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Nigerians and renewable energy

Damon van der Linde and Johan DemarleJanuary 27, 2015

Nigeria produces about 2.5 million barrels of oil each day, yet many of its citizens live without electricity. Some residents are now seeking alternative solutions to the country's ongoing energy crisis.

Image: picture-alliance/Ton Koene

Joseph Agesoji has to run his small generator so he can use the hair clippers at his barbershop. He lives in Mpape, a suburb of Abuja, Nigeria's capital city.

Mpape is largely an informal settlement in the hills just outside the highway that circles the Federal Capital Territory. With a population estimated to be around 2 million, it has grown from a village to a city in a span of about 30 years.

Every month, Agesoji pays about 1,500 Naira, ($10 or just under 9 euros) for grid electricity. However, sometimes he goes for weeks without it working. "Even when they bring light for us, it doesn't take much time before they take our light back," he said.

Joseph Agesoji a barbershop owner in Abuja
Agesoji says he has to spend a considerable amount for his barbershopImage: Johan Demarle/Damon van der Linde

Often Agesoji has to pay $10 a week for generator fuel whether he has customers or not, just to keep the lights on.

Billions to generate power

Nigerians spend almost $5 billion a year on fuel to generate their own electricity, this alone keeps many in poverty. "We are working here. Every time we buy fuel for our [generators]. Everybody who has a shop has a generator. Even in the night, we don't have light," said Agesoji.

About two thirds of people in Nigeria have no access to grid electricity. That's more people without electricity than any other country in the world except India.

Some are now looking to renewable energies, such as solar as a way of transforming the country into one that gives people the power to thrive.

The Nigeria Alternative Energy Expo in Abuja has been held for the past four years in a row. It brings together local and international speakers, delegates and exhibitors to explore the possibilities for renewable energy in the country.

Stumbling blocks to renewable energy

Organizer Larry Edeh says he has felt some opposition to developing the industry because of those with an interest in keeping Nigerians buying generators and fuel.

"We've noticed that some key people are not so keen about investing in renewable energy because most of them have some investments. Some of their co-investors have invested a lot of money on generators," said Edeh.

A man walks past a damaged transformer in Lagos, Nigeria.
Graft and mismanagement has been blamed for Nigeria's chronic power problemsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"Some of them are seeing bringing renewable energy in as a threat to their business. But the truth of the matter is that we don't need generators because of the carbon emissions and air pollution."

Foreign investors are looking to Nigeria as a place to bring expertise from countries that already have a more developed alternative energy sector. Pieter Joubert is the production manager at Lumentech, a solar panel company based in South Africa. He is visiting as an exhibitor at the Nigeria Alternative Energy Expo to explore ways of expanding into other African countries, including Nigeria.

"It's a very, very big market and that is why we're expanding and hopefully we can improve people's lives right through Africa," said Joubert.

Lessons from South Africa

South Africa has a population of about 53 million and produces more than 40,000 megawatts of electricity. Nigeria produces about 4,000 megawatts for a population of nearly 175 million.

Joubert says coming to Abuja has opened his eyes to the potential of responding to that need. "I was mainly focused on keeping away from Nigeria, mainly because of all the corruption and things like that you have heard about on the news," he said. "This has been a good experience for me."

Larry Edeh Organizer of the conference on renewable energy in Abuja talking to a mobile outside the venue
Larry Edeh, organizer of Nigeria's Alternative Energy Expo says he's meeting resistanceImage: Johan Demarle/Damon van der Linde

This need for electricity has led some Nigerians to take advantage of what renewable energy has to offer. Just over a year ago Saleh Auta, another shop owner had a $50 solar panel and light installed at his small shop through the government's renewable energy program.

"Before the light we used a generator. There was noise and smoke all over the house," he said. Auta says he used to spend most of his profits just keeping the lights on.

"I'm not spending money on light now. What I am spending money on now, is when I want to cook food."

Research on this article was made possible by a grant from the European Journalism Centre.