While much of the world is looking into green energy and how to reduce CO2 emissions ahead of the COP26, the energy concern for many Nigerians is quite different as the country still battles energy insecurities with about 43% of the population (85 million Nigerians) lacking access to electricity
Although the entire Nigeria's electricity supply chain face substantial challenges, the transmission network, which is entirely run by the government, remains the weakest link. Of the 13.5GW power generation capacity in the country, only about 7.5GW can be connected to the national grid. Meaning, even if more energy were to be generated, the transmission network is incapable of withstanding additional power loading to meet peak demand. In addition, the entire network is radial and without redundancies causing inherent reliability issues. The system also suffers a high number of system collapses and losses and currently dispatches only about 4GW to end consumers .
Solar mini-grids are smaller electricity networks that run on solar power and function separately of the national grid. They generate electricity for local consumption alone and when fitted with energy storage facilities, ensure uninterrupted power supply for the communities. While they are best suited for rural areas where it is costly and difficult to connect to the national grid, solar mini-grids also present excellent opportunities for complementing the national grid inefficiencies and driving sustainable development. In the bustling mega city, Lagos, where many have had to resort to noisy fossil-fuel powered generator to deal with the rolling blackouts, solar mini grids are a much cheaper and cleaner alternative helping to avoid tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Already, rural electrification projects have been set up in remote parts of the country like in Bisanti Village, Niger State that have proven the effectiveness of the solar mini-grids with reliable and affordable pay-as-you-go model. The Rural Electrification Agency (REA), with funding from the World Bank and under the Nigerian Electrification Project (NEP), have so far made approximately 5400 completed electricity connections through mini grids with the latest commissioned in September 2021 being the 100kWp Solar Hybrid Mini Grid at Kasuwan Magani, Kaduna State.
However, to scale the use of solar mini-grids nationwide, investment is crucial as mini-grids have high upfront infrastructure and installation costs. Government regulations (e.g. custom exemptions) and incentives like grants and subsidies can help create an enabling environment for a sustainable solar systems industry and assist in facilitating sufficient return on investment thereby encouraging investors and driving financing.
It is also important to define who will be responsible for the mini-grids - the public or private sector. The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) currently leverage private developers who win bids to build, operate and maintain the mini-grids. They negotiate affordable tariffs with the communities and operate independently. While this implementation model is attractive since it drives competition among developers and avoids reliance on government infrastructure, it is also dependent on funding to enable a profitable environment for the developers.
Community awareness and engagement is also critical to the successful expansion of solar mini-grids in the country. Developers must first understand communities' needs and how much they are willing to pay as tariff before building a site. Both parties must be willing to agree to work towards the end goal of reliable and affordable energy supply while ensuring a profitable venture for the developers.
To sum up, solar mini-grids can pave a way for Africa to begin to take steps towards meeting global climate targets while tackling inherent energy insecurities.
Nigeria recently celebrate her 61st Independence Day and while things might look bleak at the moment, I strongly believe that there is hope for my nation. Let's keep thinking forward and creating sustainable value adding solutions to her seemingly complex problems.