Scaling-up solar energy deployment in Nigeria

Chiagozie Udeh and Oseloka H. Obaze

National development, economic growth, infrastructure, industrialization and manufacturing, share a common denominator; adequate and constant power supply.   Such regularity in power supply guarantees that industries that create employment and wealth, run on a twenty-four hour cycle.  Despite years of lip service to building up power supply in Nigeria, the capacity and adequacy of electricity remains largely unchanged. Presently, Nigeria with a population of over 180 million people has a total installed capacity for electricity of 12,522MW with her peak generation output at 5,074MW. Comparatively, South Africa with a population of 52.4 million has a total installed capacity of 45,000MW and peak generation of 35,819MW. 

When President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in May 2015, he prioritized solving the electricity conundrum in Nigeria. Recently, the Federal Government tweeted, ‘’Generated power has gone up to 7,000MW in 2017 from 3,000MW in May 2015; transmission capacity at 6,900MW in 2017 from about 5,000MW in May 2015; peak distribution now averaging 5,000MW in 2017 from 2,690MW in 2015”. Encouraging as these figures are, they can hardly be confirmed by the realities experienced in Nigerian industries, homes and streets.  To Nigerians, there have been no drastic changes in electricity generation and distribution in the past three years.

Nonetheless, Minister for Power, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has been trumpeting at every opportunity that Nigeria now generates more than its distributive capacity; seemingly oblivious of the dissonance in policy and implementation which he seeks to highlight. As Minister Fashola opined recently, “If we can produce 7,000 megawatts and we can only distribute about 5,000 megawatts; the problem has changed from lack of power to locating where the need is.” Generating power absent distributive capacity is equal to inability to generate.   

Ironically, most Nigerians don’t understand or care about the dialectics of power supply; all they need is power twenty-four-seven. Nigerians want affordable electricity on demand. Just like their mobile phones – which they recharge when they want- Nigerians want an electricity solution where they will be in control. Currently, the electricity sector operates on a “rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul” basis, where consumers lucky to have the prepaid meters enjoy the indirect subsidy by consumers who are unlucky not to have their meters installed.  Some consumers who paid for meters have been waitlisted for over five years and are in the interim paying almost 100 percent more than those boasting of the prepaid meters. What is perhaps more frustrating, is that the assessed bills are inversely proportional to actual electricity consumed. This mode of electricity demand and supply is no longer sustainable in Nigeria. At a time the rest of the world is exploring alternative sustainable energy, Nigeria can’t afford to look away. Enter solar energy.

Nigeria retains great potentialities to switch to 100 percent clean energy with solar power. Recent scientific analysis and recorded weather readings indicate that the scorching intensity of the sun in parts of Northern Nigeria result in solar irradiation at 7.0Kw.m2/day;  while readings in the coastal areas, hovers around an average of 3.5 kw.m2/day. Accordingly, as reported by Financial Nigeria International, “analysts have projected that Nigeria could generate 600,000MW by deploying Solar PV panels from just 1% of Nigeria’s land mass.”  Such generative capacity for a country that requires only about 50,000 MW to be adequately electrified is simply astonishing. What is far much astounding is why Nigerian policymakers seem averse to exploring the nation’s solar power potentials. Two causative factors bedeviling solar energy deployment are readily identifiable; government’s lack of willingness to invest in solar power and Nigeria’s officialdom treating the funding of solar power exploration as though it is the exclusive preserve of international development partners.

Acceptably, Nigeria’s federal government cannot fund diversification to solar energy alone. However, it must exhibit the willingness and be seen as effectively proactive in deploying its limited resources in this area.  There is also dissonance in related policy debate, as evidenced by the Nigerian Senate’s attitude and its consequent rejection of the N10bn solar proposal for rural electrification of nine federal Universities and 37 Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria. The query by Senator Buka Mustapher, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy, during the Ministry of Power’s 2018 defence of its budget as to “Who is paying for the installations when the power sector had been privatized?” is indicative of the prevailing lack of requisite knowledge and proper briefing on the matter.  The notion also exists that the lawmakers are simply protecting vested interests in the power sector.

It can be readily concluded that besides a dearth of favourable policies on solar deployment in Nigeria, the prevailing inertia derives also from the lack of implementation of extant policies. The National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy 2015 (NREEEP), beyond setting the target of achieving 16% renewable energy consumption for Nigeria by year 2030, provides some decent incentives for the sector, including;  Free Custom Duties for two (2) years on the importation of renewable energy equipment; allows  project developers to obtain soft loans from the Renewable Electricity Fund (REF); tax incentives/holidays to manufacturers of renewable energy products; and assist in allocation of land to manufacturers. These are great policies meant to incentivize solar energy deployment in Nigeria. The NREEEP, If effectively deployed, would also assist Nigeria to achieve Goal 7 (Clean Energy) of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

What must the government do? Government must change its attitude and approach to the solar energy sector. It must take the lead and see solar energy as a long-term strategic bankable option. Government should rethink Nigeria’s engagement with its international development partners, especially International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the African Development Bank (AFDB). Both organizations stand ready to not only support and fund solar projects, but also help member States develop such bankable projects. It should be realized also that lack of bankable projects remains the biggest reason why most international funders won’t commit their money to some projects. Government must also delineate clearly, her experts and representatives in this critical sector. Oddly, at the 7th IRENA Assembly in Abu Dhabi in 2017, it was Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology, who represented Nigeria, a fact that left many struggling to understand the absence of the oversight Minister of Power. The consolidation of Ministries of Works, Housing and Power under one Minister is indubitably playing a negative role in this regard.   

In the meantime, Nigeria is ripe for massive solar deployment and most individuals/businesses are already opting for home solar systems in the off-grid (stand-alone) space. It is now for the federal government to embrace its responsibility to scale up the deployment of solar energy starting with public buildings, parks and streets, then expanding to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMES) across the country. It’s time to act.

Ude is a Climate Policy Research Associate at Selonnes Consult Ltd.; Obaze is MD/CEO, Selonnes Consult Ltd.

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