly, accentuating the power of human ingenuity in overcoming adversity.

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