Freedom to Innovate

What happens when you encourage independent thinking? You get people who jump at the chance to present creative and innovative ideas.

For the Totota Electric Cooperative (TEC), located in a remote part of Liberia, innovation and creativity is key to ensure that this utility can continue to provide the community with power for a long time.

Realizing that information is critical to ensure TEC productivity and operations remain strong during these challenging times, Aaron Mineen, NRECA International’s senior engineer in Liberia, developed the TEC Dashboard, an automated web-based monitoring platform for the entire utility’s operations.

“Given that I love computer programming, I saw it necessary to create an application that analyzes the data and displays the key indicators in a dashboard.”

Encouraging independent, local innovation

The TEC Dashboard is used to inform staff regarding system operations, the financial performance of the utility, and present a transparent view of the co-op’s performance to both internal and external stakeholders.

Mineen explains that prior to this, TEC was using spreadsheets to analyze data, a process the engineer described as “quite a tedious task.” Mineen, worked at night for about 300 hours to develop the app, which displays key indicators on a dashboard.  

“I wanted to create this dashboard app to bring together TEC data into one place and make it easily accessible to the TEC team and also to the NRECA International team,” said Mineen via email.

Today, this app is populated data needed to inform NRECA International and TEC staff of the utility’s commercial and technical status in real time. This data feeds many reports, to include monthly board packets to the TEC Board of Directors.

Independent, improving and growing

Today, TEC serves about 1500 people. The utility became self-sufficient in less than two years after NRECA International helped them get established in 2018. The utility has met all operating costs, paid employee salaries, and amassed a modest cash reserve with no subsidies from the Liberian government. Electricity is generated from a solar hybrid minigrid that will ultimately provide service to about 2,000 people. This has given a much-needed boost to the town which is located along the major route that connects Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, to the rest of West Africa. Having access to electricity from the minigrid has helped support economic growth in Totota, where small businesses now provide cold storage for fish, meat and other food that can be sold to travelers.

NRECA International continues to provide TEC local staff with technical assistance and training so they can continue to operate independently and have the capacity to improve. While much of this was done before the pandemic closed borders, today Mineen serves as the single local support to help the cooperative keep things running.

Luis Arismendi, NRECA International’s chief of party in Liberia, explains that this road to independence began early with team discussions, and everyone was invited to propose ideas on how to improve operations. This setting allowed team members to embrace the solutions they proposed and analyze the ones they rejected.

“I’m a firm believer of guiding and empowering people so they can adopt creative solutions,” says Arismendi. “When Aaron proposed the creation of the TEC Dashboard, I knew it was going to be successful. Aaron is a young and motivated engineer who is always thinking of incorporating modern technologies to improve day-to-day activities.” 

Benefitting from local innovation

Today, the TEC management team is excited because they can easily access data without going through expansive spreadsheets.  While this solution may not seem cutting-edge, the environment in which this idea was born and implemented should be recognized not just as innovative but lauded as necessary and critical to future success in these remote areas.

“This has improved my programming skills,” said Mineen. “I learned a lot of new things and look forward to more opportunities like this.”

To keep TEC growing and successful, NRECA International continues to recognize the importance of capitalizing on local and available resources – the sun for power, and grassroots ideas and creativity to keep the community powered for generations.