Nigeria’s hard-to-reach population mostly bears the brunt of the country’s power supply deficit. But this appears to be changing with the inroads made by the Rural Electrification Agency, the federal government’s vehicle for reaching the country’s unserved and underserved communities, writes Emmanuel Addeh
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria’s electricity supply problem is deep-seated. Despite various attempts to untangle the several layers of issues hobbling the reliable supply of power to the citizens by several administrations, for the most part, this has remained a pipe dream.
In spite of embarking on privatisation of generation and distribution of power supply in 2013, what has become obvious is that only the dimensions of the problems have changed. Indeed, even more complex challenges seem to have sprouted.
Today, Nigeria, a country estimated to be over 200 million people still struggles with between 3,500mw to 4,5000mw of electricity; close to 80 million citizens, roughly twice the number of the population of Canada are still not connected to the national grid.
Therefore, many Nigerians who can afford it, are left to generate their own electricity, with all the attendant economic, health and environmental hazards. While supply is not increasing markedly, population continues to soar and demand continues to rise. Even businesses continue to feel the pinch.
If serving the urban and easily accessible areas in the country still remains a problem, what then is the fate of the rural areas, the hardly unreachable communities and Nigeria’s seemingly forgotten ones? That gaping void created by systemic issues, is what the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) has attempted to fill.
The REA’s strategic intervention and the agency’s implementation of a programmatic approach to delivering projects to various areas and key institutions in the country is today, not only helping to catalyse productive use of electricity for beneficiaries, it has also been a game changer for the country’s unserved and underserved.
In the past few years, the agency has deployed solar mini-grids, solar water pumps and solar home systems across the six geopolitical zones in the country, especially for what it describes as productive use. This means that it’s not just electricity supply for the sake of it, but ensuring that it is deployed for use in endeavours that generate income for beneficiaries.
A 2022 report by the organisation showed that before the strategic interventions, some of the baseline conditions and challenges of the beneficiaries included access to electricity and water, petrol consumption patterns, security conditions, employment conditions, gender inclusivity, among others.
During the period, six communities were equipped with a 100-kW solar mini-grid system. The systems, the REA said, were designed to prioritise productive users, including agro-processing businesses, homes, commercial users, as well as public spaces.
In addition, over 8,155 lives and 5,000 active farmers were impacted with uninterrupted power supply and clean affordable water, translating to over 60 direct and indirect jobs created, improved security, increased productivity and improved healthcare. Furthermore, the decommissioning of over 40 diesel and petrol generator sets was carried out to ensure cleaner power supply sources.
“Based on the current and future estimations, the reductions in carbon emissions were also encouraging,” the report indicated.
The REA further distributed 1,392 irrigation solar pumps across the six geopolitical zones, reaching 1,300 male and 92 female beneficiaries, as well as about 200 farm clusters.
“Over 11,000 lives and 6,000 farmers (including about 810 female farmers) have been directly impacted. 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. The feedback from beneficiaries were also positive,” the report of activities for the period indicated.
Some states that benefited from the solar water pumps included Ekiti, Ogun, Benue, Kwara, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Edo, Adamawa, Borno and Taraba, then Anambra and Enugu as well as Jigawa, Katsina and Zamfara, among others.
Many other states of the federation were also beneficiaries of the solar street lights projects as well as the solar homes systems and solar mini-grids.
In the last three years before now, that is between 2020 to 2022, the REA says it spent N45.89 billion as total project cost, while the number of projects were 1,375 , with a grid-installed capacity of 238.40mw.
In 2022 alone, 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 seven offices.
Besides, over 10,000 lives and 5,000 students have been 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.
A gender-sensitive organisation, according to the agency, key gender-based observations were that women in the beneficiary communities will have more access to technology, health and food quality/quantity.
“Over 3,000 women that are involved in trading, tailoring, braiding and other productive domestic activities are expected to increase their profit margin by at least 30 per cent due to the improved lighting conditions from the SHS. The provision of solar pumps to farm clusters will also enable female farmers to increase their yields and profits,” it stressed.
To ensure the long-term sustainability of the projects, according to the agency, an implementation plan for Operation and Maintenance (O&M) procedures has been established.
“The agency also intends to leverage on its Rural Electricity Users Cooperative Societies (REUCS) initiative to engage and sensitise the beneficiary communities, and also, facilitate long-term community ownership,” it added.
In his comments regarding the activities of the agency, the Managing Director of the organisation, Ahmad Salihijo, maintains that aside providing the much-needed light in unserved and underserved populations, the REA’s activities are putting people back to work in rural communities.
“Energy is central to socioeconomic growth. At the REA, we are continuously making data-driven decisions targeted at deploying sustainable solutions to energy access problems.
“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 of 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 noted.
The agency further insists that its implementation of a programmatic approach to deliver capital projects has been a success. The electrification programmes, it stated, were widely accepted in the beneficiary communities.
Beneficiaries consisting of mainly farmers, households, women and youths have been deeply impacted from a social, environmental, and economic standpoint, it adds.
According to the REA report, the beneficiaries also showed their appreciation to the federal government for the interventions in their communities. “There was an unwavering optimism from the beneficiary communities that these efforts will also be extended to other communities, in need of similar interventions,” it reported.
The capital projects, it was learnt, were implemented by the projects department, under the technical services directorate, with oversight from the board and executive management.
“The technical services directorate is leading the paradigm shift within the agency in the delivery of its projects. Capital projects funded through the public budget are deployed in a sustainable manner to de-risk various business models, catalyse private sector capital and make developmental goals achievable,” Executive Director, Technical Services, Barka Sajou, said in a remark.
Going forward, the REA last week announced that it was targeting over 1,000 solar mini-grids nationwide to spur access to electricity by Nigeria’s underserved communities.
Already, the REA Rural Electrification Fund (REF) Call 3 bidders’ workshop has taken place in Abuja, where Salihijo, explained that the plan was in line with the 5 million solar-based connections across Nigeria through the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP).
As the implementing agency for Nigeria’s rural electrification strategy and implementation plan, Salihijo noted that the REA continues to support off-grid developers by creating an enabling environment to facilitate investments in various ways, including access to data, policy support, grants, capacity development, and financing.
The agency’s goal of providing and increasing energy access to millions of Nigerians through renewable energy, he said, was critical if Nigeria was to deliver the economic benefits that will spur rural economic growth and development in Nigeria.
As the agency continues to ramp up its activities throughout the country, one thing it has vowed, is to ensure that it optimises renewable energy technologies in last mile communities to improve social inclusion and accelerate socio-economic development. This, it maintains is the irreducible minimum.
News Source: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2023/04/09/tackling-nigerias-rural-electrification-challenge/