Saturday, 30th September 2023

Unserved, underserved communities and FG’s rural electrification goals

By Kingsley Jeremiah, Abuja
12 April 2023   |   3:25 am
At an average generation capacity of 4,000MW to a population of 200 million people, many Nigerians are left without electricity and where available, with limited hours of supply. While the situation is fair in the urban area, rural communities are worse in terms of grid connectivity.

Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) station. PHOTO

Over 47 per cent of Nigerians according to the World Bank live in rural communities, which are never connected to the national grid or mini grid solutions. In this report, KINGSLEY JEREMIAH examines the attempt being made in the last three years by the Federal Government through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) to increase energy access in rural communities.

At an average generation capacity of 4,000MW to a population of 200 million people, many Nigerians are left without electricity and where available, with limited hours of supply. While the situation is fair in the urban area, rural communities are worse in terms of grid connectivity.

According to the World Bank collection of development indicators, over 76 per cent of people living in rural communities in Nigeria, as of 2020, have no access to electricity.

While Nigeria privatised the electricity sector in 2013, the Federal Government established the REA to bridge the electricity gap in rural communities where homes, agriculture, healthcare infrastructure and other economic and social activities lack access to electricity.

Though the Federal Government had developed the Medium-Term National Development Plan’s (MTNDP), Rural Electrification Policy (REP), Rural Electrification Strategy and Implementation Plan (RESIP), Energy Transition Plan (ETP), Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) among others, provision of electricity remained the priority to realise the plan. Besides, aligning the rural electrification goals into the economic and development plans is also sacrosanct.

Between 2020 and 2022, Nigeria spent about N45.89 billion in providing electricity for rural communities. According to reports shared by the REA, the move has led to the implementation of over 2,000 electrification projects, impacting the lives of an estimated 5,000,000 Nigerians across the country; the total installed capacity, under the capital projects, is estimated at over 600 MW – equivalent to over 1,000,000 connections.

In 2022, a pragmatic strategy was reportedly adopted through the Projects Department, under the Technical Services Directorate of the agency leading to the powering of six communities with a 100-kW solar mini-grid system.

With the move, over 8,155 lives and 5,000 active farmers were impacted with power supply and clean affordable water, translating to direct and indirect jobs, improved security, increased productivity, improved healthcare, as well as the decommissioning of over 40 diesel and petrol gensets. Based on the current and future estimations, the reductions in carbon emissions were also encouraging.

Also, 1,392 irrigation solar pumps were distributed across the six geopolitical zones, reaching 1,300 male and 92 female beneficiaries, as well as about 200 farm clusters. A document shared by the agency also showed that the distributed facilities touched over 11,000 lives and 6,000 farmers (including about 810 female farmers).

This impact has translated to the illumination of over 170 farms with Solar Street Lights (SSLs), the training of over 3,000 farmers on pump maintenance and new irrigation practices, and more importantly, costs (maintenance, fuel, etc.) savings. For the latter, the replacement of diesel-powered pumps with solar-powered pumps is expected to increase average revenues by N150,000 – N300,000.

During the year, 2,046 Solar Home Systems (SHS) were deployed across the six geopolitical zones, reaching and connecting 1,972 homes, five primary healthcare centres, 10 schools, 22 religious centres and 7 offices. With this, over 10,000 lives and 5,000 students were, according to the report, directly impacted by uninterrupted electricity, translating to over 350 direct and indirect jobs, improved healthcare, as well as improved trading and domestic activities among the women.

As laudable as this development is, it is good to understand that unless aggressive and sustainable action is taken, bridging the gap in rural electrification to achieve the projections of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would remain a mirage.

Although operation and maintenance (O&M) procedures have been established by the Federal Government as well as Rural Electricity Users Cooperative Societies (REUCS) initiatives to engage and sensitise beneficiary communities, and also, facilitate long-term community ownership, scaling up of the current approach through private sector-led funding must remain a priority.

Going by the plan to remove fuel subsidy by June this year, most stakeholders believe that scaling up rural electrification to transition farmers from diesel and fuel power generating set and the approach already adopted by REA to electrify productive hubs like healthcare centres, markets, schools, agriculture in a sustainable and impactful manner must be the way to go.

During the 2022 programme implementation year of REA, across communities where projects were initiated, the end of the year report showed that farmers used 786 diesel/petrol pumps and 206 electric pumps in the six geopolitical regions and yearly, each diesel/petrol pump consumes more than 1000 litres of fuel worth between N320,000 – N700,000 for small-scale farmers. Under a sustainable approach, transitioning these to a cleaner energy would reduce cost and emissions.

As Nigeria pushes to increase electricity access, funding remains a key challenge as current efforts being made by the REA are mainly financed by the African Development Bank, World Bank and other donor agencies.

Executive Director at Green Growth Africa and Research Fellow at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy, Dr. Adedoyin Adeleke said while plans to improve the energy narrative in Nigeria is key, the realities and contexts would largely impact its feasibility.

“The Nigerian government needs to learn from South Africa and Egypt (though they also have their challenges) who have made remarkable progress on renewables for energy access and infrastructure.

“The Nigerian government needs to move beyond leveraging intervention from development partners but directly commit majorly to renewable energy at infrastructural scale.

“One of the big questions in energy policy today is how to keep the lights on during the energy transition! When wind and solar make up most of our energy mix, we will still need some form of dispatchable generation during peak hours.”

Managing Director, REA, Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad, while underscoring the importance of energy to socioeconomic growth, said data-driven decisions targeted at deploying sustainable solutions to energy access problems remained a priority in the country.

“Beyond keeping the lights on, we are deploying off-grid solutions to catalyse productive use and strengthen social and economic systems in off-grid communities. Adopting a programmatic approach in the delivery of Capital Projects is one such deliberate intervention and we already see how this approach ties into the Federal Government’s national development objectives.

“Projects being deployed through this framework are already impacting communities, agricultural clusters, hospitals, and most importantly, homes across the nation,” he stated.

Similarly, Executive Director, Technical Services at the agency, Barka Sajou, said capital projects funded through the public budget are deployed in a sustainable manner to de-risk various business models, catalyze private sector capital and make developmental goals achievable.”

Electricity Market Analyst, Lanre Elatuyi, who said there is a need for more funding in rural electrification, noted the need for impact assessment of REA programmes, adding that the agency needed the support of host communities for permits and land approval.

“I believe REA is doing some great jobs with many completed and ongoing off-grid electrification projects across the country. Recently, they deployed a solar home system in some rural communities,” he said.

Elatuyi noted that the agency must address the challenge of lack of data about completed, ongoing and proposed projects in rural electrification space.

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