Aminat chases sustainable energy dream for Nigeria
Energy poverty in Africa impacts the lives of millions of people every day, but Aminat Razaq is determined to use her New Zealand education experience to bring about positive change through renewable energy innovation.
The former maths teacher and electrical engineering undergraduate has recently returned home to Nigeria after studying renewable energy at the University of Otago’s Energy Research Centre. She completed both a post-graduate Diploma and a Master’s of Science in Energy, Science, and Technology.
“It has always been my dream to study abroad, and New Zealand made my dream come true because I wanted to study renewable energy,” she says.
Manaaki scholarship key to education opportunity
“New Zealand is one of the top five countries in the world which excel at renewable electricity generation, and it is important to study in a country where you can get practical experience.”
Aminat says that the cost of international education overseas is beyond the reach of most people in developing countries, but that her experience was made possible through the Manaaki New Zealand Scholarships, funded by the New Zealand government. When she applied in 2018, she was one of only a small number of students accepted from Africa “so it was a big deal for me”.
And so was getting here. “It was my first experience travelling overseas, my first time on a plane, my first time in a new country.”
But she says she was grateful for the orientation programmes available and quickly felt at home both at university, and in Dunedin. “Just two months after I arrived, the Christchurch mosque shooting happened, and the support I got from my neighbours, my colleagues, and my lecturers was amazing.”
Energy poverty drives study choice
Aminat says she is motivated to study renewable energy because of where she comes from.
“I wanted to study something would allow me to improve my own country. Every economy depends on a reliable power supply and in Nigeria we have nationwide blackouts regularly. We need to buy petrol to run generators. Most people have generators in their homes, even in the cities.
“If you don’t have adequate reliable power, it holds back every aspect of the economy and makes it very difficult for businesses to succeed. It affects everything - manufacturing, schooling, farming. You can’t even freeze excess seasonal crops, so most of it goes to waste.”
A European Union report released last year titled “Time to make energy poverty in Africa a thing of the past”, backs up what Aminat says. It found that nearly 800 million people globally live without access to electricity, about 600 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
“In a world of deepening inequalities between the haves and have-nots, this is a glaring injustice, the report says. “Africa is the world’s premium location to harness solar energy and is already demonstrating that a cleaner path is possible.”
“Renewable energy is a passion for me,” Aminat says. “We need to talk about renewable energy for the future in Africa. And the future is now.”
By coming to New Zealand, Aminat says she saw the potential of what can be achieved with a reliable power supply.
Her research, supervised by Associate Professor Michael Jack, explored how to use domestic hot water cylinders for energy storage in microgrids comprised of clusters of households with solar photovoltaic supply. “It’s definitely achievable but needs more research and I’m very keen to take it further.”
International education more than classroom learning
Aminat says studying in New Zealand was “the best-ever experience”, with excellent university facilities and approachable staff always ready to offer help and support.
“Studying in New Zealand has given me a voice. It has expanded my horizons, made me more informed, and opened doors for me. People are keen to listen to you when you talk. When you’re looking for a job, an international education experience makes you stand out.”
“Studying in New Zealand has given me a voice" - New Zealand international student and Manaaki scholar Aminat Razaq
While the quality of education is essential, Aminat says it’s also about what you learn beyond the walls of a classroom. “You learn a different culture, and you are given the opportunity to explore your chosen field of study and gain another perspective. By offering scholarships, you are also helping the country the students come from.”
For any students considering New Zealand as a study destination, Aminat says “don’t think twice”.
“New Zealand is probably the most peaceful place in the world, it has all the facilities you need to study, the researchers are top notch, and the people are welcoming.”
While studying in New Zealand has fulfilled one of Aminat’s dreams, she is already working on another one. “My new dream is to set up my own energy consultancy company and I’m sure I will achieve it. All the positive experiences I have had in my education will take me there.”
And she hasn’t ruled out a return trip to New Zealand. “I am considering studying for my PhD. I loved everything about studying in New Zealand and would love to come back.”