Nige­ria’s so­lar energy strat­egy

Daily Trust - - OPINION - By Philip Chuk­wueke

On June 3rd, 2015, Egypt, with a pop­u­la­tion of 88 mil­lion peo­ple and

27,000 Mega Watts of in­stalled elec­tric­ity ca­pac­ity, an­nounced a con­tract agree­ment with Siemens AG of Ger­many for the de­vel­op­ment of ad­di­tional 16,400 megawatts of re­new­able energy based on a com­bi­na­tion of wind power and nat­u­ral gas tech­nolo­gies. Based on this agree­ment and the as­so­ci­ated roll­out timetable, Egypt ex­pects to in­crease its elec­tric­ity gen­er­at­ing by 30% by year 2020.

By com­par­i­son, on Au­gust 12th, 2015, Nige­ria with a pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mated at 181 mil­lion and a gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity of 5,900 Mega Watts of elec­tric­ity, re­leased a doc­u­ment ti­tled *Draft Feed In Tar­iff for Re­new­able Energy Sourced Elec­tric­ity* for Nige­ria. As per this draft Nige­ria Elec­tric­ity Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion doc­u­ment (NERC), a limit of 2,000 Mega Watts was ear­marked for all re­new­able energy sources de­ploy­able into the Nige­ria GRID by year 2020. Of this amount, only 387 MW was ear­marked for so­lar elec­tric­ity.

There is some­thing gravely dis­turb­ing with the pic­ture these fig­ures present. It is very easy to un­der­stand why these pal­try num­bers are put out by NERC.

The elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, trans­mis­sion and dis­tri­bu­tion eco-sys­tems in Nige­ria is still very weak; the DIS­COs are still strug­gling to up­grade their net­works, pur­chase me­ters and pay their bills; and un­til planned up­grades are com­pleted, the trans­mis­sion GRID is un­sta­ble and has lim­ited ca­pac­ity to ac­cept ad­di­tional gen­er­a­tion; and in some cases the dis­tri­bu­tion net­works may be tech­ni­cally un­fit to re­ceive any in­crease in elec­tric­ity sup­ply from the GRID. These fac­tors are com­pounded by the fact that the Nige­rian con­sumer, peren­ni­ally ha­rassed with elec­tric­ity bills that have lit­tle cor­re­la­tion with ac­tual ser­vices re­ceived, com­bat­ively re­sists any in­creases in elec­tri­cal tar­iffs - no mat­ter what ar­gu­ments put forth by the DIS­COs!

Un­der­stand­ably, in the case of re­new­ables, NERC, act­ing within their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tory frame­work, must of ne­ces­sity think SMALL, and must frame the re­new­able energy strat­egy in small num­bers. We be­lieve this is the time to think big and reg­u­late cre­atively and de­ci­sively.

To meet the coun­try’s near term day­time elec­tric­ity de­mands, we pro­pose a care­ful de­sign and in­tro­duc­tion of a two tiered (time of day) tar­iff­ing mech­a­nism that, even un­der ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture lim­i­ta­tions, can sup­port an ag­gres­sive de­ploy­ment of so­lar energy in Nige­ria over the next three years. Why so­lar? Amongst Re­new­able Energy tech­nolo­gies, So­lar has some very unique fea­tures that sug­gest it must be given spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion in craft­ing Nige­ria’s energy pol­icy:

So­lar energy can be gen­er­ated cost ef­fec­tively any­where in Nige­ria with bet­ter ef­fi­cien­cies in the north­ern parts of the coun­try; with sun­light ev­ery­where, it is prob­a­bly the only re­new­able energy de­vel­op­ment that can be sited any­where in the coun­try with­out desta­bi­liz­ing the grid and lo­cal dis­tri­bu­tion net­works . Re­cent ad­vances tech­ni­cal per­for­mance and cost of stor­age tech­nolo­gies make this fea­si­ble.

So­lar only gen­er­ates elec­tric­ity dur­ing the day - the same pe­riod of time a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of elec­tric­ity con­sumers in Nige­ria may be will­ing to pay slightly more for guar­an­teed elec­tric­ity sup­ply. It is ar­guable that most com­mer­cial en­ter­prises in Nige­ria will welcome a slight in­crease on day­time tar­iffs to run­ning their diesel gen­er­at­ing sets. Un­der this flex­i­ble tar­iff­ing scheme, an ad­di­tional 3,000MW of so­lar elec­tric­ity can be com­mis­sioned within 3 years in a way that pro­vides ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion to off-peak (evening and night), mostly residential con­sumers.

It is also ar­guable that dur­ing this energy tran­si­tion era, most Nige­rian homes can suf­fice with twelve hours of off-peak (5pm - 9am) elec­tric­ity supplied at nor­mal rates. And of course there are se­ri­ous me­ter­ing chal­lenges that must be ad­dressed un­der this pro­posed scheme. The al­ter­na­tive, how­ever, is for the na­tion to be stuck with a ten year ges­ta­tion needed for other forms of energy to de­velop from con­cept to ac­tual wattage on the GRID.

So­lar pan­els ac­count for 60% of the cost of a typ­i­cal util­ity scale de­ploy­ment; hence, large scale de­ploy­ments en­vis­aged un­der this scheme can spawn lo­cal so­lar panel man­u­fac­tur­ing in Nige­ria - pos­si­bly within the next 12 months. No other elec­tri­cal energy source of­fers such a tremen­dous po­ten­tial for con­tent lo­cal­iza­tion. Some in­ter­na­tion­ally re­puted panel man­u­fac­tur­ers have al­ready sent rep­re­sen­ta­tives to Nige­ria to size up the fea­si­bil­ity of man­u­fac­tur­ing so­lar pan­els in Nige­ria.

And most im­por­tantly, with pro­jected 10% an­nual re­duc­tion in so­lar panel costs over the next few years, the cost of so­lar energy is rid­ing on an ag­gres­sive tra­jec­tory to achieve par­ity with tra­di­tional fos­sil fuel energy sources such as gas. Can Nige­ria af­ford to miss this ride?

It is my hum­ble sub­mis­sion that if the fore­go­ing fac­tors are care­fully con­sid­ered and deftly weaved into our na­tional re­new­able energy poli­cies,

Nige­ria will be able to use so­lar energy to take a big bite off the se­vere energy short­fall that con­tin­ues to un­der­mine our na­tional de­vel­op­men­tal ef­forts.

Chuk­wueke writes from Abuja

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