New Year, New Energy

It’s 2019—Happy New Year to all! —and this year’s solar energy prospects are looking as promising as ever. In December of last year, the New York Times reported on Nigeria’s ever-growing solar grid industry. One of the several takeaways from this piece touches on the reality, as opposed to the myths, surrounding powering small businesses with solar energy. The Times’ Amy Yee takes the King Royal Guesthouse as a case study, showing that purchasing electricity from the solar mini-grid proves not only to be more cost-effective than relying on the traditional electric grid, but saves time spent on traveling to purchase fuel in order to power a noisy generator. Additionally, instead of having to switch off the freezer, fan, and television in order to use necessary appliances such as the water pump, access to solar energy allows to the King Royal Guesthouse to keep appliances running at all times.

Needless to say, these cases fly in the face of skeptical attitudes voiced by government officials across the continent who cast doubt on the efficacy of solar energy despite the increasing evidence to the contrary. But perhaps strong minds are beginning to change: news broke in October of last year that the Nigerian Ministry of Power is switching over from the grid to a hybrid solar mini-grid network. Yeah, that’s the literal Ministry of Power. If that isn’t proof enough, we honestly don’t know what is.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though: while solar mini-grid technology is undeniably preferable to traditional grid-sourced energy and generator use, we haven’t let go of our vision for a decentralized future. The fact remains that the economic and logistical viability of solar energy solutions is still relatively new to the regional collective consciousness. This is but one step in the direction of making decentralized solar power available to the majority. So long as that’s the case, we’re here for it.

Clarion Call

By now we have probably all heard about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published on the 6th of October this year. Its authors, scientists representing over 15 nations, present their findings pertaining to the likely consequences of global climate change should temperatures reach 2.0 or even just 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Through rigorous testing and analysis, the data largely confirm much of what we already knew: namely, that without drastic action, things really aren’t looking too good for us.

While many already recognize and accept that we possess a collective responsibility to do our share in taking steps to avoid these outcomes, certain sources claim that even our best efforts may not be enough. For example, the Climate Action Tracker anticipates that there is a whopping 97% chance that we will exceed the 2°C threshold. It goes without saying that this is cause for concern. The more drastic the climate change, the more extreme the weather conditions, regardless of location. While Nigeria is on the lower end in terms of CO2 emissions (measured in metric tonnes per capita), ranking in at 0.55 as of 2014 (China’s, for example, was 7.54; while the USA’s was 16.49), ever-increasing population and industrialization means we ought to keep a close eye on ensuring that these numbers don’t increase alongside regional development.

Furthermore, history tells us that large-scale changes necessarily involve the direct involvement of the masses. In the realm of environmental awareness, this means creating a significant enough social momentum in favor of sustainable practices and policies that policymakers have no reasonable choice but to enact legislation accordingly. After all, we know that a mere 100 companies have been responsible for 71 percent of industrial emissions since 1988—this is staggering. While this suggests that large businesses have a special responsibility to consider environmental safety in their dealings, such incentives are only strengthened by consumer demand. Given Nigeria’s notorious dependence on fossil fuels, we believe there’s no time like the present to make the switch to solar energy to help usher in a healthier, more efficient attitude toward the environment—and help keep our emissions low as our numbers increase.

In the meantime, be sure to check out Carbon Brief’s interactive tracker to get a detailed look at how various regions of the African continent (in addition to the rest of the world) may be affected by rising temperatures.

Driving Green

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) Senior Contributor Michael Liebreich, the International Energy Agency predicted back in 2016 that there would be a mere 23 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads worldwide by 2023; fast-forward to 2018 and they have since upped their projection to 127 million due to sales exceeding projections over the past two years. Liebreich, alongside BNEF Chief Editor Angus McCrone, argues in their 2016 report Electric Vehicles—It’s Not Just About the Car that “the very fact that there is now a scalable technology competitive with internal combustion vehicles means there is a cap on long-term oil prices.” Which is to say, the technology that makes EVs possible is reaching a stage where buying and selling fossil fuel-powered vehicles simply may no longer be the economically viable choice.

While the prospect of EVs becoming the global standard is exciting in itself, we have our sights set even further. Replacing internal combustion engines with battery systems is an obvious step in the right direction as it pertains to environmental friendliness, but the source of the electricity itself ought to be duly considered. Unsurprisingly, we totally have an opinion on this, and it’s one that involves pre-empting public demand for increasingly sustainable goods by developing the necessary infrastructure to charge EVs with nothing other than solar energy. In nations whose electric grids are already reliable sources of energy, the idea is for EV owners to tap into this existing resource without forcing consumers to deviate too far from what is familiar and relatively efficient. Nigeria, on the other hand, is capable of bypassing this phase. Seeing as the grid may already stand to benefit from purchasing excess energy generated privately, introducing the right products at the right time will allow car-owners to make the switch to more sustainable products sooner than they might have anticipated. Just imagine: no more hours wasted queuing up for fuel only to fill up half a tank. Crazy, right? Whether we like it or not, change is well underway. But on the bright side (pun wholly intended) it’s looking preeeetty clean.

Searching for Updates...

Often times it isn’t until new tech hits mainstream markets that the average consumer is reminded of the extent and rigor of research that goes into developing higher-efficiency products. It can seem as though eons pass before our favorite products receive their latest updates, and this is especially so when we’re constantly on the search for the newest, most cost-effective technology. Naturally, this is no different when it comes to solar photovoltaics.

A few weeks ago we gave a brief overview of what it will likely take for solar energy storage systems to become ubiquitous based on trends we’ve seen occur across industries. This process necessarily involves improvements being made to existing technologies that effectively cause prices to decrease, thereby making them affordable to a wider population. According to PV Tech, a leading source for updates in photovoltaic (PV) research & development, the markers of this are indeed becoming increasingly apparent in the public sphere. Given recent policy setting limits on Chinese deployment of modules manufactured within their borders, buyers elsewhere are reaping the benefits. Eric Millard, CCO at U.S-based Conti Solar recounted last week that “last year [Conti Solar] ended up using a lot of higher efficiency modules” and that “particularly in the first half of this year, [they are] seeing that the lower wattage products went out based on the economics.” In other words, retail and installation companies—that is, those of us who source our products at least in part from China—are benefitting from system costs that are lower than ever as high-efficiency modules reach the price of what we previously would have paid for lower efficiency products. 

This sounds like good news to us, but the question remains as to how these improvements translate into identifiable benefits specifically for the African consumer. Part of it is simply a waiting game, as only time can give us the hard facts we seek. For now, stay tuned as we take a more in-depth look at industry updates to get a sense of what Nigerians are choosing.