By Ebele Orakpo
Plans are underway to put up a solar energy training facility in Nigeria where people can be trained. This is a welcome development because barely one month to the December target date for the attainment of 6,000mw electricity promised the nation by the Federal Government, it has become obvious that it cannot be met as the nation has less than 3,000mw now.
What is expected of the powers_that_be at this moment is to go back to the drawing board, re_strategise and come up with a better and more realistic strategy to power the nation if the vision of the Federal Government to make Nigeria one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2020,is to be realised. A nation without electricity to power its economy can never move forward.
Various people have proffered solutions on how the nation can overcome this embarrassment. One of such people is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of PSC Industries Limited, a total solar electricity solutions provider, Dr. Patrick Owelle, who in partnership with Rimas B.V of Netherlands, one of the largest solar PV assembly line equipment manufacturers, brought in five turn key PV solar module manufacturing lines to enable them produce solar modules in Nigeria.
In a chat with Vanguard, the Managing Director, Rimas B.V, Dr. Mark Verstraten said there would be two of such facilities; one in the Netherlands to train the higher level skills and â€œsomething like a solar school in Nigeria where people can develop the basic technological solutions that fits Africa better than whatever you can get from outside the continent.â€
The Rimas boss said that once the facility is in place, training can commence here.â€œWe have training facilities right now that we can use in Europe and part of the plans we have is that by 2010, we will have the facility in Nigeria as well where people can be trained.â€
He stated that in the whole renewable energy industry, solar is the one that cannot only bring energy, but can bring jobs and export earnings as well. According to Verstraten, the solar energy industry is a very international community hence Rimas has equipment in a lot of places inside and outside of Europe, adding that apart from PSC, â€œwe have done some things in South Africa. What we are doing at the moment is changing our focus from many places on the globe to few specific places and one of those is Africa.â€
Asked why Africa was chosen, Verstraten said one of the reasons was abundant sunlight and â€œthe other thing is that there are a lot of opportunities for us to do something with the sun. The solutions we have at this moment, particularly the one with PSC Industries, is the manufacturing lines which is overseeable in size, a very nice job creator. The level of skills needed here is overseeable and we are setting up a programme of knowledge transfer,â€ he said.
Speaking with Vanguard also, Dr. Patrick Owelle said they had discussions with representatives of various state governments about establishing in one of the free trade zones, a 12.5mw solar manufacturing line which would create about 200 local jobs for the area, but most importantly, create exporting facilities to be able to export solar panels to neighbouring African countries.
I think that is a plus for this country, not only that we are doing work for the local economy, we are also doing work for the export facility which brings foreign exchange back into the country. I think that is a very impressive feat that Rimas is helping Nigeria to accomplish,â€ he stated, adding that Mr. Verstratenâ€™s trip to Nigeria is a commitment to Africa in general and Nigeria in particular because they have come to understand the strategic importance of Nigeria to the world renewable energy market.â€
Mark Verstraten advised governments at all levels to act quickly.
Speaking on other renewable energy sources, he said that the technology behind the wind mill is fairly complicated so it is not too easy to generate power from wind here. As for hydro, he stated that it is an efficient way of getting clean energy but the down side is that a lot of technology is needed from outside the country.
â€œAlso for thermal, you donâ€™t have all the knowledge you need for that here. For solar, the gap can be filled really quickly in several ways by increasing knowledge, getting your own solutions, especially if you want to go into rural electrification _ off grid solution_Â that is what we are all talking about, i.e give the people what they need directly.â€
Verstraten noted that Rimas which started as an automation house for automotive finishing in the Netherlands about 10 years ago, became manufacturing specialists in solar, manufacturing solar panels. The company began dealing solely on solar, making equipment for solar panels about six years ago when Verstraten bought it.
He reiterated the fact that solar is very clean, no pollution, no noise and one invests only once and then for at least 20 years, one has a worthy solution. Also, distribution channels may not be necessary as there is the off_grid option.
On the possibility of meeting the 6,000mw target by end of December, he said: â€œWell, I did some careful calculations and I know that 6,000mw is 30 million solar panels if you want to do everything in solar panels.
It is also the equivalent of the manufacturing output of 1,000 manufacturing lines for one year so I donâ€™t think it is realistic to say you can do all these in a few weeks. The entire solar industry worldwide cannot produce that in one month,â€ noting that â€œsolar energy is a special renewable energy, itâ€™s not the only way to do it. There would be other things you have to do to meet Nigeriaâ€™s needs.â€
Comparing Africaâ€™s needs to Europeâ€™s, the Rimas boss said Europe has enough power, but â€œthe thing is that in Europe, renewable energy is an environmental issue. People want to reduce pollution. Carbon emission is the main reason for seeking renewable energy option. Here in Africa, the need is different, it is elementary. You just need electricity to improve lives,â€ hence the need to explore every energy source.