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ENERGY-NIGERIA: ‘Solar Power Brings Relief to Villagers’

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Aug 5 2006 (IPS) - Bishop Kodji, a small fishing and canoe carving island in the Atlantic Ocean off Nigeria’s sprawling commercial hub of Lagos, has become the first village to be electrified under the Lagos State government’s pilot solar energy project..

Before setting up the project, the village, with a population of 5,000, had not known electricity since its existence.

To provide services to the island, which can only be reached by boat, the state government decided to launch the solar project there in May.

Nineteen other remote villages would also benefit from the project before the end of the year, according to state government officials.

”The tropical climate makes solar energy the most viable alternative source of renewable energy in Nigeria. Harnessing the sun’s energy to produce power is an imperative for rural areas where the hope of being connected to the national grid is very remote and extremely expensive,” Kadiri Hamzat, Lagos State Commissioner for Science and Technology, said in Ikeja, capital of Lagos State, in June. He was briefing journalists about the activities of his ministry in the past one year.

Hamzat said the solar energy technology is less expensive than electricity generated by the new Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) that replaced the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), though power supply has gone worse since its establishment. In principle, only the name has changed, NEPA staff still run the new company.

Hamza said: ”It costs about 150 million naira (around 1.2 million dollars) to connect each village to the national grid, while the solar energy project costs only about 10 million naira (around 83,000 dollars) per village.”

A similar project launched in 2002 by the Nigerian government, through the assistance of the Japanese government, has lit 200 rural communities in Imo, Ondo and Jigawa states as well as in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

During a visit to Tokyo, Japan, in September 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo, requested the Japanese government to help Nigeria with cheap solar energy to improve the country’s electricity supply.

In Nigeria, solar energy is used for variety of applications such as for village electrification, water pumping and irrigating farms.

In Bishop Kodji village, whose main occupation is fishing and boat making, residents now dry fish by solar-powered drier and watch television programmes in the only community hall, while churches and mosques as well as the main street have been lit.

”The project has brought great joy and relief to us. It has brought governance closer to us and we now have access to information more than before when we depended on battery-powered radio. We can now watch television and charge our mobile phones,” Solomon Hennu, the secretary of Kodji Community Development Association, told IPS during a visit to the island late June.

Ezekiel Huehunmey, who is in-charge of the only primary school in Bishop Kodji village, is optimistic that there will be improvement in school enrolment and attendance.

”Most of our children travel on the high seas to attend schools in town because of inadequate classrooms. With electricity and more classrooms, the risk to our children in the event of canoes capsizing will be reduced. We can now enroll more pupils in the school and run two shifts – day and evening,” he said.

But the solar system is not flawless.

Recently the equipment packed up for two days on the island. ”The government officials told us, when they came to repair it, that there was an overloading of the system which triggered it off. They switched it on again but advised residents not to overload it,” Huehunmey said.

The villagers now enjoy electricity from solar most of the time, while their counterparts at Orile, a suburb of Lagos, connected to the PHCN supply, continue to experience frequent power outages.

”Since January this year, we have not had regular power in this area for full day. Now everybody uses a generator,” said Sunday Onyema, a resident of Orile. A generator costs about 66 dollars per unit.

But the generators also come with a price: fire. Onyema, a shop owner, told IPS that one of the occupants burned one-storey building, after leaving a portable generator set on late in the night leading to a fire that razed the whole building mid June. Ilebrick, a poor suburb of Lagos, was also affected by a mid-night fire July 9, when a tenant in one of the rooms tried to refill a portable generator.

In Nigeria, electricity supply has been erratic for the past 20 years due mainly to the neglect of the energy sector by the military regimes which ruled the country for most part of the 1980s and 1990s. Nigeria began enjoying democracy from 1999 after the second attempt at democratic rule (1979-1983) was truncated by the military which in 1966 organised a coup that toppled the first republic.

Nigeria, the sixth largest exporter of crude oil in the world, according to the Vienna-based Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), still depends on imported refined products. Nigeria’s four refineries, with a combined capacity of 445,000 barrels per day, operate below capacity due to aging machinery.

Nigeria consumes 30 million litres of refined petroleum per day, while its four refineries jointly produce about 18 million litres per day, leaving a shortfall of 12 million litres to be imported, according to the Department of Petroleum Resources, the government arm of the oil industry.

More than 60 percent of factories in Nigeria, according to a survey released in May by the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN), depend on generators for their main sources of power supply and this, it says, has increased the cost of manufactured goods which is passed on to the consumer. This has had a negative effect on the competitiveness of local products, MAN said.

Bashir Borodo, the new MAN President, told journalists in Lagos early July that they plan to establish an independent power plant to supply electricity to industry.

”The members’ experience with the nation’s power supply has reached a frustrating level. The worsening electricity situation has led to the near collapse of the country’s manufacturing sector,” Borodo said. The plant is expected to take off next year.

Borodo told IPS: ”Solar system will be too expensive for manufacturing companies to run, so we are not thinking of solar as an option to supply electricity to firms. The independent power plant we plan will be to use the abundant gas in Nigeria to power turbines and generate electricity”.

The Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), set up by government to sell off loss-making public assets, puts economic losses arising from erratic power supply at about one billion dollars annually. Only less than 36 percent of Nigerians have access to electricity.

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