By Udeme Akpan & Chris Ochayi
THE plan of the Federal Government to stimulate economic activities in the rural communities through increased adoption of solar may only make limited impact as the facility does not have the capacity to power heavy equipment, Vanguard’s investigation has shown.
Consequently, investigation showed that it has been difficult for individuals, households and rural-based investors to utilise solar in enhancing their businesses, including farming and food processing. Take the experience of Wuna community in Gwagwalada Area Council of Abuja as an example. The Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo had 18 months ago, flagged-off the distribution of 200 units of solar-powered lighting system in Wuna village, thus raising hope for residents, predominantly farmers who need power to process and store their agricultural produce.
The scheme tagged, PayGo Solar Home Systems in Nigeria, came into being in partnership with the Niger-Delta Power Holding Company, NDPHC, and Azuri Technologies Limited to deliver affordable, clean energy to 20,000 rural households living without electricity. This is in line with the Federal Government’s energy policy targeted at increasing energy supply from renewable energy sources from 13 per cent of total electricity generation in 2015, to 23 per cent in 2025 and 36 per cent in 2030. But investigation by Vanguard showed that residents have not been able to do much beyond lighting, charging of telephones and powering of fans.
The traditional ruler, Etsu of Wuna, Mallam Yusuf Isah, stated in an interview with Vanguard that: ”We have problem with the ones installed in the primary school. They have battery problem and that makes it difficult for the school to use them. The power may come up today, and it will run down the next day. At times, the power will go off a few hours after switching on because the batteries would run down quickly.
“The problem is with the battery. The battery seems to be more powerful than the panel. We have complained to them that they should add more panels to the system in order to normalise it. But up till now, we have not yet gotten positive response from the company.”
Mallam Isah, who said the community needs 300 additional solar-powered electric light, added: ”But in spite of its performance, we will still appreciate if the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, AEDC, connect us to electricity grid. We need AEDC services here because this solar power system cannot solve all our needs.
“We need electricity because the solar system cannot take our televisions. If AEDC comes, we can watch television, but now before I watch television, I will have to switch on the generator. However, we have been encouraged by the promise of Azuri that it would come up with improved solar powered electric system that can power both television and fan.”
In different interviews with Vanguard, three residents – Alhassan Sariki, Alkali Sani and Haruna Saraki – also called for the introduction of the improved solar power light system to enable them make use of television and fan.
Despite the limitation of solar, the beneficiaries or users of the scheme who were in total darkness in the past are pleased with the government and other stakeholders, including the project consultants, Otis Engineering. Mallam Isah, further stated that the scheme has made positive impact on individuals, households and the entire community.
Mallam Isah, who recalled that before the introduction of the scheme, the community had recorded over five fire incidents as a result of increased use of candle and kerosene light, disclosed that pupils’ enrolment into the Universal Basic Education, UBE, primary school increased because of the scheme. He explained that children in the community were attracted by the rolling of ceiling fans fixed to the classroom ceilings and powered by the solar system. Commenting on tariff, he said: “We were paying N2, 500 monthly bills initially but this was reduced to N1, 900 shortly after about five months. But when Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo came for commissioning, the bill was further reduced to N1, 000 monthly.”
The Managing Director/CEO of NDPC, Mr. Chiedu Ugbo had at the launch of the scheme stated that: ”there are many Nigerians (estimated at 70 million) without any connection to the grid who still rely on rudimentary lighting systems characterised mainly by use of kerosene lamps, candles and petrol generators with attendant health and safety risks and indeed, financial challenges.
”By the Solar-Home-System initiative being launched by Your Excellency today, NDPHC, will be actively involved in the process of bringing power to these rural communities, thereby stimulating social and economic activities in the rural communities located off the grid.
”Under the first phase of the programme, NDPHC will deploy about 20,000 units of solar home systems to the underserved rural communities with no access to grid electricity supply.”
NDPHC has deployed 200 units of the SHS as pilot programme here in Wuna. The beneficiaries of the 20,000 units are among the already identified communities of the nineteen (19) Northern States of the Federation. The units will be deployed within a period of twelve (12) months.
”In order to vigorously drive this initiative, NDPHC engaged Azuri Technologies Group/Azuri Solar Power Nigeria Limited in July 2016. They are to ensure that the first phase of the initiative is achieved within 12 months.
”NDPHC adopted a community-based approach that will allow the rural low-income dwellers an opportunity to participate in this project. This approach allows a monthly payment for energy and also acquisition of the SHS unit after a certain period of time. The project is critical and strategic in so many ways, and a new department is now in place in NDPHC to drive it.
”In addition to the SHS unit, our solar project is also directed at auditing and re-activating 1,073 solar-powered boreholes. Already two of these boreholes are located in this community and are the first to be repaired and have provided access to clean water for the community. Villagers in Wuna can now make more efficient use of their time rather than spending hours operating manual pumps.
”Also here in Wuna is a school with an enrolment of 250 students. NDPHC is using this launch as an opportunity to demonstrate the uses of renewable sources of energy by installing a solar system to provide lighting and power to the students in the school. All their facilities are operational as at today.
”Wuna community, with an estimated population of 800 people is predominantly a community of farmers without access to the electricity grid. Before now, they spent money on torchlights, candles, kerosene lamps and petrol generators.
”The installation of solar lighting systems in this community has reduced expenditure on the above items while the farmers also have more hours to package their farm produce such as millet, yam, and guinea corn, ready for the market. Social and economic activities, which hitherto usually shut down at 6 PM, now extend for more hours into the night. School children also have extended hours of study at night.”