Gbagada, Lagos – One sunny afternoon, the Principal of a state-owned Comprehensive High School moved a heap of files from his imposing desk under a motionless fan to a small coffee table directly facing the open door, to get more of the natural air coming in. In the absence of electricity, this is the only way he is able to get any work done on most days.
Pictures abound in the Principal’s office comparing the state of the school infrastructure before and after his arrival, a testament to his efforts to rally public and private assistance on the school’s behalf. Some of the fruit of his efforts are evident: this otherwise under-resourced school, for instance, boasts a state-of-the-art computer laboratory housing fifteen desktop computers, over a hundred laptop computers, and a printer.
The huge potential presented by this well-equipped laboratory has however been stymied by the unreliable supply of grid electricity to the school, which ranges from between zero to a few hours in a day. The result is that the gleaming computers in the laboratory mostly sit unused, and most students and teachers are just as computer-illiterate now as they were before the machines arrived.
This is a scenario that most Nigerians can relate to: according to a recent nationwide survey conducted by NOI Polls, the majority of households in the country received a maximum of four hours of electricity from the national grid in 2014. Declining infrastructure and perennial bottlenecks in fuel supply chains have contributed to keeping the generating capacity of the grid at a fraction of what is required, even with the government’s ambitious privatisation push over the past decade.
In 2010, the government of Lagos State entered into a public-private partnership to build an independent plant – the Island Power plant – to power state installations and public services.The plant has gone on record as being the “fastest executed” independent power project in the country.Today, the plant serves a host of essential services including the maternity and children’s hospitals, courtrooms, schools, public recreational spaces and public lighting. Using gas-fired engines which reduce pollution, the plant records an average availability of 99 percent – providing constant power all day, everyday.
The impact of the Island Power plant has been a huge hit with its clients, many of whom unequivocally attribute significant strides in their performance to their connection to the plant. In 2013, Marine Power, as manager and operator of the Island Power plant decided to catalogue these impacts, particularly within public institutions where they arguably have the most far-reaching effects on a critical mass of people. This resulted in the release of the company’s first social impact report which showed, through methodical research, that the anecdotes hitherto shared randomly by clients constituted evidence of more systematic change across the board.
The company’s social impact report for the year 2014, to be released publicly next week, shows that even more progress has been made in the period since the publication of the first report. Focused on the impacts of the Island Power plant in the education, justice, health, and public security sectors, the report highlights the difference that ordinary citizens can make in their everyday jobs given a steady supply of electricity.
The statistics and stories featured in the report are drawn from the courts, government hospitals, streets, and public schools on Lagos Island currently served by the plant. Major findings include cross-cutting benefits such as significant reductions in generator use and improvement in the provision of public services to the public. The report is especially striking in the way it shows power availability as being central to even the most mundane aspects of life – the provision of water, air, and light – from the courts to the streets. Other impacts of greater consequence have also been recorded: medical personnel, for example, are relieved that they can schedule critical operations with certainty and respond more efficiently to life-and-death emergencies.
Schools in particular report impacts as varied as freedom from the opaque and burdensome billing system that operated while they were connected to the grid, greater enthusiasm among staff for their work, and the ability of teachers and students to use laboratory and ICT equipment on demand.
On another hot afternoon, the Vice Principal of a public school on Lagos Islands was at his desk across the lagoon from his colleague in Gbagada. The door and windows of his office are closed: he cannot afford for any of the cooled air inside to leak out. “Since the linkage, we have been having light 24/7,” he says, referring to the school’s connection to the Island Power plant in October of 2014. “Our children are happy because they have light throughout. We sure expect that it has a positive impact on their performance, because now, all their laboratories are working, all the engines there are working.”
The forthcoming social impact report is unique in the way it has distilled transformative experiences like this into a powerful narrative of change across public institutions in the state. This makes the report well worth a read by anyone with a stake in making power work for Nigerians – which amounts to literally everyone. After all, judging from the significant gains that the island Power plant has enabled for its clients, a micro-grid revolution may just be around the corner – and no one would want to miss that!
Dr Temilade Sesan, an international development consultant, has worked extensively at the intersection of appropriate technologies and energy poverty alleviation in Africa.