How Solar is Driving Nigeria’s Post-Pandemic Green Recovery

Solar panels under a blue sky
The Guardian Nigeria
Jangefe, Nigeria
How Solar is Driving Nigeria’s Post-Pandemic Green Recovery

It is a new dawn for inhabitants of Jangefe village, Jigawa State, Northwest Nigeria, as solar power springs a green start in the predominantly farming community.

Jangefe, one of the remote energy-starved localities in Nigeria, came to the limelight with its selection as the location to kickstart the Federal Government’s post-pandemic green recovery initiative-Solar Power Naija (SPN).

“Thanks to the Solar Power Naija program, we have made progress in this town of Jangefe,” says the village head, Babangida Alhassan, as he looks back to one year of implementing the initiative in the community.

“It is serving us very well. The solar power systems help provide security. It enhanced communications with residents able to charge their mobile phones. There’s a reduction in using traditional lighting sources such as kerosene lanterns.”

In April 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration unveiled the Solar Power Naija Program in Jigawa State, with plans to deliver electricity to 25 million Nigerians whose communities have been off the national grid.

The SPN initiative aims to rejuvenate the domestic economy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a country that faces a pressing challenge of access to electricity. The challenge will continue because of the country’s growing population, which the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) projects to double to reach 401.3 million by 2050.

The situation is worse in the rural areas. The 2020 World Bank Global electrification database put the percentage with access to electricity at 24.6%, compared with the 83.9% figure for Nigeria’s urban population.

However, the SPN, a key component of the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP) coordinated at the Office of the Vice President, aims to increase energy access through five million new solar connections, increase local content in the off-grid solar value chain and create 250,000 new jobs in the energy sector.

“President Muhammadu Buhari had previously emphasized the need to diversify and decentralize power supply. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing economic fallouts, implementing off-grid solutions like solar power became the best route,” asserts Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

“Through renewable solar power, we can cross off several goals at once – provide accessible power supply, while creating jobs for thousands in the solar industry and those looking to join in.”

The nation a target of generating 30% of its energy mix from renewable sources by 2030. According to the vice president, the renewable energy projects would advance Nigeria’s commitment to global best practices and cleaner energy in line with The Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Nigeria Rural Electrification Agency (REA), the implementing body of the Federal Government, says SPN will complement the Federal Government’s efforts to provide affordable electricity to underserved rural communities through the provision of long-term low-interest credit facilities to the Nigeria Electrification Program’s (NEP) pre-qualified home solar value chain players.

NEP, a Federal Government initiative, seeks to provide electricity access through mini-grids, standalone off-grid solutions and results-based finance schemes to speed up the proliferation of productive appliances and equipment for off-grid communities.

Through REA, the Federal Government had secured financing from both the World Bank ($350) and the African Development Bank ($200m) to support the implementation of the NEP.

According to REA, the Solar Power Naija initiative ensures electricity generation through the Solar Home System (SHS) with a minimum capacity admitted into the scheme pegged at a PV capacity of 6 Watt-Peak (Wp), which provides power to turn on at least three lamps and for charging.

Under the initiative, SHS users pay a monthly fee, and after full payment, they get the ownership of their home system.

Private developer, Asolar Systems Nigeria was awarded the contract to deploy 100,000 Standalone SHSs across Nigeria. The SPN program disbursed N7billion to the company through a guarantee provided by Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC).A year after the launch of the initiative in Jangefe, many find it invaluable in various spheres.

It’s a significant relief for many villagers to have a renewable source that advances the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 of ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services.

“Solar has solved our big problems of electricity,” says the village head. “We’re relieved. Light has chased away the darkness. Access to electricity impacts our people’s security, social, and economic lives.”

A youth leader and member of the committee for the solar system in the area, Sani Mustapha, explains that before commencing the solar systems’, the providers sensitized the villagers on the use and costs of the solar systems — N7,450 ($18) for installation with television while without television is N4,750 ($11).

Magaji Hassan, an SHS user, says they are enjoying the comforts of the renewable energy device. “I pay N4,750 monthly, and I use the solar system to turn on the fan, four lightbulbs, charging.”

Tackling health emergencies

“Before, we faced problems of not having charged batteries and found it difficult to refer patients to other hospitals because of communications problems,” says Amina Ahmed, a midwife at the Primary Health care Centre in the locality.

“The lack of communication has negative consequences for maternal and child health. It is life-threatening.”

She, however, notes that with solar, they easily charge their phones which facilitates communication.

“Now we get calls from patients’ relatives when there are emergencies. So solar is facilitating patient care and better coordination among healthcare providers. It makes it easy for referrals.”

Green transition

Until now, inhabitants of remote communities extensively used kerosene-fueled lanterns with their associated emissions and hazards such as a risk of poisoning, fire and explosion.

With SHS, a non-fossil fuel-based lighting alternative, some households have stopped using traditional energy sources and reduced monthly kerosene consumption by about 80%.

“It has facilitated a lighting transition from kerosene to solar lights away from murky to bright light and from hazards of kerosene use,” says a Jangefe inhabitant, Umm Aisha.

Aisha said with solar, they no longer have to spend a fortune on the lifecycle cost of traditional lighting sources as it has eliminated the recurring fuel and battery expenditure.

The mother of four says apart from enjoying stress-free lighting and savings on electricity, they get additional money by spending the time after dusk on their crafts and productive activities such as rice processing, cake making and others.

Charging on the move

A standalone solar panel charges a mobile phone at a farm in the village, a telling sign of a new dawn for the community.

Maruf Suleiman, a farmer, owns the solar panel, which he takes to the field to charge his phone and other things during his farming activities.

He says solar power technologies enhance their activities in various ways and improve their living standards.

“Before the coming of solar, we had to spend about N150 on transport to a neighboring town of Gada about 5-6 kilometers away to get our phone charged at N50,” he recalls.

“Now we have made progress because we are charging our phones easily. We charge our radio to know what’s happening in the country and outside.” He adds: “We have another solar panel at home for the use of the house. The solar system is meeting our needs —lighting, mobile communication, information and others.”

More time to work and study

Solar Home Systems enable longer work and study hours, boosting efficiency and output in the village.

Garba Ilyasu, a Junior Secondary Student (JSS), says he now studies for four hours at night, which he couldn’t do with traditional energy sources.

“With the coming of solar, I can read from 8pm to 12 midnight,” he discloses. “There is progress because of the light, and I’m doing better at school.”

Another student, Shukuriya Jaafaru, said he can read from 7 pm to 10 pm.

“Before, we used a lantern and stayed for just about one hour. Now I can read more clearly and longer at night. I pass exams better than before,” she states.

Rakiya Aliyu, a teacher at the village, confirms that students perform better than before.

Principal JSS Dogar, Alhaji Abdu Mati, also notes that solar systems have helped teach solar energy in class. “Before solar in this community, the students and some teachers didn’t know much about solar power technology. Now they see it physically, we have been using it to teach students, and it helps in practical class on solar energy,” he says.

“And parents are happy with their solar energy in the area because it is assisting the students to do night reading.”

Boosting businesses, enabling savings

For Point-Of-Sale (POS) and mobile phone charging operator Jamilu Yusuf Kazaure, he can now afford to save N20,000 monthly ($48). “Before solar, I spent N30,000 per month to buy fuel for my electricity generator, but now it’s N4,750 to pay for the SHS charges.”

Jamilu owns four POS gadgets and operates daily from 7:30am to 10pm.

Muhammad Umar Kazaure also does the POS/Mobile phone charging business. He says before solar, he could only afford to buy N500 worth of fuel daily for his business in the evenings.

“I used to earn N2,000 then, but with solar, it has increased by 100% to N4,000, and I save N150 daily for the payment of the monthly SHS charges,” he discloses.

For the beneficiary company, Asolar Systems Nigeria, the Solar Power Naija initiative had cushioned many effects.

“This intervention helps companies like us keep in business and cover for those shortcomings that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused," notes Asolar’s Head of Operations, Isaac Ibhade.

Asolar has trained 250 youths on installing and connecting solar home systems, and some of them work as agents to collect revenue from SHS users.

“For each of these services they provide, we give them a token for a job done; we don’t just leave the community without getting the community engaged, including youth,” he states.

The company has started a new initiative for local agents, where they will engage a vast number of females as POS agents and small business owners.

Patience Saka is one agent in Kano. She repairs the solar systems in Kano, where some houses do not allow entry for a male nonfamily member. So as a woman, she can go into such homes to offer the services.

The solar worker says she was attracted to the renewable energy field because of the advantages to the environment and health.

“I enjoy all aspects of the work, the technical sales and marketing sides.”

She, however, says the challenge for agents is the cost of mobility. “We need support on mobility because of the difficulties to get to the rural areas.”

SHS spreads to 20 states

Following its launch in Jigawa, the Solar Power Naija Initiatives has seen deployments of SHS units in 18 other states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), totaling 20 altogether.

They include Abuja, Adamawa, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, CrossRiver, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger,Oyo,Plateau , Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara.

“We have increased our spread to over 20 states through the 100,000 Solar Power Naija initiative,” says Ibhade.

“Before now, Asolar has been in the field with Beyond the Grid project (BTG1) to deploy 20,000 solar home systems in 12 states, and we covered about 250 communities across the states.”

“It’s from the success of the BTG1 that we could take up these 100,000 solar homes’ system distribution which we are currently doing under the Solar Naija Program.”

He adds despite significant challenges such as rugged terrain in the hinterland, insecurity, and problem with network connectivity, they managed the situations and had people on the ground to do the work.

The flip side

However, some SHS users in Jangefe complained about faulty systems, with cables having the highest rates of flaws. They also lament that it takes a long time before those in charge make replacements.

Some villagers also want a reduction in monthly charges, adding that as small-scale farmers, there are months they do not have enough to make payments for the SHS use.

Representative of Asolar in Jigawa Adamu Aliyu Yahaya confirms that 47 people had cable problems but had reported to their head office, which had set machinery in motion to redress the situation.

But Asolar’s Head of Operation points out there was a delay in replacing the cables because they needed to restock additional spare parts which had to be shipped.

He was quick to add that the cable issue was peculiar in Jangefe because of the temperature, which made the cables harder than usual.

“We installed the same systems in other places, and we didn’t get that many complaints,” he affirms.

“But as soon as we had such peculiarity, we quickly talked to our partners, manufacturers who tried to improve on what they sent to us. We have now more flexible ones that even if the weather is hot, it will not affect it.”

He adds: “We have two years' warranty, and within these two years, if there is an issue, we would take care of it, that we have been doing.”

He notes the response has been good on payment, adding that the default rate has been less than 10%. “What we are trying to do is ensure that people they are giving it have the means of payment.”

He wants the government to provide more funding platforms to help penetrate more and reach more people.

The Asolar official also urges the government to create a more accessible environment for developers to do their business, especially clearing their goods from the port.

“There are still some bottlenecks; it has not been easy. Sometimes it takes longer than necessary because of the bottlenecks at the port, which we think they can work on,” he submits.

“They can give renewable energy companies more of a waiver to reduce the cost that we spend in terms of duty charges and other things that we pay at the port; it would help for us also to reduce the price for the end customers.”

Partnering for the underserved

The Rural Electrification Agency data reveals that through the Solar Home Systems, they have achieved 515,109 electricity connections, 3717 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) connections and deployed 16907 kilowatts of energy as of May this year. Still, as SPN targets 25million individuals (5 million household connections), many wonder how realizable it is.

But the REA Managing Director/CEO, Ahmed Salihijo, is confident it is achievable. “It is very realistic, but we appreciate that government alone cannot do it,” he asserts.

“Therefore, we keep bringing in other stakeholders such as the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC, Niger Delta Power Holding Company and Central Bank of Nigeria CBN.”

Salihijo recalls that the 100,000 systems were for the guarantee of about an N7billion from the Niger Delta Power Holding Company of Nigeria.

“The NSIA is coming in with additional funding of N10b to support those private sector companies to deliver over 200,000 solar home systems to our rural dwellers.”

He adds that the partnership with NNPC is to facilitate an investment of N22billion to support three SPN initiatives to connect underserved Nigerians across the country.

“With the CBN, there’s a N140billion available at low-interest rates between 5-9% where we look to see how that can create a local content for manufacturing solar home products in the country,” the REA boss affirms.

“We will continue to engage developers through the Nigeria Electrification Program funded by the World Bank and the African Development Bank, where private developers get subsidies and grants of up to 60% to deliver solar home systems.”

This story was produced with support from the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network. It was originally published by The Guardian Nigeria on 30 May 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Nigeria has potential to develop solar power energy due to its high amount of sunlight / Credit: The Guardian Nigeria.

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