Nigeria’s e-waste regulation plays catch up as solar industry expands

While Nigeria is actively promoting solar energy to unlock electricity access for about 43 percent of its population without grid connections, its regulatory framework is inadequate to deal with the fallout of the growing solar waste, a new study has found.

This presents a public health risk as improper disposal of solar e-waste arising from components which have reached their end-of-life, such as expired solar panels, lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries and battery inverter components, present severe health and environmental risks in the near future.

A market research on the circular economy of Nigeria’s renewable energy sector sponsored by All On, an investment firm financed by Shell, found regulatory gaps in Nigeria’s solar waste management in comparison with the models that exist in matured economies in the European Union, USA and others.

Some of the challenges associated with effective regulation of the sector identified in the report include poor implementation and inadequate technical know-how. The current disposal system is also riddled with inefficiencies and the collection techniques of solar waste in Nigeria are still rudimentary.

The study also identified absence of formal collection centers, dearth of infrastructural facilities for transporting solar waste to recycling facilities, and poor enforcement of existing policies such as the Extended Producer Responsibility and limited regulation of the operations of informal collectors as other key challenges.

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Nigeria’s solar industry is growing in leaps and bounds as shown by official data on import of solar components. The cumulative import value of components in the last three years was over $517.6m.

This constitutes solar panels worth over $251m, lead acid batteries worth about $153m, Inverters worth $76m, and Lithium-ion batteries worth $36m worth $517.6m

However the report said of this figure, over $350 million worth of components imported within this period were expected to be used in the generation of solar power.

The rising importation figures for solar components has been driven largely by the shift towards renewable energy generation, which is enhanced by the efforts of the government and investors like All On, towards upscaling the reach of off-grid renewable energy especially in areas with poor grid connection.

In 2020, the Federal Government as part of the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) said it would facilitate the roll out of 5 million new solar-based connections in communities that are not connected to the grid.

Under the scheme, the Buhari-led government seeks to rapidly scale pay-as-you-go (PAYG) off-grid technologies. It is expected to generate an additional N7 billion increase in tax revenues per annum and $10 million in annual import substitution.

The objectives are to connect 25 million individuals to electricity through solar home systems (SHS) or connection to a mini grid, increase local content in the off-grid solar value chain and facilitating the growth of the local manufacturing industry.

The net effect is that Nigeria will generate huge amounts of solar energy waste. According to the study, the challenges in solar e-waste management in Nigeria present opportunities for investors, entrepreneurs and regulators.

Therefore, the study recommends strategies to turn these challenges into opportunities. It recommends consumer awareness and promotion of research and development activities, capacity building for collectors and recyclers.

It also called for the standardisation of solar products sold to end-users, provision of grants to encourage efficient operation within the sector and that regulators embed requirements for collections of components as a condition for grants awarded to industry players

It also noted that capital expenditure support to facilitate the procurement of necessary facilities, technical assistance to investees and education of informal players on waste collection best practices will play a role in supporting the sector.

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