Nigeria: Tackling Solar Power In Nigeria’s Rural Communities

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The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) in partnership with the World Bank recently embarked on a sensitisation tour of 67 communities selected in 4 states of the federation, including Sokoto, prior to the flag-off of its Solar Hybrid Mini-Grids pilot projects in those states. ABAH ADAH reports on the exercise in Sokoto State.

The reality about the Nigerian power sector is that it has struggled for so long to ensure quality and uninterrupted electricity supply for her citizens but to no avail as the various targets set were never even nearly met, leaving it at about 3,000 to 3,500MW annual average as the highest it could afford to supply from independence to date when the population is running into 200 million from the average of about 45 million that it was at independence.

It has been established that a vast population of Nigeria, about 70 per cent are rural dwellers, and that a paltry 26 per cent of them may have had access to electricity. This means Nigeria still has a long way to go in terms of access to and supply of electricity.

Deriving from the Goal of the federal government to increase access to electricity to 75 per cent and 90 per cent by 2020 and 2030 respectively and at least 10 per cent of renewable energy mix by 2025 as contained in the National Electric Power Policy (NEPP) of 2001 and the Rural Electrification Policy of 2005 respectively, the primary objective of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Policy and by extension the Rural Electrification Strategy and Implementation Plan is to expand access to electricity as rapidly as possible in a cost-effective manner.

This led to the idea of allowing mini-grids use of both grid and off-grid approaches, with subsidies being primarily focused on expanding access to the all-important electricity by the people, especially remote communities where the grid power has not reached. It is assumed that private sector providers would be heavily involved in enhancing access through – both the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) successor distribution companies recently privatised and a range of other public and private companies.

In what appears to be an uncommon determination on the part of government to at least reduce the huge electricity deficit gap to an insignificant one, if not close it completely, the current board of REA which has Mrs Damiliola Ogunbiyi as the managing director was constituted and inaugurated by the minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, with a clear mandate to provide electricity through sustainable off-grid solutions to underserved and unserved communities and medium and small scale enterprises (MSMEs).

In response to the mandate, REA developed the Off-Grid Electrification Strategy that includes five key elements,  the third of which is the Solar Mini Grids Initiative which is also in partnership with the World Bank and aims in the first phase to provide clean, affordable and reliable electricity to 250 off-grid communities that require less than 1 MW per mini grid.

In pursuit of this,  REA recently embarked on sensitisation tour of the 67 communities in the 4 states selected ahead of the take-off of the World Bank assisted Solar Hybrid Mini-Grids pilot project under the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP) of the federal government. According to the arrangement, the World Bank is to provide some soft loans as complementary funds, while private developers are to build, commercially operate and maintain the solar minigrid in the communities under the oversight and regulation of REA. NEP is targeted at powering 250 rural communities with solar mini-grid across Nigeria, out of which this 1st phase otherwise referred to as pilot project, consists of 67 communities in the following states: Niger – 13 communities; Cross River – 18 communities; Sokoto – 23 communities; and Ogun – 13 communities. Several teams were dispatched to each of the four states for sensitisation coverage.

The selection, LEADERSHIP gathered, was done based on certain critical factors such as distance that makes the possibility of accessing grid electricity very difficult, economic, weather and demographic factors.  At a meeting with the Sokoto State Energy Working Group (SSEWG), including the commissioner for energy, Alh. Aliyu Bararabe, a day before the commencement of the sensitisation exercise in the state,  the coordinator of the NEP team to the state, Muntari Ibrahim, explained NEP project background dating back to the time when the federal government put down the Economic and Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020 that set out medium-term structural reforms to diversify Nigeria’s economy as one of its top priorities in recognition the fundamental role power plays in the development of all sectors of the economy. He added that 23 un-served potential NEP Solar Mini Grid communities have been identified in Sokoto State and REA was set to carry out community sensitisation/town hall meeting to educate community members on the project.

He went further to inform the group that although the projects are private sector driven, REA was using the opportunity of the meeting to seek the support of the SSEWG towards achieving a successful community engagement exercise in the state.  Briefing the gathering of community members in the Diddiba community of Wamaco local government area of the state yesterday, Rabiu Haruna of REA zonal office, Dutse, who was on the sensitisation team told the people that the off-grid project was to be privately – owned and managed, and as such the off-takers have to pay periodically for power used, stressing that it is not free. Appealing for the cooperation and support for the project to succeed in the interest of the development of the area,  he explained further that the move was to ensure that people who cannot have access to electricity because their communities did not have connection to the national grid can access power through the alternative arrangement of privately – run solar mini-off-grid system.

In Sokoto State, five teams conducted the exercise which lasted four  days, each comprised  one member from the Promotion Directory, one from the Special Project Directory, one from the Project Monitoring Unit (PMU), and another from the Special Project and Renewable Unit (SPRU) of REA, including  a representative of the state government and the journalist who accompanied the team to the state, as well as other relevant officials. On funding, LEADERSHIP learnt that the developer (private) was to make available 70 per cent  of the total fund required, while the World Bank is to complement that with the remaining 30 per cent as source of soft loan to the investor.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP, the spokesman of Diddiba community which is made up of four member-settlements, Musa Garba said, “We are very much happy and appreciative of the government and all those involved in bringing the project to our land. “As we look forward to the day that this project will become a reality, may I urge that more effort be made in following it up to a logical conclusion.” The Alkali village head of Samalu community,  Isa Alkali, who was also, on behalf of his people, full of gratitude to REA, World Bank, and others behind the project, assured of his community’s  cooperation to make it a success.

As part of the agenda of the programme, discussions were held, questioned were asked and answered, some video footages were shown for the clear understanding of the people, and at the climax, some customised exercise books and T-shirts were distributed to the villagers as survenaires.

Authored By: ABAH ADAH

SOURCE: LEADERSHIP

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