For the first time in his 30 years on Sagbo Kodji Island, near Lagos, Friday Onos has electricity at home, thanks to a solar power project that could transform the lives of the island’s 80,000 inhabitants.
“The lack of power supply to this island kept extinguishing my dreams of creating alternative job opportunities for the youths here,” said Onos, 35.
Most islanders fish for a living, and in the absence of electricity, they smoke the fish and try to sell it quickly – often at a low price. But with enough solar power, they could refrigerate their catch.
Onos’s home is one of the few lucky ones on this neglected island to be equipped with solar power. So far only five out of nearly 7,000 houses in his neighbourhood have benefited.
When the solar project was first mooted, many residents did not believe it would work, following a failed government effort to install solar street lights. After a few months, the light bulbs stopped working, leaving many locals sceptical about the idea.
Onos, however, volunteered to participate in the new project and is now thinking of setting up a cold-room business, offering fresh fish storage.
For now, children find his solar electricity a novelty. “At night, (they) gather around my house and dance for joy, playing until they get tired,” he said. “They had never seen a 24-hour power supply before.”
Sagbo Kodji Island is one of 34 riverine communities in the Amuwo-Odofin area of Lagos in southwest Nigeria. The island, which has been settled for around a century, is bound by Apapa seaport to the south, but has yet to get an electricity supply.
According to local leader Solomon Suenu, the island community was founded by a fisherman from the ancient town of Badagry, who used to rest there during fishing expeditions.
He then brought his family to settle on the island, and was later joined by other traders and people from Lagos.
The fish caught by the islanders is smoked using wood stoves and sold in Lagos. Many Lagos residents are unaware of the islanders who crowd daily onto boats to tout their wares in the city centre, at markets and on street corners.
There is often a dense cloud hanging over Sagbo Kodji Island, due to the wood smoke from homes where women preserve fish or cook for the family.
Until recently, many children on the island believed light came only from small petrol-powered generators, unaffordable to most, or the floodlights of cargo ships sailing by to Apapa wharf.
But several months ago, a handful of homes on the island were equipped with solar power under a pilot project led by Arnergy, a renewable energy technology company founded in 2013 by a young entrepreneur in Lagos.
Its CEO Femi Adeyemo was shocked to learn that a community had existed for a century without electricity. After visiting the island and meeting community leaders, he decided to change that.
The system enables users to pay N100 ($0.50), N200, N300 and N500 per day for a 24-hour electricity supply, with power from the solar panels stored in batteries.
Before the company installs solar panels in a home, it takes an inventory of the gadgets and appliances its residents will use, ensuring the right panel is supplied.
“Sometimes people can be tricky,” Adeyemo said. “After listing the appliances that will be used and installation is finished, they later include others that are not listed.”
The company has technology that detects overloading via a wireless network and switches off power remotely from its office once a customer has used up their pre-paid units.