Tackling energy poverty in Nigeria
Known as a net exporter of energy, Nigeria’s paradoxical experience in terms of energy access and use can be pretty frustrating.
From frequent power outages and low current electricity supply among those privileged to access grid electricity to millions of households who are excluded from enjoying the same, Nigeria’s power sector continues to be a major cause for concern for the entire nation. Too many Nigerians can still be described as energy-poor, given their exclusion from government-supplied energy goods and subsequent recourse to more expensive and dangerous energy sources.
Access to energy or the lack of it can tell the difference in the life of an average individual, whether they will be able to afford a decent lifestyle or not. Interestingly, the essentials of life such as food, clothing, shelter, education, health or finance all depend on and are impacted by energy availability.
People are termed energy-poor when they rely on expensive, dangerous and polluting energy alternatives such as candles, kerosene lamps, dry cell battery torches and noisy-rickety generating sets in place of cheaper, cleaner and less hazardous supply sources.
According to Light Africa, poorer citizens in African homes spend up to $17 billion annually on pricey, low quality and unsafe lighting alternatives. To date, about 6600 million Africans are without access to decent electricity. The International Energy Agency (IEA) also projects that by 2030, 530 million people will live without access to electricity if current grid extension programmes remain consistent with the current pace.
Furthermore, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) has revealed that nearly 50 percent of Nigerians, that is, about 90 million persons, do not have access to grid electricity. Even among those privileged to connect, there is the concern that the connected households are unable to enjoy a minimum of up to 12 hours of electricity every day. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has also mentioned that Nigeria has one of the largest petrol/diesel generating fleets globally.
These generating sets, which are often old and rickety, contribute to environmental pollution by loud, ear-itching noise and the fumes they expel. Prolonged exposure to these fumes can result in respiratory disorders as well as a host of other diseases. These have severe implications for the productivity of human capital.
The lack of access to healthy energy sources shuts people out of potential gains made available by modern energy sources. For instance, in rural areas, a lack of good electricity can hinder the ability of health providers to function effectively. There have been cases where critical surgical procedures were carried out with mobile phone torches or kerosene lamps. It will be surprising to find a high success rate of these surgical procedures that use poor energy sources for lighting.
However, access to clean energy sources can help rural households enjoy affordable clean lighting without the risks of exposure to harmful emissions, become less poor, and benefit from more job opportunities. To make this happen, it is important that the government partner with appropriate private sector businesses that will empower thriving small and medium-scale enterprise (SME) owners and communities to increase the possibility of energy access.
Also, access to sufficient investible capital is needed to conquer Nigeria’s huge market to bring clean energy to millions of energy excluded people in the country. If this happens, then there will be a broader chance for the country to explore decent alternative sources of energy, which will help deliver basic needs to the erstwhile deprived set of citizens while at the same time supporting the habitability of the earth for future generations.
Indeed, fixing energy poverty in Nigeria is also a cause for fixing economic poverty. Access to alternative energy sources can help reduce deaths that accrue to solid biomass fuels and rickety generators. Also, the freedom to explore alternative energy sources can help enhance the financial capabilities of nations struggling to provide clean and sustainable energy to their business firms for production.
In Nigeria, the World Bank has noted that the country loses $26.2 billion in economic losses due to insufficient electrification. Such losses can be avoided by shifting towards renewable and other off-grid energy sources such as solar panels. With the shift, Nigeria can afford to directly power homes and businesses to evade frequent, well-known power cuts with traditional grid energy. Also, the government can help reduce the cost of providing off-grid energy by providing subsidies to private firms in the solar industry.
Replacing industrial and household power sources that are deemed dangerous with more efficient renewable alternatives is an objective that Nigeria’s government should uncompromisingly pursue if the incidence of energy poverty must be minimised or erased. When better energy sources are subscribed to, the domestic manufacturing industry becomes stimulated, and thousands of jobless individuals will be accommodated in the country’s new job-enhancing renewable energy sector.
It is hoped that Nigeria will become less oil-dependent with a growing renewable energy sector. With the provision of low-interest sovereign credits, equipment financing and revenue-based repayment strategy, Nigeria’s government can help ensure that the country’s manufacturing industry will grow and contribute immensely to the broader economy.