Can Renewable Energy Solve Nigeria’s Power Problem?

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Over 80 million Nigerians lack access to electricity, that’s about 45 percent of the country’s population. The annual consumption of electricity for each Nigerian, which is estimated at 144 kilowatts per hour, lags behind South Africa’s 4,198 kilowatts per hour, Zimbabwe’s 537 kilowatts per hour, Ghana’s 355 kilowatts per hour and ranks among the lowest electricity per capita in Africa.

The country’s constant power outages continue to have severe implications on homes and businesses; undermining job creation, private investment and economic growth. In the first half of 2016, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) claimed that poor power supply cost them N130 billion driven majorly by the increase in the cost of alternative sources of power. Ultimately, higher cost drains the profit of businesses and makes it difficult for local products to compete in the global market.

At the same time, Nigeria has immense renewable energy potential which is mostly untapped. The country has about 427,000 megawatts of solar potential, 14,750 megawatts of hydroelectric potential, and sufficient wind potential. Meanwhile, the country’s 5,000 megawatts electricity production comprises of 26 percent hydro power generation and 74 percent gas power generation leaving out many of the country’s diverse clean energy resources. A critical question remains unaddressed: Can Nigeria solve its energy problem without the government tapping into other renewable energy sources?

At least six African countries are expanding electricity access particularly to rural areas using clean energy. The Rwandan government is exploiting renewable distributed technology to power 70 percent of the country within two years with a savings of $20 million. Renewable electricity generation has also become more appealing economic-wise. According to a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), the cost of 2017 renewable power projects particularly wind and solar projects fell at the same rate, and in some cases lower than fossil-based projects. Turning to renewable energy for electricity generation is no longer just a smart environmental move but an economic one too.

Another good news is that renewable energy sources are distributed (although unevenly) across Nigeria which makes it possible to bypass the problem of grid extension that plagues traditional energy systems. Also, novel methods of energy expansion, reliant on renewable and distributed technologies, can sometimes provide affordable electricity just days after being installed. MTN’s solar-based Lumos Mobile Electricity which can power homes round the clock is a typical example. These clean energy innovations are providing job opportunities and attracting private investors.

However, it is not all roses with renewable energy considering the volatility of renewable energy sources and the high cost of energy storage which will inevitably affect power supply. Concerns have also been raised regarding the environmental impact of disposing worn out solar panels, wind turbines and other expired renewable energy materials. But the benefits seem to outweigh the costs and so renewable energy innovations may be the missing part of the story on how Nigeria eventually solved its power problem.

With the country’s population growing rapidly, it is becoming obvious that it will have to walk the way of its African counterparts that are unlocking their renewable energy potential if it intends to achieve universal energy access by 2030.

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