Solar power as a solution for Africa’s electricity muddle
Over six decades after Nigeria, sitting treacherously on its age-long tag as the giant of Africa gained independence from British rule, it still struggles to provide regular, uninterrupted electricity for its 200million-strong population. This is despite many government efforts that include an investment of 2.74trillion naira in Nigeria’s power sector over the last 16 years when it gained full democratic leadership.
It is not only the lack of capacity to light up every household after years of huge investments that leave a bad taste in the mouth, but the crippling consequences the situation continues to have on citizens’ productivity and a larger scale, national economic development, with no short-term or long-term solution in sight.
About 47% of Nigerians, to quote World Bank data, do not have any access to grid electricity. And for those who do, epileptic supply provides little to no succour. The cost of this poor power supply to the Nigerian economy is colossal. The consequence of power shortages in the country is an estimated $28billion economic loss every year according to the World Bank, an amount that is tantamount to 2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
If this economic data doesn’t scream precarious, nothing else will.
To be fair, using only Nigeria as a case study for its failure to generate electricity for its people masks a widespread problem across Africa. African countries like South Sudan, Chad, Burundi, Malawi, Liberia, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone painfully lead the table of countries with the lowest electricity access in the world. This data, unfortunately, doesn’t get any better from the continent’s perspective.
In its 2019 Africa Energy Outlook report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that 770 million people in Africa have no access to electricity, representing 38% of the continent’s population. And of those people, 75% live in sub-Saharan Africa.
These perturbing statistics go to show that if Nigeria, and indeed Africa, will change its electricity fortunes for the better, something drastic needs to happen in terms of the adoption of a workable alternative – decentralised energy solutions.
In the past few years, there has been increased adoption of solar energy as a form of electricity generation, not only in Nigeria but other parts of the world. For Africa, this offers a perfect solution to a long-lasting electricity problem. Especially when analysing the innumerable benefits of this energy resource that include capacity, reliability, cost-effectiveness, environmental friendliness and independence.
In understanding the potential of solar energy as a means of providing electricity across the continent, it is important to acknowledge Africa’s standing as the most sun-rich continent in the world, with theoretical solar energy reserves estimated at 60,000,000 TWh/year, which accounts for almost 40% of the global total according to Global Energy Interconnection. To put it succinctly, the global solar irradiation of Africa positions it for a very favourable solar energy exploitation.
Interestingly, many frontrunners are laying the blueprint and making it a possibility for millions of Nigerians to power their homes with solar energy, without having to worry about frustrating occurrences like epileptic supply, high maintenance cost, or estimated billing by power distribution companies.
Havenhill Synergy Limited, a clean-tech utility company, is one of those that stand out in demonstrating expertise in the renewable energy sector with trackable business, engineering, and technological operations and solutions. The company already boasts industry expertise and experience in constructing and operating mini-grids. It has been on a mission to generate clean, safe, cost-effective and sustainable electricity in rural and urban Nigeria, with a vision to spread its reach to other parts of Africa.
With over 2MW installed capacity cutting across several Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) projects and 4 mini-grid projects in 4 rural communities (which has helped to prove Energising Communities Initiative), it is now primed to commission 24 solar hybrid mini-grids across communities in Oyo and Kwara States in Q2 2022. When fully operational, these mini-grids are expected to serve at least 14,000 new customers and a cumulation of over 85,000 people across these rural communities.
Not only that, but the company is also leveraging strategic partnerships to add value to Nigerian lives, and this has seen it complete the electrification of 14 healthcare facilities in South-South Nigeria under the Rural Electrification Agency-Nigeria Electrification Programme COVID-19 Intervention Programme.
Considering that Africa is currently many steps behind the rest of the world on strategic adaptation to climate change, the adoption of environment-friendly energy sources like solar energy presents a great opportunity to lower the carbon footprint being dangerously generated by utility power. As such, there is an urgent need to toe the path being laid by Havenhill to encourage the use of renewable energy resources if the continent with the hottest and highest sunshine duration and the most vulnerable to climate change is to better its course.
Generally, the least expensive way to achieve universal electricity access is through decentralised energy systems powered by renewable energy sources. And declining costs of small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) for stand-alone systems and mini-grids means that people living in remote areas across the continent have a significant chance to access affordable electricity.
This way, Africa can have the minutest possibility of meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services by 2030.