Sparks Electrical News

Tamer Abol Ghar, Vice President – CEO Lighting Africa at Signify, is a bilingual executive with an impressive track record, offering more than 16 years of multinational management experience in Middle East and African markets. He joined Philips Lighting in December 2001 and has held his current position as Market Leader Africa since February 2016. Based in both Cairo and Johannesburg, Ghar is passionate about the company’s work on the continent.

Signify positive about lighting in AfricaThe Signify Vice President is French with Moroccan heritage, so he considers himself African and has a special place in his heart for Africa. Ghar notes that while Signify globally consists of 33 markets, the continent of Africa is classed as one. “Although we have a presence in various locations within Africa – including Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Ivory Coast and South Africa – in reality there is no ‘one Africa’. Each region is different; there are 54 countries and each one has different requirements and different ways of doing business. It is not a case of ‘one size fits all’ in Africa, but I see this as an opportunity,” he says.

The company faces various challenges in Africa because it is less economically developed than other territories and, in many areas, the electrification rate is low. “In some countries it is as low as 15-20%, so we need to think outside of the box as to how we as a lighting company can serve them,” he says. As such, Signify has focused on solar systems for various applications.

“The advent of LEDs has set our company on two paths: very advanced, connected light on one hand and, in less privileged regions such as Latin America, India and Africa, solar as a source of light,” explains Ghar. To solve the dilemma of poor populations who cannot afford the initial investment required for a solar system, Signify is negotiating with various partners to bring light to off-grid areas across the continent. “The challenge is that unless driven and financed by government, these projects are hard to get off the ground. We work closely with governments, the UN, and a number of international energy companies who want to neutralise their carbon footprint by investing in solar for less developed countries.”

In terms of transformation to LEDs in Africa, Ghar explains that the initial goal was for a target of 75% LED usage by 2020. “However, we are in the process of verifying a study which has found that the transformation has already reached levels of 60-70%. In North Africa, for example, it is almost at 90% owing to the mass deployment of LEDs by governments in the region. We have seen many countries, which we didn’t think would switch to LEDs, doing so, and now, a lot of countries in Africa are talking about smart cities.”

Ghar says that in North Africa particularly, remote management of road lighting, city beautification and connected lighting in offices are widespread and the company has been involved in many projects in the region. Signify is also currently in the process of implementing two connected lighting projects in South Africa. “Smart lighting isn’t just a luxury anymore. The internet is at the core of everything and, as we see it, lighting will be part of integrated solutions in the future.”

Connected street lighting, for instance, has numerous cost and energy-saving benefits. “Because every luminaire has an antenna and a smart card, Signify is partnering with mobile operators to use their telecommunication towers for connected lighting. With remote management, engineers at municipalities can oversee and monitor many roads around the city from their laptops and know exactly at what level the lights are operating, and which are defective,” he says. The company is developing a solution that will allow the monitoring of each light to the extent that defective poles remotely report the nature of the problem, allowing maintenance teams to make one trip – with the correct tools and replacement parts – to repair the lights.

Optimistic about Africa

“For us, Africa is an important market. We have been operating here since 1934, which generates intimacy with customers and trust in the brand,” says Ghar. “We want to expand our presence on the continent and partner with governments to provide off-grid solutions as well as smart cities.” He notes that in Africa, unlike other regions, every new day comes with a new challenge. “We deal with many different cultures, and working here allows us to see how much of a difference we make with lighting. In Kenya we worked on two projects where we created a ‘light centre’ for off-grid villages. The introduction of light allowed the villagers to host evening markets and social events, providing work for people who wouldn’t normally be able to generate an income after sunset. It also inspires me when I see successful projects in Africa that are on the same level as those in the Middle East and Europe,” he says.

With unprecedented double digit year-on-year growth in some African countries, as well as an established base in South Africa, Ghar is confident that the African lighting market can surpass expectations. “It’s already happening,” he concludes.

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