The news buzzing around the Intertubes this week shows just how far the solar energy field has come in a few short years. In the latest development, the Nigerian government is considering a $30 million allocation for off-grid solar projects. According to a report in Bloomberg solar panels are an “economic option” for cutting fuel costs in Nigeria, compared to the small diesel generators that currently form the backbone of off grid power generation.
In his former capacity as ExxonMobil CEO, U.S Secretary of State Rex “Silent Bob” Tillerson played up fossil fuel as the only economical way to provide electricity for millions who currently have no access to power. However, the Nigerian example demonstrates that more is at play than meets the eye.
Small Diesel Losing Grip On Nigeria
Nigeria has already been dipping its toe into solar waters, and it appears poised to ramp up its efforts.
Industry stakeholders formed the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN) last fall with the aim of seeing “…solar, hydro, biomass and wind contributing 40% of the national energy mix by 2030.”
The nation signed its first power purchase agreement just last December, for 975 megawatts of utility scale solar.
If approved, the new $30 million round of funding would apply to the important off-grid sector, where small diesel generators dominate.
Nigeria’s new focus on its domestic power market is a significant move because some industry observers have been warning that the country’s domestic electricity consumers have been left “in the lurch” while multinational oil companies send Nigeria’s fossil fuel resources overseas.
That leaves an enormous opportunity for distributed renewable energy development in the country.
As another indication that Nigeria’s energy sector is heading for a sea change, the global renewable energy advocacy organization Power for All established a foothold in Nigeria last year, in support of REAN.
Another recent development is an $80 million cash infusion from the Green Climate Fund for the Universal Green Energy Access Programme, which includes Nigeria in its action areas.
Solar Power On The Rise
CleanTechnica has been tracking the rush of solar development in Nigeria in recent months, and the country is poised to push its solar generating capacity to the next level.
Among the new projects are a solar microgrid program that will bring locally generated electricity to 25 communities in Nigeria.
In the utility scale field, last December GE signed a memorandum of understanding with Nigeria for five 100-megawatt solar power projects dotted throughout the country.
Also in that scale, last December Dubai’s Phanes Group announced that it would build three 100-megawatt projects in Nigeria within the next couple of years.
Against this backdrop, REAN is anticipating that the government will allocate $30 million for solar energy development, including solar cell manufacturing and transmission projects in addition to off-grid deployment. A decision on that could come within the next few weeks.
REAN is optimistic. Here’s Executive Secretary Godwin Aigbokhan, as cited by Bloomberg (here’s that link again):
“It just gives you an idea of how the government sees solar as part of the total energy mix,” Aigbokhan said in a telephone interview from Lagos. The country could receive about $2.5 billion of investments in utility-scale solar projects by 2018, he said.
Keep in mind that Nigeria hosts the biggest economy in West Africa, and you can see why investors are eager to, well, invest in the country’s renewable energy portfolio. Here’s the rundown from Bloomberg:
Nigerian officials say they want to generate as much as 1,200 megawatts of off-grid solar. The country’s households and small businesses currently spend about $21.8 billion each year powering diesel generators to generate electricity, according to a study by German development agency GIZ.
Yikes! So much for small diesel.
Radio Silence From REAN — Or Not
If REAN steps up its lobbying efforts, that would be welcome news for skeptics. Last week, an editorial in the industry news organization Off Grid accused the group of dilly-dallying:
Though we accept that it may be too early in the day to call out REAN on the expectations we had of it, we are however constrained to think that REAN may be falling behind in the race to help end energy poverty in Nigeria.
Finally, we think that a docile REAN would do no good to the emerging RE sector in Nigeria, and thus urge its members to wake up if they are numb to their responsibilities.
As of this writing, a visit to the REAN website provides some ammunition for the skeptics. The organization has not provided any news releases about its efforts to promote renewable energy since its launch last November.
However, REAN has published a guide for renewable energy developers in Nigeria, and the organization is listed as a strategic partner in the upcoming “The Solar Future Nigeria” event coming up in April.
Image (screenshot): via REAN.