Photo caption: Professor Chukwumerije Okereke.
By Prof. Chukwumerije Okereke
In the past few days the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, has been reported by many news media as reaffirming the commitment that Nigeria will achieve at least 30% of its power supply from renewable energy by 2030. It is reported that he reinstated the commitment to this ambitious target while inaugurating a 1.12 MW Solar Hybrid Project at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, in Bauchi State.
The intention to have at least 30% of the total electricity supply from renewable energy is very welcome and heartwarming. It signals that Nigeria is committed to the Paris Agreement and fulfilling its climate change action pledge as contained in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). And perhaps more importantly it shows that Nigeria is cognizant of the global transition away from fossil fuel and the vast opportunities that renewable energy provide for solving the country’s energy poverty and economic development challenges. With around 80% of its rural population relying on wood, charcoal, dung, and other traditional biomass for cooking, there is no doubt that expanding access to affordable, reliable and clean household energy services is one of the most pressing developmental challenges facing Nigeria today. At the same time, the supply of adequate and affordable modern energy is a key enabler of other developmental sectors in the country.
Furthermore, the fact that this commitment is coming from the Vice President at the period of Covid-19 pandemic, indicates that Nigerian government understands that COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse to focus on more fossil fuels and ignore investment in renewable energy as a central piece of the post COVID-19 economic recovery. It is commendable that the government has embarked on Energising Education Programme (EEP), which is aimed at solving the energy deficit in all the thirty-seven federal universities and seven teaching hospitals in the country by using renewable energy, with the programme having been completed four projects at four different sites.
However, in as much as the commitment is commendable, the government must be clear that just saying that 30% of total electricity supply will come from renewable energy by 2030 is not sufficient to make it happen. The commitment must instead be backed up by a clear and bold plan of actions. There is a need to fashion a workable strategy towards achieving the target because as of today Nigeria is not on course to meeting the pledge. So far, there have been several places where the government is missing it – namely political will, policy implementation and evaluation, financing and investment.
One mistake the country has made so far is that it has seemed to concentrate too much on solar energy in meeting this ambitious target. While aggressive investment in solar is welcome, focusing only on solar PV to meet the target as seems to be in the case in the current NDC is too ambitious and unrealistic. This over-emphasised interest in solar PV electrification may also be responsible for the low renewable energy penetration in the country.
To stand a chance of meeting the target, the government must consider all other potentially viable renewable energy sources for on-grid and off-grid applications for household and productive uses. Some of the other commercially proven renewable energy resources in Nigeria include solar thermal, wind, small hydro power and bioenergy, with proven and commercially viable conversion technologies in the market. Incidentally, many of these could also support decentralised off-grid power generation which is crucial in closing the huge energy gap in the country. For example, recent demonstrations and pilots works have shown that there are substantial potentials for the utilisation of off-grid small hydropower plant in the Northern part of the country. Wind energy is also a credible candidate, especially in the North. For example, the Katsina wind farm has been proven to have the capacity to generate 10 MW on-grid electricity at costs scenarios that are very competitive. There is also a high potential for modern bioenergy technologies such as agro-waste-to-energy power plant for both on-grid and off-grid electricity generation, which is a matured technology globally.
Another mistake that the government is making is too much concentration on off-grid renewable energy and paying less attention to on-grid solutions. The calculations by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group has shown that the mini-grid market has revenue potential of US$8 billion and that the country’s large population and large economy make it attractive to investors in the energy access sector. In fact the heavy reliance on the off-grid supply-side energy solutions by the government runs counter to common logic that future increase in energy demand will be substantial in on-grid due to increase in economic activities in urban and peri-urban areas. While there are several good arguments in favour of distributive off-grid renewable energy, attention should also focus on increasing on-grid capacity to help power industrial economic growth, which Nigeria needs to meet its sustainable development goals.
Finally, the government needs to think seriously about the raft of other enabling conditions that are required to ensure the successful achievement of the renewable energy target by 2030. These include creating enabling environment for private sector involvement, enhancing the adequacy and reliability of energy data using machine learning tools, innovation in critical technologies – which include smart systems, storage and utilisation, batteries; and setting out long-term and holistic implementation plan with a clear strategy for finance, capacity building, and institutional development that is specific to the renewable energy access sector alongside a friendly implementation process and adequate monitoring and evaluation plan.
Lack of access to modern energy is one of the greatest symptoms and cause of poverty in Nigeria. The fight against climate change has helped to provide the global environment in favour of clean and renewable energy where Nigeria has strong competitive economic advantages. There is, therefore, an urgent need to give impetus to the 30% renewable energy supply ambition by 2030 and find innovative ways to achieve the transition to sustainable energy in Nigeria. Strong words and promises are of course useful but they will certainly not be enough.
Professor Chukwumerije Okereke is the Director of the Centre of Climate Change and Development at Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ebonyi State, Nigeria. He is a Visiting Professor at Oxford University, UK and Coordinating Lead Author for the United Nations’ IPCC.