Decentralised renewable energy offers competitive advantage

Against the background that electricity consumers in the country remain grossly under-served with one of the lowest energy-per-capita rates in the world, we hope the authorities will buy into the call to explore renewable energy. Utilising the country’s untapped energy sources, estimated at 93,950 megawatts, will not only help in improving the welfare of many Nigerians, it will also aid national productivity and growth.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Chief Sub-Regional Officer, Mr Bakary Dosso, Nigeria is home to enormous energy resources such as petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear power and tar sands. Other resources include solar, wind, biomass and hydropower. But these resources are not being tapped at a time the epileptic nature of power supply makes our country not only one of the harshest environments for business but also very uncompetitive.

As a result of the failure of the electricity sector, despite a colossal investment of several billions of dollars in recent years, individuals and businesses in the country have had to resort to self-help through an assortment of generators. Yet privately generated electricity comes at a cost three to four times higher than the rate charged for public electricity. This is aside the negative implications of the more expensive and self-generated electricity on the cost of living, on business profitability, on the incidence of poverty, and on health, safety and the environment.

Now that the issue of renewable energy sources has been raised, some pertinent questions arise: How come the country has not been able to exploit all these energy sources to her advantage? Why is the development and exploitation of energy sources skewed in favour of hydropower, petroleum and natural gas? What can the authorities in the power sector do to harness these dormant resources?

There is a host of reasons as to why Nigeria hasn’t realised the full potential of its renewable energy resources, including the inherent “business as usual” grid bias that many countries have. However, in the attempt to reach the millions of our citizens in both the urban and rural areas who still live in darkness, decentralised renewable energy (DRE) offers the best option because of its competitive advantage.

That the DRE can deliver energy access in a number of months as against the years it takes to site, permit, build and manage a traditional centralised fossil fuel grid system, makes it even more attractive. Therefore, we agree with UNECA that it will serve the nation well if the authorities can exploit the full range of our renewable resources, especially since DRE—ranging from standalone solar systems to mini-grids and mobile solar farms—is readily available, cost-effective and immediately deployable.

Incidentally, ‘Power For All’, a non-governmental organisation in the sector has been at the forefront of the campaign that the DRE can provide energy services to many Nigerian communities that are already cut off from the national grid. The DRE is all the more attractive because it can deliver productive use of energy in a way that empowers individuals and communities to increase their personal income and finances while ensuring that socio-economic growth is felt by those at the bottom of the pyramid.

By focusing its advocacy around aligning government actors on specific policy actions and working with stakeholders in the sector to remove barriers, according to its Nigeria Director, Ms Ifeoma Malo, ‘Power For All’ seeks to get market women as part of the renewable energy value chain by training them and other prospective vendors on this technology. And with enormous potential for the DRE sector to solve Nigeria’s energy challenge in a short to medium term, we share her view that Nigerians do not have to wait forever to be electrified.