Nigerian Damilola Ogunbiyi gets top UN sustainable energy job

The first woman to lead the charge for electrification in rural Nigeria said access to power would ‘unlock’ the sustainable development goals

Damilola Ogunbiyi, managing director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency, has been appointed as a UN special representative for sustainable energy and CEO of SEforAll. (Photo: Rural Electrification Agency)

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Damilola Ogunbiyi, the first woman head of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency, has been appointed to lead the UN’s efforts to bring clean energy to the world’s poorest.

Ogunbiyi is due to take on her new role as UN special representative for sustainable energy and CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll) in early next year.

She will be building on the work of Rachel Kyte, who led SEforAll for nearly four years before becoming the first female dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, US, at the end of September.

Ogunbiyi will join the organisation in the critical period to 2030 – the deadline to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and bridge the energy demand gap with affordable, reliable and clean energy.

The task ahead is immense, especially in the region Ogunbiyi has spent her life and career. Across Africa, nearly 600 million people are estimated to lack access to electricity.

SEforAll’s latest tracking report showed the world was off the pace to meet the 2030 goal and roll out clean electricity and cooking everywhere.

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Last week, another SEforAll report found that current investments levels were insufficient to meet the SDG goal with less than 1% of the estimated finance required to ensure clean cooking facilities for all by 2030.

Sub-Sharan Africa is “at risk of getting left further behind” in the energy transition, the report warned, as population growth outstripped the increase of energy access, “putting the continent’s status as an upcoming powerhouse on hold”.

Ogunbiyi successfully negotiated the Nigerian Electrification Project, enabling the construction of solar mini-grids and home systems across Nigeria.

She served as the general manager of the Lagos State Electricity Board, responsible for energy development in the Lagos state of southwestern Nigeria. Lagos is Africa’s most populated city.

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She previously consulted the UK’s department for international development and is also one of the commissioners for the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty.

Ogunbiyi said she was proud to join SEforAll and work to show “a clean energy transition is possible”.

“Access to energy is the key that will help unlock the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said “With 2030 growing ever closer, smart use of data, new partnerships, and scaled involvement of the private sector will be paramount for SEforAll’s work.”

Kyte said she was “delighted to hand the baton” to Ogunbiyi.

“There is no one better to shine a light on the critical path to success and the transformative effect of access to reliable, affordable and clean energy,” she tweeted.

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