Expanding Nigerians’ Access to Electricity Supply via Solar Power

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”We have a little more than 4,000 megawatts now but we are hoping we can get up to 5,000 megawatts by the first quarter of next year.

”All the same, 5,000 megawatts of power for Nigeria is completely ridiculous but we cannot move faster than we are moving; so, we have to go off the grid and look for other ways to generate and supply electricity,’’ said the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.

The vice-president made the declaration in London on Oct. 22 when he explained the focus of the Federal Government’s policy on solar power to the staff of the Nigeria High Commission. Check HERE

He said this after signing an agreement with the UK government for the commencement of a massive solar power development programme in Nigeria.

On that day, UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) launched the Energy Africa Campaign and Nigeria signed an off-grid solar power agreement with Britain on the use of solar power to light up millions of homes in the country.

Osinbajo signed on behalf of the Federal Government, while Mr Grant Shapps, the Minister of State for International Development, signed on behalf of the British government.

At the event, Osinbajo underscored Nigeria’s commitment to regional and national efforts to improve the citizens’ accessibility to electricity via enhanced use of other energy sources, particularly solar power.

The vice-president, who noted that the Energy Africa Campaign was a great opportunity to expand the access of Africans to electricity, pledged the Federal Government’s commitment towards boosting the supply and consumption of solar power in Nigeria.

“This aspiration would have been virtually impossible 20 years ago because of the high cost of solar power at that time but with the recent innovations in solar technology, the low cost of solar power has now made this all the more possible.

“This is an incredible opportunity in Africa, especially for Nigeria with over 96 million citizens who do not have access to power,’’ he added.

Emphasising that the sustained use of kerosene had created a lot of safety and environmental challenges for the people, Osinbajo said: “A default energy source should be solar; the option was not available for so long but now it is cheaper, safer and more environmentally friendly.’’

He believed that the Energy Africa Campaign would provoke investments in solar power projects, just like what obtained in the telecommunications sector.

“However, the challenges are probably as clear as the prospects but thankfully enough, they are surmountable,’’ he said.

Osinbajo said that Nigeria’s partnership with DFID in the solar power project had been successful with the utilisation of solar power systems in several schools, hospitals and primary healthcare centres, particularly in Lagos State.

As a matter of fact, Adam Smith International, one of the companies working on the solar power project in Lagos State, described the project as very successful.

“Our company intends to connect 2.8 million residents, 500,000 households and 183 schools and clinics in Lagos State to electricity supply via the solar project,’’ said Mr Kristofer Gravning, its Manager, Infrastructure Development and Climate Change.

Besides, Osinbajo attended a solar power trade fair organised by DFID at Trafalgar Square in London, where he reiterated the Federal Government’s resolve to initiate a solar power revolution in Nigeria within the next one year.

His words: “Nigeria will no longer watch as millions of its citizens continue to lack access to electricity. This is the time to jump in and use solar power to solve the problem; we are all set to do that.’’

For Shapps, the British minister, the Africa Energy Campaign would bring justice to more than 600 million people in Africa with no access to electricity.

“Many Africans do not have light in their homes, their children are unable to do their homework, while others die of household pollution arising from the use of kerosene and charcoal,’’ he said.

At the Nigerian High Commission, Osinbajo was asked certain questions on why Nigeria could not use its vast coal reserves to generate electricity.

Responding to such questions, Osinbajo said: “We know that coal is available in some states like Kogi and Enugu but the main issue is that solar power, which entails the conversion of sunlight into electricity, is available everywhere.

“You don’t need to transport it; you don’t need to put it in a grid. It is much cheaper to buy some of the solar power equipment with about 200 dollars, which is about N50,000, and use it to provide electricity.

“The cost of using the grid is quite expensive and of course, very time-consuming. Consider the time you need to fix all the transmission lines and all of that; and we have 96 million Nigerians who have no access to electricity.

“If we want to deliver electricity quickly to that number of Nigerians at a relatively cheaper cost, we must take the solar route.

“The second thing is that all of our solutions must be a mix. If you are relying on grid power alone, it can take us forever but it is going to be too expensive.

“Other countries of the world, which do not have as much sunshine as we have, still use solar power to their advantage. I think we should also use it and when we start manufacturing our own solar panels and be creative about it, the prices will even drop.’’

All the same, concerned observers declare that the energy challenges facing Africa have reached an alarming proportion; compelling experts to insist that the prompt adoption of solar power is the only way out the crisis.

For instance, Shapps argued that “Africa may not be able to achieve universal energy access until 2080 — 200 years after Thomas Edison invented electricity.

“We are, therefore, signing up for the Africa Energy Campaign so that everyone should have access to energy by 2040.

“In Africa, for the businesses to thrive, we need a whole range of energy sources. A few individuals can access Africa’s rich energy wealth but the sun is abundant in that region,’’ Shapps added.

The minister acknowledged the initial scepticism of the people concerning the adoption of solar energy, saying that the cynicism was borne out common complaints such as “the solar cells are too expensive, while the appliances require too much power.

“Nowadays, that situation has changed,’’ Shapps added.

Commenting on Nigeria’s solar power development agreement with Britain, Mrs Uju Hassan-Baba, the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), who witnessed the agreement’s signing, underscored the need for Nigeria to look for alternative sources of power.

“Definitely, Nigeria is squarely on board in this campaign to light up Africa and the NIPC will definitely facilitate investments coming into Nigeria by ensuring the review of regulations and incentives to support the Africa Energy Campaign,’’ she said.

Also speaking, Gov. Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, said that the application of solar power technology in Nigeria would expand the citizens’ access to electricity, particularly in the rural areas.

His words: “This is a great opportunity for Nigeria to leapfrog from where we are now to the latest, state-of-the-art solar power technology.

“Many people think that the only way to get electricity to everyone is by building huge power stations with transmission lines and distribution infrastructure.

“However, in the last three to four years there has been a remarkable advancement in solar power technology and this has made it possible for us to execute our plans to democratise electricity.’’

“I think it is a great step and it reminds me of how we leapfrogged from having half a million land lines to 150 million mobile phones.

“There is an opportunity here to leapfrog from having centralised power stations and transmission lines to a situation where 60 million Nigerians can generate electricity through solar power in their own homes and pay for it on a pay-as-you-go basis.

“If we are able to follow the project through, we will be able to take electricity to the poorest and remotest parts of Nigeria without having to make huge investments, just like the resources we sank into NEPA and PHCN without achieving the desired results.’’

El-Rufai emphasised that the gains of the solar power projects would be seen almost immediately, adding: “In Kaduna, we are already financing the use of solar power in 40 primary health care centres.’’

All in all, observers maintain that Nigeria’s adoption of solar power technology will soon translate into better life for a larger percentage of its citizens, as the gloomy days of darkness in the country will soon disappear.

Donald Ugwu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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