Pascoe: Solar-Nigeria Project is Looking to Electrify 2.8m People

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Sumi Pascoe is the Programme Manager of Solar Nigeria Programme, a British government-funded project aimed at developing the sustainable use of solar energy in homes and offices across Nigeria. The project is run through Britain’s Department for International Development. In this interview with Chineme Okafor, Pascoe revealed that about 2.8 million people are penned to benefit from the programme. Excerpts:

The solar power narrative here is quite peculiar – it is reportedly expensive, uneconomical, elitist and unsustainable. How true are these?
We found this narrative prevalent upon starting out which is why Solar Nigeria is pioneering a new way of developing the market for off-grid solar power in Nigeria. Previous Nigerian solar programmes, though initially successful, succumbed to solar systems breaking down without succeeding in creating a sustainable market for solar power.

Solar Nigeria seeks to address the challenges that previous solar programmes in Nigeria have failed to overcome. Through interventions in the social sector, commercial sector and small systems for households, Solar Nigeria aims to strengthen the solar power value chain and create a sustainable public and private market. Through doing this, it will provide access to solar power for 2.8 million people whilst cutting three million tonnes of Co2e emissions, equivalent to the annual Co2e emissions of the entire Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

So, how is Solar Nigeria being funded?
Solar Nigeria is a development programme funded by the British government through Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID). The programme is implemented by Adam Smith International.

Solar Nigeria works with various stakeholders- both government and private sector, to achieve its objectives. For example, the Lagos Solar Project is a joint collaboration and co-funded by DFID and the Lagos State government. Solar Nigeria also works with private sector solar vendors and financiers to encourage scale up household solar sales.

In your pilot programmes for Solar Nigeria, you provided capacity building grants of £1.5million and £500,000 to 16 companies; you’ve got additional £16.7million for the project, why have you chosen off grid projects rather than grid-connected projects?

DFID invests in both on-grid and off-grid. However, we recognise that the grid will only reach about half of the population and not the communities in remote rural locations. We therefore believe that investment in mini grids and household solar are required in order to bring energy access to all by 2030.

Could you run us through the project schedule, what are its benefits to Nigerians?
Solar Nigeria is a six year donor funded development programme operating from October 2014 through September 2020. The purpose of the project is to strengthen the market for photovoltaic generated energy in Nigeria, and in doing so both improve the lives of poor Nigerians and reduce carbon emissions and the carbon intensity of Nigeria’s development path.

Who and where are the programme’s primary focus and why?
The Solar Nigeria programme is designed to target the social sector and the private market sector to address challenges to scalability, by strengthening partnerships with donors, private sector, federal and state governments and leveraging private and public finance.

Within the various components of the programme, the following has been accomplished: in the social sector: In Lagos, Solar Nigeria teamed up with the Lagos State government on the Lagos Solar project, which has brought solar electricity to 172 secondary schools and 11 primary health clinics in peri-urban, rural, and riverine areas. To date, over 135,000 beneficiaries in rural secondary schools have benefited with an estimated 50,500 plus beneficiaries at primary health care centres (PHC).

In Kaduna State, Solar Nigeria is working with the Kaduna State government to bring solar power to 34 rural health clinics with new partnerships in Northern Nigeria under way.
For the consumer market, across Nigeria, and especially in the North, Solar Nigeria is providing grants to solar power marketers and financiers, to support them in scaling up the market for small solar systems in order to increase accessibility to households and micro-enterprises.

In the commercial market, Solar Nigeria is using grants and technical assistance to help commercial-scale electricity users invest in world-class solar power systems, particularly in the North.

For the national solar project, we are providing technical support to the government on a national solar plan in line with the Energy Africa Compact. The policy advice to the federal government is aimed at easing regulatory market constraints, importation imposts, VAT, foreign currency concerns, standards, corporate taxation, mobile banking and other issues affecting the scaling-up for household solar.

Now, how does the programme interface with government or other agencies?
Solar Nigeria is working with the federal government of Nigeria via the office of the Vice President in developing an ambitious long term national plan for solar. It aims to create a stronger enabling environment for the development of solar markets by refining policy and regulations, developing an integrated national energy access plan, and supporting the wider use of solar in public facilities.

Is there a particular group the programme targets?

Solar Nigeria targets low household energy access and the challenge of poverty and climate change by scaling markets for solar photovoltaic (PV).
Many of the programmes components are targeted towards the very poor – for instance, electricity provided in the schools and clinics are in rural and riverine areas which tend to be much in the lower income.

Solar Nigeria aims to assist millions of households and micro enterprises to access clean, modern energy and lighting at lower cost than the kerosene lanterns and small generators that are currently being used. The consumer market programme is trying to target the crucial barrier of scale and liquidity to support an efficient supply chain. Solar Nigeria is working with IFC’s Lighting Africa team. The small systems includes lanterns, solar home systems, and solar PV systems up to around 15KWp.

Your project in Lagos looks like it is the best you’ve achieved so far?
Well, in Lagos we teamed up with the state government on the Lagos Solar project, which has brought solar electricity to 172 secondary schools and 11 primary health clinics in peri-urban, rural, and riverine areas.

We are also working with Kaduna State government to bring solar power to 34 rural clinics. We provided grants to solar power marketers and financiers, and supported them in scaling up the market for small solar systems, to date 179,000 households have accessed small solar systems through our help.