Renewable energy should be given adequate attention

The recent launch of a ‘Solar Power Naija’ project, which focuses on five million solar connections for off-grid communities as part of the federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic is ordinarily a good idea. But we are concerned that the emphasis is on income generation in a nation that reels in darkness. The solar power programme, according to the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), is expected to generate an additional N7 billion ($18 million) increase in tax revenues per annum and $10 million in annual import substitution.

Despite being blessed with renewable energy (RE) resources like wind, solar, biomass and hydropower, the majority of our people, especially in the rural areas, still have no connection to power. After India, Nigeria has the highest number of un-electrified people of any country in the world. The solution to this crisis seems to be renewable energy. Yet, this sub-sector in the electricity industry has practically been overlooked until now.

With everybody supplying their own electricity, Nigeria is one of the toughest places in the world to do business. Lack of electricity has over the years limited access to healthcare, education and other opportunities, including running their businesses for majority of Nigerians. Many small and medium scale businesses have been crippled due to the prohibitive cost of generating their own power. Even the big business ventures, particularly the manufacturing ones, are also feeling the biting effect of energy poverty with consequences stretching to every part of the economy.

However, 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 option on the table. Several private sector companies and investors are hoping to bring the explosion of decentralised energy solutions that we’ve seen grow by leaps and bounds in East Africa to Nigeria. If the government has the vision to grab it, within the various renewable energy solutions, there is a lifeline to solve our power crisis quickly, affordably and sustainably. That 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.

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.

According to the first annual job survey for the decentralised renewable energy (DRE) sector in emerging economies which covered the period 2017–18, Nigeria is one of the fastest growing in terms of employment opportunities for both formal and informal jobs. But the country can do far more. The REA has pledged its determination to expand energy access to 25 million individuals through the provision of solar home systems (SHS) or connection to a mini-grid while increasing local content in the off-grid solar value chain. This is a noble objective. But the authorities must go beyond rhetoric to concrete action. Nigeria cannot continue to remain a laggard in the clean energy transition sweeping across the globe.