[INTERVIEW] Decentralized Renewables as the Way Forward – Malo Ify

“Power for All believes that decentralized renewables is the fastest and most cost effective way to advancing energy access in emerging market”1) Let’s start with some background about Power For All, the Nigerian campaign in particular as well as your role there?
Power for all is a global campaign to accelerate the growth of Decentralised Renewable Energy, DRE, which we see as the fastest way to achieving clean universal energy for all by the year 2025. Our campaign also serves as a collective voice for businesses and Civil Society Organisations that focus on the offgrid solutions to energy challenges. With the power for all Nigerian campaign, we promote energy access, and address energy poverty and improve socio economic sustainability through promoting DRE. Power-For-All believes that decentralized renewables is the fastest and most cost effective way to advancing energy access in emerging markets. About 60% of the Nigerian population are reportedly not connected to the grid. My role as lead for the Nigerian office is to help catalyze a collective voice for that sector and get various stakeholders together including policy makers and industry stakeholders towards promoting decentralised renewable energy to reach the millions of Nigerians without electricity. What Power-For-All Nigeria does is to basically improve awareness, help improve market conditions to scale up the process of grid extension because the technology already exists in Nigeria.2) What is the most exciting aspect of the campaign so far? Any particular success stories you can share?
One exciting part of the campaign is increased awareness. Through consultations and workshops held for the media which has led to more reporting and stories about the sector. We have also had similar workshops and for government MDAs to connect industry stakeholders to government agencies, and help understand and articulate policies that can leap from the sector and of course how industry owners can get support from government especially with regards to reviewing taxes and duties that hamper the ease of deploying these technologies for the industry stakeholders. We also have interacted with school programs, which has helped teachers, students, parents and guardians understand what renewable energy is and make them part of the campaign, help drive innovation and education for budding DRE practitioners and generally help spread the message that Decentralized Renewable energy (DRE) is the way out of the future energy deficit. Our message that DRE is the quickest way to scale up our electrification rates in Nigeria is resonating more as we see increased interest from people wanting to explore other means of accessing energy for their homes and businesses. Another exciting aspect of this campaign is the emergence of the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria, REAN, through support from Power-For-All. Through the support and technical assistance and resources provided by Power-For-All, the industry stakeholders (developers and distributors) have come together under one body and now have a platform and a collective voice to make their voices heard in the sector to advocate for the right policies and regulations, to promote and advance the renewable energy sector and collectively deal with the challenges in the sector. All these have being achieved just in the last few months.

3) What in your view are the main challenges currently in the energy sector in the region?
One major challenge in that our electrification rates in Nigeria are still very low. We have low penetration rates in several communities, particularly in rural communities that are still largely un-electrified and unconnected to the grid. Furthermore, with an already ageing and increasingly unreliable grid, those Nigerians who are connected to the grid do not get sufficient power to run their businesses or power their homes. Therefore, there is a huge over reliance on fuel or diesel generators which is neither cost effective, nor sustainable and have lead to huge emissions and pollution which has lead to damages to the environment.  The bottom-line is that despite huge investments and funding that have gone into extending and improving the grid in Nigeria, energy access penetration in Nigeria remains very poor. This is a major challenge and it is the reason why as a communications and advocacy based campaign, Power-For-All is here to educate people on alternative and cleaner ways to achieve energy access and end energy poverty.

4) What opportunities do these challenges present?
The opportunities we see currently is that there is huge investor interest in the renewable energy market in Nigeria. There is a significant uptick of renewable energy investments in the country and it is clear that Nigeria is on the cusp of an energy revolution and this is evident both from the numerous ongoing renewable energy sector projects and programs. Another exciting thing we see happening in the Nigerian market is that the Federal Government of Nigeria has set a target of 30% renewable energy by 2017, as well as recently announced further target of 50% renewable energy by 2020. We are excited by these large targets because it is sending a positive signal to investors and developers that the government is serious about developing and supporting this sub-sector. As part of its commitment to reaching these targets, Nigeria recently signed 15 IPPs for Solar as part of the process of enhancing its support for solar-powered electricity and the regulator is in the process of releasing draft mini-grid regulations. There are also draft policies in the Bio-fuels sector. These efforts on the policy end to implement and promote renewable as a core subset of the entire energy sector value chain means that that DRE will become more mainstream as it is the way to rest, last-mile rural off-grid communities and reach these stated targets. All of this is in line with the message we at Power-For-All are promoting in a bid to ensure that DRE is not only affordable but is seen to be affordable and more sustainable when compared to other options like diesel generators when the costs are spread over time.

5) What is your vision for the sector?
My vision specifically for the renewable energy sector is to see it reach scale and spread across Nigerians as the best way out of the power challenge currently facing the country. In addition, I want end-users to come to accept decentralized renewable and begin to utilize it in every aspect of their lives; in homes, businesses and even in religious centres. I want to see increased investment in off-grid technologies including mini-grid and stand alone solar systems across Nigeria. I want to see these technologies help grow Nigeria’s medium and small scale businesses, eradicate poverty and provide more economic solutions for a majority of the Nigerian population whose daily sustenance requires constant power. I want to see to innovations that can leap-frog the country into the next century when the teeming Nigerian youth population have the opportunities that can be provide even with basic electricity access. I want Nigeria to be a self sustaining economy through increased manufacturing which will create more job opportunities, and will lead to greater economic growth for the country. Furthermore, I am hoping that by the year 2025 or earlier, Nigeria would have fully made a strategic shift from the on grid source of power to off-grid solutions through the decentralized renewable energy because we have all the resources we need to achieve this, but also because it is quicker, cheaper, cleaner and safer, leading to significantly less emissions and environmental pollution.

6) You are a moderator in a session at the upcoming WAPIC pre-conference master class on embedded generation specifically focusing on ‘problem solving discussions to move the sector forward’– what are you hoping for in this session?
As you know WAPIC is now globally known as the sub-regional meeting point for all energy practitioners in West Africa. I am looking forward to sharing and learning from the experts, practitioners and attendees of this sector specifically on how the DISCOs in Nigeria and Mini-Grid operators can work together to create economic clusters and manufacturing clusters through embedded generation. With the country’s transmission grid overloaded, it would be practicable to proffer solutions and define a road-map, on how DRE and DISCOs can work together to solve energy challenges in the sub-region. Solving Nigeria’s energy challenges will require entrepreneurship and innovation, private enterprise, data mining and social impact investments (through FDI) methodology as instruments. However, implementation is always the big issue and is key. I see the implementation of embedded generation as an investment issue. But the challenge is: how can investors, big and small, be encouraged to engage in this technology, in spite of the hurdles with distribution, and achieve the ends of increased electrification? Particularly in light of dwindling revenues generally, and the current investment climate in Nigeria.
I hope to see out-comes and a strong communiqué that would aid the government of each country, specifically the regulator in Nigeria, create and accelerate renewable energy and mini-grid deployment in Nigeria and fashion out an acceptable model that allow implementation of embedded generation and that showcase cost effective ways of electrifying rural areas that are off the grid.

7) Anything you would like to add?

Decentralized renewable energy is more rapidly deployable. Studies show that Power plants can take a decade to come online, but rooftop solar systems can be installed within days or weeks, and mini-grids can be installed within weeks or months. By 2050, Nigeria is likely to be the third largest country in the world. With a rapidly growing population and increasing energy deficit, the speed of energy access is critical in Nigeria. Decentralized renewable systems are also more affordable, more sustainable, and provide homes and businesses the flexibility and freedom to have their own power supply.

Source: ESI-Africa

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