As stated in the first part of this article last week, solar energy has numerous applications when it is converted to heat, electricity or biomass. The technologies for conversion of solar energy into heat and electricity can be classified into solar thermal systems and photo-voltaic (PV) or solar electricity respectively. In Nigeria, solar thermal has been constantly enjoying very high level of utilization especially in rural areas for processing of agricultural produce such as drying of grains, cassava (tubers or marsh), yam flakes, meat, fish, fruits, kernels, drying of manure, hides and skins, cooking and frying of agricultural products which are not preserved or sold raw. Other areas of solar energy utilizations include heating and lighting of animal pens, pumping of water and irrigation, food and vaccine storage. In recent years, solar energy has also found wide range of usages in solar street lighting, solar refrigerators, solar cookers, solar-powered water pumps, etc; different applications exist in the form of solar thermal and solar PV.
Government at Federal and State levels have conducted many solar energy projects in many towns and villages for the provision of electricity supply to power boreholes, streets lightening and various devices for agricultural operations. Literature has shown that these projects started as far back as in the 1960s and continued till date. For instance, last year, 2015 alone, there was a media report that Nigeria had signed a series of agreements with SkyPower FAS Energy, a joint venture between SkyPower Global and FAS Energy, to develop and operate 3,000 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale solar photovoltaic power plants over the next five years. The agreements were finalized through a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement between Canada and Nigeria during the World Economic Forum on Africa, and were to start bringing zero-carbon distributed generation online in phases, immediately. According to the report, the solar agreements were worth about $5 billion in capital requirements, and likely to create more than 30,000 green jobs in Nigeria over the life of the projects – many of which were to be sourced through local businesses and partners. The agreements were signed by both the Federal Republic of Nigeria Government and the Delta State government of Nigeria Government. Despite, the enormous publicity at the time of the event, not much is heard on the project today. There is no enough space and time to x-ray the efforts of government in adopting solar energy as an alternative source of energy for meeting the national demands nationwide. In addition, to these efforts by government, some other organizations are making similar effort to assist Nigeria resolve the energy crisis. Recently, News Agency of Nigeria reported German Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Michael Zenner granting the sum of 17,670 US Dollars for solar energy project to provide 10 Megawatts of power to University of Ibadan. The Ambassador was quoted saying “the solar project for the University of Ibadan is a project we have been planning together with Nigeria partners for sometime. It is part of the Nigeria – Germany energy partnership which has existed since 2008” He explained that the university would gain several advantages from solar project and it will be replicated in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
Universities and research Institutes are not left behind in these concerted efforts to address the national energy crisis. Solar energy devices have been designed, built or adapted by research institutes and tertiary institutions across the nation. Notable among the products in existence locally is the built 1000-litre capacity solar water heating system at the Usman Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto in 1998 by the Sokoto Energy Research Centre (SERC), solar driers, solar chick brooders and solar absorption refrigerators developed at the National Centre for Energy Research and Development (NCERD). This column reported the development of fifteen different solar dryers by Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The IAR developed dryers are classified into natural convection, force convection and hybrid dryers for drying crops (this and previous articles can be accessed via www.breakthroughwithmkothman.blogspot.com). There are several innovations made by these research centres across the country. However, the most impressive breakthrough on the use of solar energy is the conversion of fossil Volkswagen Beetle car to solar energy car in 2014 by a student of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Osun state, Nigeria.
The news of this feat was celebrated by the Nigerian media (print and electronic) and social media globally. The breakthrough; Nigeria’s first solar-powered car built by Segun Oyeyiola, a final year student of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Obafemi Awolowo University. He was motivated by serious thoughts on how to reduce or completely eradicate the causes of climate change due to the effects of combustion of fuel. Mr. Oyeyiola was quoted saying, “Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. In the course of my research, I found out that our regular cars contribute immensely to climate change.” This led to his conclusion that, “if we could manufacture cars that do not use fuel or reduce the number of cars that use fuel; our world will be a better place for us to live in.” This brought about the idea of building a car that will use both the winds and solar energy for its movement thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions, energy consumption and noise level. He further explained that the resulting model is a prototype, but not the final look of the car. The young Engr Segun hopes to develop his project into a future car for Nigeria and Africa, as it is created with regard to climate. The young man pointed out another important benefit of using his auto – low maintenance cost: “Everyone likes it and they are willing to start driving it around town because of its low cost of maintenance” (and probably driven by patriotism) He stated that a simple software was developed and installed on laptops and smart phones to give information of the battery level, the weather condition, the distance cover during different weather conditions and GPS location of the car. One very clear issue is that these efforts have not made the expected impacts on the Nigerian economy and Nigerians are largely relying on the energy from gas and hydro-turbines.
These innovations for making use of solar energy are commendable and comparable with similar innovations elsewhere. However, the efforts made by government and research centres on the development of solar energy produce abysmal results with no tangible impacts. The reasons for this anomaly are many. One of such reasons is lack of synergy; synergy does not exist among all the major energy players. Hence, no comprehensive project plan involving the stakeholders and there are no database for the status of the existing solar projects in the country. Secondly, all existing solar projects are either off-grid light applications of few kW or stand-alone mini-grid at the moment; off-grid hybrid or grid connected solar projects hardly exist to the best of knowledge. Thirdly, high initial cost of investment is an obstacle to the development of solar energy technology in Nigeria. The solar energy components are mostly imported into the country making the acquisition and installation very expensive. Associated to high initial cost of investment is lack of incentives on import or local manufacturing of solar devices in the country. This problem is further compounded because of the high transaction costs since most of the solar projects are within the small scale range. The solar energy projects thus, become too costly in the long-run for local banks in Nigeria to consider for financing. In addition, Nigerian banks are always in a haste to recover loans and can hardly provide long-term loan for projects such as solar energy development, as they may be considered too risky to finance. Furthermore, most of the populace suffering energy crisis belong to the low-income range, it is therefore generally difficult for an average individual in this class to invest in solar energy systems. Another obstacle is the relative high cost of maintenance, due to largely lack of skilled man power to repair such technologies when malfunctioned. Hence, potential users of the technologies are skeptical to acquire and use. However, the cost of using solar energy is relatively cheaper than the cost of using electric generators for household use at the long run. Other similar problems hindering the massive use of solar energy are general insecurity to the solar panels, which must be placed outside to receive the solar rays, lack of awareness by the general public and lack of coherent government policy for promotion use of solar energy.
In conclusion, government has to formulate policy to support innovations and promotion of solar energy as viable energy source for use by the general public. Research and innovations on alternative source of energy have to be supported with necessary funds from government and private organizations. There should be synergy among the actors for effective results and high productivity. Certainly, it is high time that Nigeria must resolve this perennial energy crisis, we are really tired of it and it is something we can resolve. To do that, all hands must be on deck.