How do we get out of the energy crisis? There is need to give the decentralised renewable energy a try

Nigeria needs at least 12,000 megawatts of power but can barely produce 4,000, a mere 17 per cent of what one hydropower station in China generates. But the problem is not just in the number of megawatts: the main challenge is in how many people and businesses can actually access electricity. The most shocking statistic of all is that 95 million Nigerians still have no connection to power. After India, Nigeria has the highest number of un-electrified people of any country in the world.

Despite the gloom in this sector, we still see encouraging signals that point to solutions to the crisis. And such a solution does not include one that would require a 200 per cent increase in residential electricity tariffs, as the power distribution companies recently suggested. That solution seems to be renewable energy. Yet, this increasingly appears to be a sub-sector in the electricity industry, one that has been overlooked until now. A rapid increase and improvement in renewable energy technology coupled with an increasing decline in technology costs over the past decade means that renewable energy is becoming more affordable and one of the least expensive options on the table.

If the government has the vision to grab it, within the various renewable energy solutions, there is perhaps a lifeline to solve our power crisis quickly, affordably and sustainably; which also gives us a chance to end the blight of energy poverty on Nigeria. That lifeline is called “decentralised renewable energy”. It is what most people know as rooftop solar (for homes and businesses), green “mini-grids” and portable solutions like solar lanterns.

As things stand, a growing number of public-sector international players -development banks, aid agencies, civil society organisations – are eyeing Nigeria as a critical market to accelerate deployment of these solutions. Most recently, the Green Climate Fund committed $80 million to anchor the new $3.5 billion Universal Green Energy Access Programme (UGEAP), which is focused partly on Nigeria. Private sector companies and investors are also hoping to bring the explosion of decentralised energy solutions that we’ve seen grow in leaps and bounds in East Africa to Nigeria.

Fortunately, a new global campaign organisation, “Power-For-All” has been trying to drive increased visibility for the decentralised renewable energy sector, and highlight ways in which these solutions can work and have worked across other countries. But is the government ready to accept and promote these solutions?

Despite its stated goal of privatising the power sector in Nigeria, the government is still very much a market actor. In the case of decentralised solutions, the best thing the government can do is set policies and regulations that are clear and equitable and then get out of the way. The private sector, combined with “patient” capital from social impact investors and aid agencies, is ready to go big in Nigeria as long as a regulatory framework that is friendly to business and fair to consumers is in place. In the process, we can unleash a new wave of entrepreneurship and job creation similar to other countries that have embraced the clean energy revolution.

Recent steps offer some promise: a draft green mini-grid policy, and a recent target of 50 per cent of power output coming from renewable energy by 2020. But talk is cheap. The fact is that Nigeria is still a laggard in the clean energy transition sweeping the globe. Why would our political leadership insist on applying 19th century solutions to a 21st century problem? Now is the time for all of our country’s leaders in energy, finance, health, education, environment to fully embrace decentralised renewable energy and deliver power for all.