Nigeria’s journey to supply steady electricity has often meant that the quality of life is severely diminished. Currently tied with heat waves and petrol shortages, Suzan Ironsi writes on the cushions of renewable energy prospects.
In recent times, it was reported that the Nigeria Association of Energy Economists, NAEE, indicated that about 75 percent of Nigeria’s estimated 170 million population lack access to electricity. These individuals are understood to utilize backup generators or traditional fuels like wood, gas in their homes, to cook and support their power needs. The result is often fatal, from Inhalation of the smoke and fumes produced from these fuels. Research also indicates that an estimated four million deaths per year occur across sub-Saharan Africa, from inhalation of fuel fumes, mainly among women and children.
Though 45 percent of Nigerians are said to be connected to the national grid, most rural dwellers in the country, do not account for that figure. For these Nigerians, off grid technology, such as solar energy is considered the hope for the problems of power supply.
Nigeria is endowed with enormous solar energy which is yet to be fully utilized. The Renewable Energy Centre at the University of Calabar has indicated that given the average radiation of 5.5kWhm/day, the country can generate 1850 multiplied by 103GWh of electricity per year. However, adequate research is needed to harness these resources and the focus areas of the solar energy which include options for Photovoltaic power, solar water heaters and solar food dryers. The dramatic fall in the price of solar photovoltaic panels, improvements in battery technology and more efficient appliances, such as LED lights encourage the spread of access to these energy sources for the poorer in the country.
In the town of Ahilejeme, Vandeikya in Benue State is where St. Francis School for the Deaf and Blind is located. A philanthropic institution, the school caters to 96 students, male and female. Ranging from the ages of 3-18, it accommodates the visually-impaired; hearing-impaired; orphans and vulnerable and a few without any disability.
The principal, Sister Eucharia Ugwu, expresses that electricity is non-existent in the village of Ahilejime, where the school is located and they have depended on generators, powered by diesel and petrol to serve as the solitary medium, available to meet their electricity needs. However, the persistent petrol shortage and financial constraints made that arrangement, less than ideal. She conveys to LEADERSHIP Weekend that, “Because of the high cost of diesel and fuel, we had averagely 2 hours of electricity every day , from 7-9pm. This School is run on charity basis, meaning that the children do not pay school fees; hence, it was impossible to power the generating plants for more than two hours daily.”
According to the principal, St. Francis School for the Deaf & Blind is run on charity basis by the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus (Rev. Sisters). Benue State Government pays the salaries of twelve out of 28 Staff, while parents pay a token for the upkeep of the children or provide foodstuff.
However, the opportune intervention, of an estimated N5.87million solar energy project funded by the Australian High Commission’s Direct Aid Programme, DAP, has given shine to an otherwise dreary existence.
According to the Development cooperation officer at the Australian, High Commission, Adaora Ikenze, St Francis satisfied all the requirements for a project; the school came with very good references, the proposed project was developmental and had a very clear social capital, had immediate impact, satisfied their sustainability criteria, and was obviously needed. She added that the project commenced in December, and was completed in March with material provided by a local contractor, who has also committed to basic maintenance of the panels for their expected 5 year life span.
Ikenze elaborates, saying, “This is a school that does excellent work, has little access to funding and publicity, and in a rural area. Just by funding two specific things; Solar panels for security lighting and changing the borehole to a solar powered one, the impact and effect on the quality of the children’s lives is immediate”.
The DAP is a flexible small grants program run directly by the Australian High Commission in Abuja. The funding is available to community groups, local NGOs, private sector entities, among other organisations engaged in development activities on a not-for-profit basis. It has also funded similar programs, such as the training of farmers within the Kwali Area Council of Abuja in the construction and use of solar powered food dryers, the installation of solar panels and solar lamps at the KiriKiri Female Prison in Lagos and supported the training in basic solar (pv) systems design, installation and maintenance of 20 deaf persons (7 women, 13 men).
Sister Eucharia Ugwu says that with the completion of the project, for the first time in the history of the school, they are able to use a refrigerator to store food items for the children.
“We used to smoke the meat and fish in order to preserve them. We can make our vegetable farms all through the year, irrigate our farm in time of draught which has become prevalent in recent time, and take care of our piggery farm and the fish pond.
The project has led to improved security in the school. The night guards are more at home because of the provision of security lights in some parts of the compound. There is improved and conducive learning environment. The children can move freely at night and communicate with one another. Hearing-impaired children rely solely on sign Language for communication (this requires that they see one another clearly in order to decipher the signs).
Leap Needed In Adopting And Implementing Renewable Energy Supplements
The solar power project for St Francis – Ahilejime has brought succour to the school, and the ample list of benefits are capped with the reduction in the money spent on fuel and on the maintenance of the generator, described as prone to breaking down.
There are many other areas across the country, desperate for this intervention. The Renewable Energy Centre, UNICAL is one of many institutions across the country dedicated to research and development initiatives. Some off their projects include The 6.4 megawatts Hydro Electricity generation from the Great Kwa Falls (Unical Hydro Energy Project), Waste paper processing, Biodiesel from used engine/cooking oil and Biogas from waste agriculture products.
According to The National Renewable Energy Action Plan, to meet the Nigerian Vision 20:2020 target of 40,000MW, generation capacity would require to be grown by 4.3GW every year. It is evident that every energy source will need to be considered. As such, the Council for Renewable Energy of Nigeria, CREN, has held that solar energy can provide electricity for about 90 million Nigerians and has already established that electricity is vital to the development of nations, and its use is directly correlated with healthy economic growth.
Solar power, which is energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy, has been described as the cleanest renewable energy source available. Developed Nations, such as the United States, China and Brazil have some of the richest solar resources in the world. The advancements in modern technology has encouraged viable avenues for harnessing this energy for a variety of uses, including generating electricity, providing light, powering water sources and heating water for domestic, commercial, or industrial use. These alternatives include getting wind and solar power to the populace, without using panels, would involve building long-distance power lines. Social commentators Jules Hamilton and Serious Wonder outline that as solar power becomes cheaper and battery technology improves, Africa will harvest their abundant sunshine for clean energy to help it grow economically.
Nigeria, though the most populated in Africa, has few renewable energy options to mitigate power shortages. Along these lines, CREN had committed to facilitating the planning and partnerships necessary to achieve large-scale, renewable energy implementation in the country, and enhancing government and public awareness of renewable energy technologies.
By Suzan Ironsi [Leadership.ng]