Solar energy is a sustainable, clean and practical way that can be quickly exploited to provide power to the teeming Nigerian citizens Aso Ude.
There is no way a society can attain any level of development in today’s world economic model driven by industrialisation and technology without attending to electricity power sufficiency. But Nigeria is a country faced with chronic power shortages that has retarded economic development for far too long, not to mention the untold hardship her citizens are daily subjected to as a result of the epileptic electricity supply.
Poor power supply means that households cannot buy perishable goods in bulk or prepare meals that will last for more than a day, but instead, will have to contend with frequently buying food items in retails, and preparing meals only in piecemeal, as refrigerators have merely become decoration boxes in the households.
Shopping in retails rather than stocking food items in bulk is understandably uneconomical and wastes a lot of useful time that could be diverted to other productive ventures, and when you factor the fact that we are talking about a country where up to 70 percent of her citizens live on less than two dollars a day according to UN figures, and where the official minimum wage is a paltry eighteen thousand naira, then the picture will begin to become clearer.
As an alternative to the unavailability of power from the grid, most households in Nigerians have come to rely on generators with its attendant high fueling and maintenance cost as well as adverse health implications from the exhaust fumes and noise. Nigeria is the world largest importer of generators. It has been estimated that the country needs a minimum of 20,000 megawatts to provide a reasonable power supply to her citizens and even far more to power industrialised Nigeria.
Yet the highest power numbers the country has ever attained hovers around 4,000 megawatts, which has since fallen to under 2,000 megawatts in recent weeks. The country has spent billions of dollars in an effort to boost power supply former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration spent about $20bn between 1999 and 2003 yet there is very little to show for it. What has not been in short supply is excuses; if it’s not about shortage of gas supply, it will be about pipeline vandalism, sabotage or low level of water in the dams.
The unbundling of PHCN started by former President Obasanjo and the eventual privatisation of the successor companies by former President Goodluck Jonathan is yet to yield the desired result. In the mean time, the suffering of the citizens continues, even as they are made to pay for services not rendered by the new capitalist managers of the power infrastructure. In his inaugural address, President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to “identify the quickest, safest and most cost-effective way to bring light and relief to Nigerians”, and here is lies the motivation for this article. Solar energy is a sustainable, clean and practical way that can be quickly exploited to provide power to the teeming Nigerian citizens.
In recent years, a lot of technological advances have been made which has tremendously increased the efficiency of solar panels and products, at the same time drastically reducing the costs from where it was only a couple of years ago. Just last month, May, 2015, following months of anticipation , Tesla founder Elon Musk unveiled a suite of batteries for homes and businesses that he says will “fundamentally change the way the world uses energy” Tesla’s new batteries will cost 60 percent less than previous solar power storage products.
Tesla’s new products will begin shipping by October this year. I call on our newly elected president to seriously consider investment in solar and other renewable and sustainable energy sources as a matter of priority. By so doing, he will not only be solving the energy crises but will also be contributing in reducing green house emissions and combating climate change. We already have the advantage of abundant sunshine which is the source of solar energy. I suspect that most people and even policy makers don’t know that solar energy really works, I used to think same way also. Let me paint a real picture here for us to appreciate the full power of modern solar energy system. A friend of mine living at Ajah, Lagos uses solar to generate electricity in his home.
With just 6 solar panels, my friend was able to generate enough power for all his home appliances which included two freezers, television sets, fans and several lightings, and the system is completely quiet. In order for the system to work at night, he installed 4 batteries which charges in the day and an inverter that converts the direct current to alternating current at night. And it need not be that sunny for the system to work.
Although the initial cost of installation is high (my friend spent six hundred thousand naira for the complete unit), the government can do a lot to make the product affordable. The panel has a useful life cycle of about 25 years. The government can make the system more affordable, first by removing duties, taxes and other charges on solar panels, solar batteries and associated products in the short term, with a comprehensive plan for local assembling and manufacturing in the medium and long term.
Secondly, the government can provide some form of incentives and subsidies to users of solar energy products to alleviate the cost. Many countries are already subsidizing solar equipments. Using several models that suit local peculiarities. UK for instance pays her citizens who go off the grid but uses solar to generate electricity monthly. There is also a buy back arrangements whereby utility companies buy back power from solar energy users who store energy during off peak periods and sell to the grid during peak periods.
This is one area where subsidy payment will really benefit the people. If the trillions of naira the government paid and is still paying subsidising petroleum product is channeled to making solar power affordable, the country at large will get far more value than it does from the petroleum subsidy while preserving our environment. In fact the 2.5 trillion naira the country spent in subsidy payment in 2011 can literally be enough to provide every household with stand alone uninterrupted clean electricity through solar energy.
Renewable energy especially solar is energy for the future and it’s time Nigeria joined the rest of the world in a march toward a more sustainable, clean and environmentally friendly energy source. But the government should be mindful that the oil cartels, generator importers and utility companies will not want the idea to see the light of the day. So a lot of political will is required on the part of the government for such a project. The government would have to draw the battle line and must make the deliberate decision to be on the side of the people rather than serve a few vested interests.

Ude, a freelance writer public affairs commentator