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.

Monday Motivation

By the end of last month Germany had officially reached a new milestone, marking the installation of the 100,000th home battery storage system for domestic solar energy use. While this particular European nation also boasts over one million domestic solar panel installations, not all have been able to avoid the losses that ensue when only a fraction of solar-powered homes are actually storing the excess energy they generate. While there are some very obvious reasons not to compare our energy landscapes with our friends to the north, there are nevertheless some valuable lessons to be learned.

Keep reading to learn more.

Can the Grid Ever Go Green?

Anyone who’s lived in the region for a good amount of time knows that it’s far from pessimistic to have lost faith in African power utilities. We’re realists here, and we like to call it how it is. And the truth is, the Nigerian electric grid in its present state won’t be experiencing its golden age any time soon. From the glaring unpredictability of power supply to the haphazard funding practices that allow them to continue to operate, it isn’t much of a stretch to suppose that it is a system beyond repair—sorry guys.

According to a 2016 World Bank study shared by Quartz Africa, fewer than 1% of the African utilities surveyed in the study were capable of generating enough cash to cover both operating costs and maintenance/expansion fees. While some large companies are able to switch to alternative sources of energy, this hasn’t always been an option for smaller businesses and individuals who are just as tired of the failing, unpredictable grid. Of course, the result tends to be that existing utilities lose their big customers and it’s the people who are left to suffer the consequences.

We already know it takes time for decentralized, sustainable practices to pick up speed when cost is an issue for huge swaths of the population. But there is a growing consensus of voices familiar with these industries who agree that the utilities’ present situation isn’t so much of a setback as it is an opportunity. That is, an opportunity for those of us in the dark, whether in urban centers or rural areas, to set our sights on something a little more 21st century. Something a little more…green. Some of the writers over at Quartz even suppose that the grid may make a comeback as a marketplace where users are able to sell the excess power generated from their solar installations to those without power. And that, my friends, is music to our ears. Because we’re here to make it possible.

The Generator-Free Generation

Being at the top of a list is usually great (who doesn’t want to be number one?), but not so great when you’re at or near the top of a list for, say, most extensive generator markets. Unfortunately, as of this year Nigeria ranks in at no. 2 with approximately 60 million generators, 12 million of which are in regular active use and emit at least 29 mega-tonnes of CO2 per year. The green future many of us envision certainly doesn’t include the noxious, grey fumes spawned by these incessantly noisy behemoths. While the movers and shakers at the forefront of African sustainability efforts are not shy about letting this be known, what some have yet to realize is that pollution is more than just an aesthetic issue—it’s a public health crisis in the making. As Mr. Ademola Adesina, Founder & CEO of Rensource Ltd. has poignantly noted, turning the energy sector green is about more than just promoting sustainability for sustainability’s sake. With ever-increasing urbanization and the projected population growth expected to come with it, it would be irresponsible not to start making the transition when the conditions are all but demanding it.

We are particularly fond of what Mr. Adesina has in mind for setting the record straight. “Nigeria” he predicts, “will become the first country where distributed power generation from renewable energy is the norm rather than the exception.” From our vantage point we’re already off to the races—the continued efforts and growing concern will keep on proving him right.