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 Lighting up Niger Delta with cheap, cleaner energy

Lighting up Niger Delta with cheap, cleaner energy


Electricity challenges are more acute in last mile coastal and underserved Niger Delta communities. Inhabitants face environmental backlashes from oil explorations and exploitations activities and attendant effect of destruction of their means of livelihood, with fishing, farming and other traditional means of survival taking heavy hit from these activities. Denizens of these places are turning to other vocations, such as petty trading and small scale enterprises, for survival. Yet, they are confronted with challenges of reliable and constant energy in their quests to improve their businesses and living standards.

Thousands of communities in the region are yet to be connected to the national grid and there is little hope that the situation would change in the next decade. This leaves business-owners to rely heavily on petrol/diesel-guzzling power generating plants, which reduce their profit and also cause huge carbon emissions that further degrade their environment.

In Bayelsa State’s coastal towns such as Fish-Town and Sangana, fishermen set sail as early as 01:00am daily in dinghies or outboard engine-powered boats to faraway waters and return in late afternoons with their boats filled to breaking with catches. No matter how tired they are, the day’s task continued with smoking their catches because they lack cold-rooms or other means pf preserving their catches.

Mary, a fisherwoman in Sangana, said without the extraneous task of smoking they risk losing a huge chunk of their catches. “We cannot put them in fridges or cold-rooms because even when we have cold-rooms there is no fuel to power generators or they simply breakdown.”

Dr Mogbeju Nelson, a resident doctor in Gbagira community, Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State, like many others in the bustling costal town, rely on power generators for all electricity needs. He said, “All pieces of equipment in hospitals require electricity. We rely on generators.”

Gbagira, a coastal town, among others on a stretch of land along Apostle Canal and its neighbours in Ondo, as well as others in Delta, Bayelsa (Fish-Town and Sagana), among others, are now connected to mini-grid powered by energy cabins.

The energy cabin according to experts is an assembly of power bank panels and batteries stored in 20-feet container or any other enclosure to form a stand-alone energy plant. It eliminates the need for costly distribution network, as it targets small communities (clusters) such as Gbagira and others battling epileptic or total lack of power supply.

Operators mainly target restaurateur, fish smokers (dryers), hair salons and barber shops, retail shops, tailoring shops, butcheries, micro hotels, fishing gear shops, boat spare parts retailers, pharmacy shops, local booking agencies, and mobile money booths as customers. The operation is usually post-paid with vendors who sell energy units to customers, who can purchase directly from their banks through the use of specific codes.

Through this model a solar-refrigerator (or solar cold-room) is helping farmers like Mary and Tare Jackson in Fish-Town (Bayelsa) to preserve their daily catches as well as other perishable food items. It is saving them money spent on power generators and the uncertainty that goes along with it, giving them the leisure of working at their own pace and time.

They are beneficiaries of a silent revolution that is transforming the face of energy supply in the area. The solution, powered by the Foundation for Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta (PIND Foundation), the energy cabin or mini-grid, is receiving rave reviews by users, like Adebanjo Akinrutan, a Gbagira traditional leader. He said there is a collective sigh of relief in the community, as members are now able to sleep peacefully (day or night times) without the unwanted cacophonies of generator noises.

Mrs Balogun Deborah, a trader, said, “solar is very good; I can now sell very cold drinks to my customers without the hassles of generator and constant breakdowns that comes with it. Nobody can contest the fact that this solar (mini-grid) has brought joy, light and life to our community.”

For Gbagira’s Women Leader, Ms Ojoetemi Akinrutan, the relief of the mini-grid comes at a low cost. She said in the past she spent over N2,000 daily on gasoline generator for just a few hours of power, noting that the solar solution was much cheaper and ‘pocket-friendly’.

PIND’s Executive Director, Dr Dara Akala, in an interview on the project, described access to energy as “the holy grail of development”, stressing that the installations allow diverse group of beneficiaries in the communities to address basic energy needs and productive uses of energy at both household and rural enterprises levels. “These will afford such typically agrarian and fishing communities to experience direct value addition to fish and agricultural produce while newer service industries are likely to emerge.”

In a recent report, PIND foundation disclosed that communities targeted by the initiative are those “considered difficult terrains and mostly unconnected to the electricity grid, prompting over-reliance on petrol generators with their ever-rising costs and health hazards. This situation kindles continued poverty and inequity”.

However, the report stated: “In every problem lies an untapped opportunity. PIND saw the opportunity to facilitate off-grid, low-carbon, low-cost solar solutions to meet local needs and launched an access-to-energy intervention that promotes economic activity in the coastal communities. This has to be done in a manner that assures long-term viability for the investors and boosts demand for renewable energy services.”

PIND said it assessed energy requirements and possible solutions for underserved coastal communities, incentivised private renewable energy providers to develop business models specific to the last-mile customers, and fostered engagements between them and community stakeholders. This was done to secure buy-in for a demand-and-supply meet that assures long-term viability for the investors and boosts demand for renewable energy services.

“Solar energy cabins, cold-rooms and home systems (through commercial energy providers) can provide reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity access to off-grid communities (riverine and land) that will unlock the innate entrepreneurial spirit found in many rural communities, create jobs and increase incomes (access to energy).”

Already, this initiative has facilitated power purchase exclusivity agreement between eight (8) coastal communities in Bayelsa State and Delta State and two (2) different energy service providers to scale up the model—ensuring continuous access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy as desired by SDG 7.

Working virtually with private clean energy providers and community associations, PIND has facilitated the establishment of six energy cabins in six coastal communities. They provided reliable electricity to a group of businesses and households in the communities. The energy cabins helped them reduce business costs, extend their business hours, and power large-load appliances.

One of the strategic partners in the mini-grid project is a renewable energy company, Vectis Business Option, which is also partnering with NXT Energy Solution in The Netherlands to ensure reliability, sustainability and durability of the grids.

VBO’s CEO Kehinde Emmanuel Tayo said the company’s quest to address the energy challenges came up with the mini-grid model. “Our partnership with PIND has brought about this relationship where we are able to reach out to more communities in the coastal region to provide them energy access to power. We are very grateful to PIND for what they have done, making our lives easy, making things easy in terms of access to communities, and then, supporting in reaching out to these communities in the Niger Delta.’’

The PIND initiative has given birth to 121kw solar mini-grids in communities, including Ondo and Delta state. There are two (2) units of 20kw solar mini-grids in Awoye and Odofado communities in Ondo State, which was partly funded by the Ilaje Regional Development Committee); A 21.06kW solar hybrid energy cabin in the Lomileju community and a 19kW energy cabin in the Obe-Jedo community in Ondo State by AT&T

Others are a 20kW solar mini-grid at Molutehin community in Ilaje Local Government Area, and another 20Kw solar mini-grid at Gbokoda community both in Ondo State, executed through a grant from Chevron Corporation supporting communities in its GMoU (Global Memorandum of Understanding) to procure energy cabins.

In Ogheye-Dimegun, an Itsekiri community in Warri North LGA of Delta State where the government is building a multi-billion floating market, Vectis and NXT Grid installed a 20kw top quality low-maintenance energy cabin.

PIND is also collaborating with Infraenergy LLC (a private sector power developer and potential investor) to assess potential sites and business models for off-grid solar projects in Opia, Dagbolo, and Azama communities in Delta State.  In line with its mode of the operation, the foundation is facilitating engagements between the developer and the community leaders to establish plans for deploying commercial mini-grids and solar cold rooms within their communities.

PIND’s 2020 report shows that N79 million was leveraged from private investors and communities to solar energy cabins, solar refrigerators, and solar home systems in target last-mile communities. “This reduced the inequity in access to energy and improved quality of life and economic development.”

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