Many Nigerians believe that the only way to solve the country’s long-running electricity crisis is through power generation independently, as they have since lost faith in the government’s ability to decisively solve this problem that has stymied the growth of the Nigerian economy significantly for years now. . Well, it would be hard to blame people who are trying to meet the basic electricity supply needs as well as keep the business going without too much trouble.
As we now know the environmental threats and inconveniences caused by power generators, it is very encouraging to see some efforts from government, research institutes and private stakeholders on developing alternative energy sources for power generation. Solar energy, the most abundant of all available renewable energy sources, has been getting really excited lately and I think it’s time we start taking the prospects of this energy source more seriously.
Given the current issues of energy sector deregulation, deregulation and increasing generation capacity, we can begin to pick some positives out of the apparent change in approach by some factions of the government regarding solar energy. Don’t get me wrong, Nigeria’s interest in solar energy goes back decades, but the aftereffect before now has been minimal.
Besides the abundant oil and gas resources we currently have, Nigeria is still fortunate to be located in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region described by the International Council for Science as having the best solar energy resources in the world. Nigeria has 485.1 million MWh/day of solar energy in natural units and we enjoy an average of 6.2 hours of daily sunshine. Despite this, more than 60% of Nigeria’s 170 million people lack electricity supply. Our main sources of electricity come from hydro and gas and we currently have an installed capacity of 5600 MW of electricity but we are generating less than 5,000 MW due to a myriad of issues.
The use of solar electricity systems helps capture solar energy using photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into electricity. This resource has been found to have the potential to provide more energy than all the fossil fuels we currently have if they are properly harnessed and used to generate green and cheap electricity. Ultimately, it could play a role in reducing our heavy dependence on fossil fuels such as crude oil and gas for power generation.
According to the United Nations, rural-urban migration in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by 87% in 2030 compared to the 1950s. With Nigeria in mind, this will surely put more pressure on the existing electricity infrastructure which has not been significantly improved for decades now despite the government’s target of 297,900 MW in 2030.
One of the main challenges in investing in solar energy is the initial capital expenditure which is high. According to reports, solar panels are expensive to install and maintain. Dr. Aliu Modibo Omar, former Minister of the FCT, was quoted as saying that its cost is N500,000 per panel and another source says its maintenance is N200,000. However, recently, the cost of solar technology has fallen by 40% in the past two years. Last December, our neighbor Ghana announced plans to build Africa’s largest solar PV plant to generate 155 megawatts and would increase its generating capacity by 6%. According to Blue Energy, the British company behind the deal, cost cutting and an enabling tariff policy played a key role in helping get the project started.
Another challenge faced in using this energy source is the daily maintenance and operation of the solar energy infrastructure. It appears that there are enough employees with the technical resources to manage these facilities and ensure that they are up to speed. In 2005, there was a remarkable achievement by the Lagos State Government in solar installations when a rural solar electrification project was launched in Onisowo Village in Amuwo -Odofin Local Government Area – a village that was cut off from the national grid. In the past two decades, states such as Zamfara, Bauchi, Benue, Bayelsa and Rivers have also partnered with the World Bank and the Energy Commission of Nigeria to implement similar projects in rural communities across the country. Despite complaints about the efficiency and maintenance of these facilities, we have seen that we have the ability to put these structures in place from which we can choose the pros and certainly build upon.
It is critical that we quickly take advantage of cleaner and safer alternative energy sources due to the country’s vulnerability to climate change. As we have established an existing and growing interest in this technology, the government needs significant help in funding domestic solar energy research at research institutes and universities. Government subsidies will also be helpful in importing solar panels and other equipment that cannot be manufactured locally. This will support independent investors and individuals with an interest in the energy source.
Borrowing from the UK’s feed-in tariff concept, the government could also encourage autonomous generation of electricity through solar panels by providing more incentives to consumers and suppliers who choose to invest in this source. It will always be soothing to the ear when you know you will be rewarded for generating your own electricity. Installing and understanding this infrastructure is still considered technical and costly by many, but through extensive outreach programs and public and private sector initiatives, this process can be streamlined and will eventually be cheaper to install and use in the long run.
Finally, in terms of affordability, Nigerians have shown that they can invest money in power generation when a better alternative is presented. We can see the percentage of people using generators and inverters in both rural and urban cities in Nigeria which gives us a picture of how they would deal with the potential of solar if the installation process was simplified and the equipment was cheaper and readily available.