The Chief Executive Officer of Beebeejump International Ltd, Peter Zhang, speaks to HENRY FALAIYE on how the country can leverage renewable energy to overcome its power challenges

How can Nigeria’s power sector be improved?

The power sector plays a crucial role in the industrial development of a country. In Nigeria, there is significant potential for utilising renewable energy sources such as solar and hydro power, along with traditional petrochemical-based power generation.

Nigeria is blessed with abundant sunlight and water resources, which can be harnessed to produce affordable and reliable electricity for the population. As a country rich in crude oil, the byproduct of gas can be effectively utilised for electricity generation instead of being wasted. Advanced technologies exist that facilitate the conversion of these gases into electricity for both residential and commercial use. China serves as a notable example of where the power industry has gradually transformed into a service-oriented institution, encompassing power generation, grid construction, and electricity sales. Strategies like managing peak demand, implementing peak deployment measures, and ensuring a balance between industrial and residential electricity consumption are key considerations in achieving a stable and efficient power supply.

How do you think the issue of substandard components can be tackled?

To address the issue of substandard components, relevant authorities are actively enforcing market regulations and imposing penalties on companies that fail to meet compliance standards. They are also working towards establishing a fair and transparent competitive market mechanism. These measures aim to ensure that substandard products do not thrive in the market, providing consumers with confidence in the value of the solar products they purchase.

Additionally, the implementation of a regulatory agency within the professional market has been proposed. This agency would conduct regular spot checks on manufactured products to prevent the circulation of counterfeit items. Furthermore, the establishment of a standardised component inspection laboratory is being considered. The purpose of this laboratory would be to identify and publicise non-compliant products, further deterring the presence of substandard components in the market.

How can Nigeria leverage solar energy to stimulate economic growth?

The unreliable power supply in Nigeria is causing significant economic losses, estimated at N10.1tn annually, according to the World Bank. Small and medium-scale enterprises play a crucial role in the country’s economy, contributing 48 per cent to the national GDP, accounting for 96 per cent of businesses, and employing 84 per cent of the workforce, as reported by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. Despite their immense contributions, SMEs face numerous challenges, with inadequate and expensive access to power being a significant obstacle. Power is a vital component for running a successful business, serving various primary and secondary purposes depending on the type of SME. Whether it is providing comfort for employees or delivering goods and services to customers, reliable and adequate power is essential. However, in Nigeria, this requirement is often unmet. SMEs bear the burden of paying expensive bills for unstable power supply, even as the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission increases electricity costs per kilowatt-hour. This situation hinders stability and growth in business ventures.

 Solar power presents a viable solution to the challenges faced by SMEs. Its increasing popularity and affordability, driven by mass production, make it an attractive option. As the most affordable renewable resource, solar power can be adopted by various SMEs to address their power needs. Unlike non-renewable sources like fuel generators or grid power plants, solar power produces no pollution, reducing air, noise, and water pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Businesses utilising solar power not only benefit from reduced operational costs but also enhance their brand image and perceived value among consumers by contributing to climate change mitigation efforts.

Numerous solar systems have been designed to cater to the specific power requirements of businesses, offering flexible payment options that align with the growth of the enterprise. Furthermore, solar energy products have proven instrumental in improving the livelihoods of people in rural areas. This access to reliable power enables businesses to operate longer hours, increase profits, and contribute to the country’s GDP. The adoption of solar power by SMEs in Nigeria can alleviate the challenges they face, particularly regarding inadequate and expensive access to power. Solar energy offers a sustainable and cost-effective alternative, while also reducing pollution and contributing to climate change mitigation. Moreover, solar power can transform the living conditions of families in rural areas by enabling income-generating activities and improving their overall quality of life.

 What are the environmental advantages of harnessing solar energy?

It is an exceptional breakthrough of the 21st century, harnessing the boundless power of a renewable and ever-present natural resource. Its advantages are numerous and transformative. Not only does solar power offer a clean, affordable, and sustainable method of electricity generation, but it also brings about significant environmental benefits. By curbing air pollution and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, solar energy mitigates the detrimental effects of global warming and safeguards air quality. Furthermore, solar power liberates us from the reliance on finite and expensive fossil fuels, mitigating the potential challenges associated with their scarcity.

Unlike traditional energy sources, solar energy is virtually limitless in availability. Additionally, solar energy plays a pivotal role in promoting human health by minimising respiratory ailments, cardiovascular diseases, and associated health issues caused by hazardous pollutants. The transition to solar power not only alleviates the burden of healthcare costs but also saves lives. Overall, the advent of solar energy stands as an extraordinary innovation with far-reaching positive impacts on both our planet and well-being.

What major hurdles are currently impeding the progress of clean energy development in the country?

The renewable energy market in Nigeria has been in development for over a decade, but it has faced challenges in achieving significant scale for several reasons. Firstly, the high installation costs have been a barrier for many potential users. Secondly, the lack of adequate after-sales service has resulted in customers being unable to use products they purchase if they have quality issues, and manufacturers have not been readily available to address these problems. Thirdly, the market has experienced variations in product quality, with lower quality products being sold at lower prices, leading to a situation where inferior products dominate the market.

Another challenge is the perception and acceptability of renewable energy products, particularly solar batteries, among the general population. Many people believe that solar batteries do not last long, overlooking the fact that there are different types of batteries available. Lithium-ion batteries are considered the best in the market, offering a longer lifespan compared to other battery types. However, it is crucial to educate and enlighten people about these misconceptions so that they can make informed choices and opt for high-quality batteries rather than settling for any solar battery available. As a company, we are actively working to address these misconceptions through educational initiatives and raising awareness. Our goal is to change people’s mindset and encourage them to invest in reliable and durable batteries, such as lithium-ion, for their solar energy systems.

 What is your projection for renewable energy acceptance in Nigeria?

The elimination of fuel subsidy in Nigeria, including in Lagos, has been viewed positively both at the national level and within the solar industry. Previously, fuel prices were high, with a litre of fuel costing N185, resulting in significant expenses for individuals using generators. These costs were considered excessive.

 However, after the removal of fuel subsidies, fuel prices have increased significantly, reaching N617 per litre across states in Nigeria. Clearly, these costs are exorbitant, making it an unwise decision to continue relying on fuel-powered generators.

Consequently, people are increasingly recognising the drawbacks of relying on fuel generators and are opting for more cost-effective alternatives, such as investing in solar systems. Solar power generation, among other renewable energy sources, offers a solution to the electricity problem in Nigeria at a significantly lower investment cost. The removal of fuel subsidies is expected to drive more Nigerians towards embracing the opportunities provided by the renewable energy industry. The adoption of solar off-grid power products is likely to become the preferred choice for addressing electricity needs in Nigeria, leading to rapid growth in the solar industry within the country.

How will the growing global acceptance of renewable energy impact Nigeria?

A stable electricity supply is crucial for the development of any community or society. Countries with reliable electricity infrastructure are more advanced compared to those with limited access to power. Regular electricity plays a significant role in socio-economic progress. When a country has a consistent power supply, it becomes an attractive destination for both local and foreign businesses to invest in. The impact of stable electricity cannot be overstated. These companies, by investing and operating in the country, contribute to the government’s revenue through taxes and provide employment opportunities for citizens. Consequently, the government has more funds to allocate towards improved healthcare, infrastructure development, quality education, and the construction of better roads.

Given the unreliability of the national grid, it is imperative for governments to explore alternative energy sources, with solar power being a clean and dependable option. On February 11, 2021, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, while chairing a meeting in Abuja, expressed the country’s intention to invest in green energy to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2030. Emphasising solar electricity as a priority, rather than just a backup plan for the unreliable national grid, is vital to achieve this goal.

Following the COP27 meeting, the world is collectively working towards carbon neutrality and peak emissions, with the common objective of maintaining a greener planet. China’s involvement at the national level has led to large-scale production and installation of solar products, significantly reducing the cost of solar kilowatt installations. Solar power costs are now comparable to those of fossil fuel power generation. From both an environmental and cost perspective, the gradual reduction of fossil fuels is an inevitable trend. Nigeria initiated a Federal Government programme in 2020 to install 5 million solar products across the country, creating employment opportunities for 250,000 people. With abundant natural resources, Nigeria is well-suited for solar industry development, with some areas experiencing up to 2,600 hours of sunshine annually.

Over 80 million people can address their electricity needs through decentralised solar off-grid systems. As demand continues to rise, Nigeria’s solar industry is projected to contribute to a one per cent increase in GDP by 2030. The market size is expected to reach $10bn, generating millions of jobs in the process.

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