From Isaac Anumihe, Abuja
Renewable energy is an energy that is collected from renewable resources. It is naturally replenishable on a human timescale, including carbon neutral sources like sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. The term often also encompasses biomass as well, whose carbon neutral status is under debate.
As one of the purest and freshest energy source, plans are afoot by many countries across the world to adopt it as their only source of energy.
In this interview, the Executive Secretary of Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN), Lande Abudu gave more insight into the latest source of energy used to solve energy problems during the COVID-19 lockdown.
What are the sources of renewable energy in Nigeria?
Wind energy, biomass, hydro are three of the main types. I deliberately put them in that order because the fourth is solar energy and that is the most well-known and talked about in Nigeria since it is readily available because of the relatively high solar irradiation here. It is always useful to examine all options as we seek to increase renewable energy in the country.
Several years after the introduction of renewable energy in Nigeria, the system has remained unaffordable to ordinary Nigerians. How can developers make their services affordable?
Renewable Energy technologies costs have dropped significantly in the last decade or thereabouts. As technology becomes more advanced, the trend is expected to continue. In terms of costs, what causes the public to believe that renewable energy is expensive is perhaps some of the initial outlays needed. Again, this is being addressed in various ways by developers. REAN members offer Paygo solar systems or lease-to-own options: companies such as Azuri Technologies, Sosai Renewables, Lumos, Creeds and Solar Sisters to name only a few REAN members have such services. Long term, once the initial costs are cleared, there are minimal costs associated using solar energy for example.
Can renewable energy compete effectively with other sources of energy?
In many parts, it already is. The renewable energy sector is a burgeoning one in Nigeria. It is enjoying a lot of focus at the moment because it is clear to see that if we are to solve Nigeria’s energy access challenges, renewable energy must be a big part of the solution. We saw how renewable energy solutions provided much needed support to isolation centres at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. It opened the public’s eyes to the speed that renewable energy can solve energy problems. With that comes many advantages. A healthier nation is a more productive nation. If we can create wealth by being more productive, the economy will grow accordingly. These effects can only be positive for every Nigerian. I will always refer us to government’s Vision 30:30:30, to achieve 30GW electricity generation by 2030 with renewable energy forming at least 30 per cent of the national energy mix. That drives activities in the renewable energy sector. The focus should be on achieving and even exceeding that. In that regard, the stage is set for renewable energy to compete effectively. As long as the end-user is the winner, I’m sure we will all be satisfied.
Which countries use renewable energy as their main source of energy?
There are a few countries that have reported close to 100 per cent renewable energy penetration including Costa Rica and a handful of European countries. They are still relatively few, not because it is not possible, but because it is still relatively new. Aggressive deployments with accompanying policies to support the scale-up have made this possible in those areas. Globally, especially post-pandemic recovery is also focusing on sustainable recovery. SEforAll is championing the ‘Recover Better with Sustainable Energy’ and encouraging countries to put key policies in place that will help economies recover sustainably. The energy transition conversation is growing.
What are the benefits of renewable energy to Nigerians?
Apart from enjoying access to energy which should be a basic right, there are numerous socio-economic benefits. Earlier, we touched on the benefits in terms of improved healthcare. There are approximately 30, 000 primary healthcare centres across the nation. Many are operating at a sub-optimal level because of lack of electricity. Renewable energy solutions make a difference in the healthcare sector. Again, we see the need for preservation of vaccines, heightened because of the pandemic. Solar cooling solutions are going to help address this. Improved opportunities for education is another benefit. We mustn’t take it for granted that every school-age child has access to the same facilities as their urban counterparts or the more developed areas. There are still many who have to either stop studying by dusk or study by candlelight or using kerosene lanterns or similar. Just one solar home system for that person means longer hours that can be dedicated to studying and therefore improved results. Long term basis means an increased chance of either finding employment or going into entrepreneurship. There are lifestyle benefits obviously to earning a good income. The effect will trickle down within the community. Those are two expanded examples, but there are so many benefits to clean, reliable energy. Therefore, we are signed up to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 7 by 2030 for a reason. Access to energy can form lives. Every Nigerian deserves to have access to clean, reliable energy.
How has the association been able to curb the activities of quackery in the system?
This has to be a joint effort among a multi- stakeholder group. On our part, REAN has established working groups within the association, chaired by well-established renewable energy practitioners who see quality assurance as a very important link in the renewable energy value chain. Credibility within the RE sector needs to be retained as it is still an import-dependent industry; we cannot afford substandard goods to flood the country or for consumers to be sceptical of products in any way. So, we have at various times teamed with Standards Organisations of Nigeria (SON) sector regulators and development partners to ensure that we work towards plugging any identified gaps. Creating awareness is particularly important. We have in the past organised workshops that focus on quality and standards and we are committed to informing the public and ensuring international best practice becomes the norm among REAN membership certainly and in the sector as a whole.
Is renewable energy a profitable venture in Nigeria?
We should not think of it only in terms of profit. Of course, developers are not going into the industry to offer charity. If there is an opportunity to earn revenue while offering an energy solution, then that’s a double positive. We have an energy access gap to fill. There is a need and courageous entrepreneurs will aim to offer services that can address the need. Ultimately, a renewable energy business can be just as profitable as any other enterprise. The enabling environment is key. Accessing finance, leveraging on technology, offering excellent products and services to the consumer sets the business on the right track to being profitable.
What are the frustrations or challenges of the operators of renewable energy business in Nigeria?
This is a follow up from how an enabling environment can be the key to unlock profitability. Some of the frustrations that REAN members have faced include lack of clarity about policies. There are various policies and regulations governing the sector. The intention is good. Implementation needs to be very rigorous. Sourcing foreign exchange has been a major concern. Many renewable energy businesses still import many of their components. We, therefore, would like to see simple importation processes from beginning to end. I must say that despite the challenges faced, many of them persevere and are helping to increase energy access across Nigeria. REAN also holds regular members’ forums where members share experiences so that they can learn from one another. We can also ascertain where support is needed in order to continue with advocacy efforts. The main strength of the association comes from being a cohesive unit. Shared goals and a shared passion to increase renewable energy in Nigeria drives us to do better and work harder.