Around 650 million (50%) of people living in Africa have no access to electricity and the next decades’ challenge is definitively to reduce this drastically. The situation is even more complicated because a large part of Sub-Saharan Africa lives in rural areas. But, it offers paradoxically a huge opportunity for start-up innovating in the energy sector. So, how innovation is the key to access to energy?
Start-up and innovation
Thanks to their flexibility, start-up can bring disruptive technologies and innovation to increase access to energy. In the past few years, many small and mid-size companies innovate in smarter monitoring system, more efficient sensors and meters, big data, etc. Indeed, when a grid extension to electrify remote areas is too costly, innovation can be answered in providing not only reliable and clean but also affordable (at least less expensive) access to energy.
In remote areas where there is no Wi-Fi signal, GSM modules are now able to send SMS messages to the cloud proving data which can be analysed to improve the systems. The use of the deep-learning can help to better anticipate the energy management, big data collection can improve investors visibility, innovations in batteries and solar PV contribute to the multiplication of microgrids… Any company, which can innovate, has an opportunity and the market is huge!
An opportunity for Africa
If there is no doubt that the electrification of Africa will be made partly through innovation, the second challenge is that African start-up in energy sector emerges quickly to position the country at the forefront of its own energy revolution. If Africa manages to do this, it will get a double economic benefit: for the rural communities and small business -which will be electrified- and for innovative African start-up.
To take advantage of the market, they need support, funds, and visibility. For instance, event such as the International Cleantech Week organized in Annecy (France) can obviously be one part of the answer. Indeed, it could be the opportunity for all these start-up to present their innovative solutions. This is as well one of the major goals of Deepbloo: giving visibility to these small promising companies. Indeed, with an ecosystem dedicated to the energy sector, they can promote their innovations to thousands of professionals working in Development Finance Institutions and large energy corporations!
If providing access to remote areas in Africa is an absolute necessity, ensuring that this will be partly done by the African people themselves should continue to be a reality!
The International Energy Agency defines initial electricity access as 250 kWh per year for rural households and 500 kWh for urban households, projecting that this base level increases to 750 kWh per person by 2030. That’s about two orders of magnitude less than the average American consumes on a yearly basis.
As most basic as it would sound, access to electricity simply means being able to harness the richness of power that has been generated to meet specific demands, when needed. I included “when needed” in that simple definition because the problem of energy hasn’t been just about the low generating output, but the unavailability of the energy when it is needed, which can be caused by poor distribution. For us to really be confident in whatever access to energy we have, we must be able to get it, when we need it. In this write up are a few problems that have hindered the effective utilization of harvested energy and some possible solutions.
Electricity access refers to the percentage of people in a given area that have relatively simple, stable access to electricity. It can be referred to the “electrification rate”.
It can also be seen as when households have access to sufficient electricity to power a basic bundle of energy services at a minimum cost. In increasing the accessibility of energy to areas of deficiency, a lot of factors have to be considered. They include high connection costs, unreliable or unavailable grid electricity, low population density (especially in rural areas), high leakage rates, high operational costs that pose challenges for utilities and consumers ability to pay, low demand from productive users, and lack of investment.
Taking a review of the current governmental policies guiding the energy sector, it can be said that some of these policies have hindered massively the extensive growth of the energy sector. Indeed, growth in the energy sector would entail that access to electricity by people and beneficiaries becomes less of a huddle. According to a research study, the government’s policies for over 50 years now have been favouring monopoly in the power generation, transmission, distribution and sales. These policies have supported a full and monopolistic control of power and generation supply. However, new policies have to be established to support the exploration of this sector by private individuals. This would lead to a very competitive market with side effects of better energy to the people.
A good command of the governing bodies in ensuring electricity access would be to determine the measures and conditions of electrification, who benefits from these efforts, and the affordability of electricity access by beneficiaries. For consumers within the reach of the central grid, a key affordability challenge is the cost of connecting to the grid. In sub-saharan africa, connection charges are the greatest drawbacks to a successful connection. The government and her policies may come in, to inject subsidies to enable reduced costs for new installation and connections. Subsidies may also be offered to reduce tariff burdens, thereby improving accessibility.
Efficiency in Power generation, transmission and distribution
According to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing in an interview in 2018, he stated that Nigeria has the capacity to generate over 7000MW. Unfortunately, only about 5000MW goes to the national grid for distribution. Though we have an excess in the power being generated, it is poorly harnessed due to the inefficient infrastructure for distribution. For a country like Nigeria struggling to distribute the generated 7000MW, to over 150 million consumers, access to electricity would be limited compared to a country like South Africa generating about 51000MW for 57 million consumers, or Brazil generating 137000MW for about 211 million consumers.
Energy access in a nutshell, really boils down to our generating capacity, transmission and efficient distribution of that generated power. To be able to fit the terms of energy access for every individuals, power ought to be generated not just to match the immediate needs, but in excess to cater for up coming demands. And so improving energy access to deficient areas like Nigeria, full utilization of all forms of power generation must done, i.e wind energy, solar, hydro etc. especially clean energy.
This is a general Nigerian problem where companies, especially government firms, employ workers not based on merit and competence but on favoritism and tribalism. As a consequence, no government company in Nigeria that requires workers with professional and technical competence has ever succeeded. Indeed, NEPA and PHCN had staff, majority of which were employed through the back door and therefore, the only thing they seemed to know was how to climb electric poles and cut cables.
On November 5, 2013, Nigerians rejoiced as government handed over generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to private companies. At least Nigerians believed that with the private ownership of these companies, the companies would immediately hire competent staff that will work towards the growth and betterment of the system. However, six months after, Nigerians from all walks of life continue to grumble that power supply has gone from bad to worse (Ukoko et al, 2014). These new companies still retain the old incompetent staff of NEPA and PHCN for reasons best known to them.
These are only a nutshell of problems that have impeded the growth of the energy sector in Nigeria and in a wider scope of Africa. However, emerging technologies are presenting themselves as viable alternatives to our present source of electricity which would present easier and more efficient ways of providing energy to individuals. Technologies like solar technology, particularly mini-grids are a viable possibility for scaling up electricity access in areas where grid connections are limited. These technologies are not just emerging, but new policies are being formulated to rationalize the electricity pricing, reduce regulatory barriers that limit private sector investments in grid or off-grid power production, making utility operations more efficient and providing better opportunities for investors.
Innovative practices of demand estimation based on consumer data allow energy planners and service providers to incorporate energy efficiency and demand-side management into forecasting and subsequent generation-capacity planning. These practices through effective energy planning, customers are able to do more with less electricity. This is critical because most people without electricity access live in electricity constrained environments.
Supply and Demand side efficiency
Poor supply-side efficiency can result in significant depletion of the electricity that is ultimately available to end consumers and can lead to higher electricity costs. Most developing countries with low electricity budgets usually invest in power plants with very low efficiencies due to the generally lower upfront costs of such options. In addition, old and poorly maintained transmission and distribution infrastructure may also result in significant transmission and distribution losses, further reducing the electricity available to consumers. The budget for maintenance by the government and all stakeholders in the energy sector must place much emphasis on the maintenance of these infrastructure as its efficiency is directly linked to the access of the consumers. Efficiency on the demand side, considering both grid-connected and off-grid consumers, would go a long way in ensuring that consumers do more with less. Demand-side measures focus on reducing the overall electricity demand of consumers.
TRANSITING TO A GREEN ECONOMY AS A TOOL FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION IN NIGERIA
Nigeria is encumbered with lots of environmental issues which are caused by oil spillage in the Niger Delta region, gas flaring, deforestation, and overpopulation among others. Incidences of air, soil, water and noise pollution are on the increase with devastating consequences. But, to what effect a transition to green economy can be benefit?
State of play
A study by the World Health Organisation in 2016 adjudged Onitsha (1st) to be the worlds most polluted city in the world in terms of air pollution (presence of high particulate matter), with Kaduna (5th ), Aba (6th ) and Umuahia (16th) all being among the top 20 polluted cities. Similarly, close to a 100 thousand Nigerians who are mainly women and children die annually. This is a result of Household Air Pollution resulting mostly from cooking with inefficient cook stoves. The lack of adequate electricity has led to the over reliance of Nigerians on candles, kerosene lanterns and generators powered by fossil fuels like diesel and petrol. These are not only more expensive and harmful to the environment but also lead to household fires and even death from toxic inhalations.
A green solution
A transition to a Green Economy can serve as a solution to Nigeria’s environmental challenges if it is adopted by the Federal, State and Local governments. What then is a Green Economy and how can it serve as a tool for environmental protection?
“Green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It is low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive”
It lays emphasis on sustainable development which has social, economic and environmental benefits. The Green Economy can help to protect and preserve the environment in Nigeria if it is properly implemented.
How to act?
The adoption of renewable energy technologies would go a long way in safeguarding the environment. It would be a far cleaner option than Nuclear and coal which the government is considering. Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels while Nuclear power has the challenges of radiation in addition to the high cost of construction.
Green Energy alternatives like Hydro, Wind in the coastal regions, Bioenergy and Solar are far cleaner and cheaper alternatives. For instance, the Mambilla hydro project in Taraba State would generate almost 3000 MW of electricity. This can serve as Baseload energy for the country without polluting the environment. Furthermore, Decentralised Renewable Energy is the future of electricity and would be the best option for Nigeria. The deployment of Solar Home systems in the rural areas is cheaper than extending the grid to cover the entire nation. It would be a cleaner option than fossil fuel powered centralized generation.
Making efforts to key in this reality
A recent study by Stanford researcher Tony Seba reveals that fossil fuel based cars would disappear in about 10 years’ time. He is of the view that Electric and autonomous cars (self-driving cars) would disrupt the transport industry. These cars are environmentally friendly as they release virtually no emissions unlike conventional cars. While the technologies are not commercially available to displace fossil fuel cars, Nigeria should start making efforts to key in to this reality. Enabling policies and the deployment of necessary infrastructure should be considered now. Furthermore, Government should clamp down on the many vehicles that release high amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which contributes to polluting the environment.
Buildings are the highest emitters of Greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as a result of energy consumed and the materials used in the buildings. The environment can be protected by enacting environmentally friendly building regulations and codes. One way of safeguarding the environment would be to ensure that all new buildings in the urban areas have geysers or solar water heaters installed. The use of energy saving bulbs in place of incandescent bulbs should be made compulsory as they would go a long way in protecting the environment. Finally, the installation of solar panels in residential, commercial and government owned buildings should be encouraged through incentives.
Unknown to many, Agricultural practices are contributors to pollution with some comparing it to the oil industry in terms of damages caused the environment. The use of climate smart agricultural practices, adoption of drip irrigation and the application of organic fertilizers would go a long way in protecting the environment. Furthermore, organic farming should be encouraged over genetically modified farming and harmful pesticides as well as herbicides should be banned.
Everybody is concerned
Other means of transiting to a Green Economy is to encourage proper municipal waste management practices. Recycling of recyclable waste materials and the building of waste to energy plants instead of landfills would help to prevent pollution. Conservation of animals should be encouraged and practices such as over fishing, trophy hunting and hunting of endangered animals should be discouraged. This will help to protect the eco system and prevent animals from going extinct. Cheaper and cleaner cooking alternatives like the introduction of clean cook stoves should be adopted in order to prevent deforestation for the purpose of firewood. Reforestation and afforestation should be encouraged and tree planting should be made compulsory among states across Nigeria by allocating tree planting quotas.
In conclusion, a transition to a Green economy would only be made possible through the cooperation of all stakeholders and should not be left to Governments alone. Individuals, Non-Governmental Organisations, Environmentalists, the Media and the Private Sector all have roles to play. There is also a need to enact relevant laws, put in place policies, provide finance, encourage entrepreneurs and provide advocacy to help make the transition a reality. Finally, a strong political will by governments at all levels, visionary entrepreneurship and the participation of all citizens would be required to transit Nigeria’s economy into a Green Economy.