Rural energy access and the future of SMEs
As Nigeria battles to improve the electricity generation and supply nationwide, the recent initiative of the Bank of Industry that led to the commissioning of the 48kw pilot model offgrid solar home systems in two rural communities in the North-East and South- West zones of the country is one that may not only assist in scaling up energy generation to meet Nigerians’ quest for a sustained power supply but help in the promotion of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises nationwide.
The initiative would not only help to cater for the energy need of the people in the areas but also help to preserve the environment.
Addressing the energy need of thousands of off-grid communities across the country is what the Bank of Industry is targeting through its Solar Energy Partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Under the programme, the development finance institution is providing a long-term financing for the installation of off-grid solar home systems in six communities in a pilot phase.
While inadequate supply of electricity has been identified as one of the factors responsible for collapse of industries in the country, SMEs are such that they do not require much electricity, hence the off-grid solution of solar can be explored to ensure that upcoming SMEs in the country do not suffer the faith of industries.
Little has been said about thousands of rural dwellers who are not connected to the national grid and as such, denied access to basic amenities that make live worth living.
In order to meet their energy need, these neglected members of the society are consigned to felling trees for firewood for cooking, rely on kerosine lanterns, oil lamps for illumination and adopt other sources of power generation which are not only inimical to their health, but also harmful to the environment.
The decision of BoI to fund renewable energy project, environment experts say, is in line with the policy direction of the present administration. According to them, apart from being the first President that openly made concerns for climate change part of his campaign issues, Mohammadu Buhari, had during the just concluded Nigeria Alternative Power Expo(NAEE), called on investors in the power sector to shift emphasis towards environmentally friendly alternative sources of power generation in order to protect the ecosystem.
Meanwhile, apart from the already commissioned 24kw micro-grid solar electrification each in Bisanti, a remote village in Katcha Local Government Area of Niger State and in IfeNorth LGA in Osun State, the project is to be replicated in four other communities, namely: Ogbekpen, Ikpoba in Okha LGA, Edo State, Kolwa Kaltunga LGA, in Gombe State, Onono, Anambra West LGA, in Anambra State and Carwa/Cakum, Markarfi LGA, in Kano State.
The over 200 rural dwellers in each of the community that are captured in the project, are expected to have sufficient solar electricity to power three LED light bulbs, one electric fan, one radio/TV set and Mobil phone charging. Unlike in the grid system in which electricity bill is by fiat, the solar power system will be anchored on ‘Pay-as-YouGo prepaid technology.
BoI Managing Director, Mr. Rasheed Olaoluwa, noted that the need to impact on the lives of thousands of people that are not connected to the national grid in remote villages in the country was the driven force behind the project. According to him, the rural electrification solution would not only help in reducing the rural-urban migration, it would help to preserve the lives of the people as well as the ecosystem.
He said, “Those that are worse hit by the current electricity situation in the country are the rural communities, especially the off-grid areas which have always been without electricity and have resigned their fate to the use of kerosine lanterns, oil lamps and other types of dangerous and unhealthy sources of light to be able to live their daily lives.
“Firstly, the installation of off-grid solar home systems in the two communities will help developing the communities. Secondly, we can begin to see a slow down in rural urban migration and possibly a reversal. It is a model we are deploying in six communities across the six geopolitical zones.
“Solar is a green energy that relies on energy from the sun. The solar panel stores energy and the one that is not used during the day is stored in a battery. It is a self-sustaining model, environmentally friendly and we are proud to be supportive of the process.”
An electrical engineer, Charles Ameh said that the introduction of off-grid solar electrification was one of the best ways of expanding energy access in the country.
“This is one of the best initiatives so far introduced in our quest to expand energy access to rural areas. Most communities in this country are still not connected to the national grid and how long do they have to wait. The off-grid solar solution is wonderful and should be replicated all over the country,” he said.
The researchers from the Research and Development Unit, Nigeria Re and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, agreed that the erratic supply of power by Power Holding Company of Nigeria has not only forced the urban dwellers that are presumed to have more access to the electricity than their rural counterpart to the similar fate of the rural dwellers. “This made some state governments to take shot in off-grid option with the assistance of the international community such as World Bank to provide electricity for remote areas where grid extensions were difficult to reach. Nigeria was not lucky like other nations in this adventure as monumental failure were being recorded than the success from the technology.”
Managing Director, GVE Project Limited, Ifeanyi Orajaka, stated that the BoI/UNDP project would help the beneficiaries to conserve money, adding that the cost of purchasing kerosine lamp, candles and generators was capable of constituting a strain on the pocket of ordinary people.
He noted, “before now, this community used to rely on kerosine lamps, candles and generators. You and I know that apart from being unclean, unhealthy to both human and environment they are generally expensive to operate. But with this solar energy system, they are now introduced to clean, reliable and affordable power solution.”
Experts are of the opinion that the off-grid solar solution maybe expensive at the beginning but looking at long term benefits and its friendliness with the environment, its a worthy initiative that should be spread around.