PPPs seen as viable option to grow Nigeria’s solar adoption
Operators in the solar market in Nigeria say one way to combat the challenge of substandard solar PVs which is has discouraged appetite to adopt solar power is for government agencies in charge of solar projects embark on public private partnerships (PPPs) arrangement.
This was part of the conversation at a Nextier stakeholder’s forum held recently in Lagos. According to an operator, Bolade Soremekun, a street light project with the Kwara State government has terms that compelled him to keep the lights on as a condition to get paid which will be maintained over 10 years with him sourcing funds to bear part of the cost.
The PPP Knowledge Lab defines a PPP as “a long-term contract between a private party and a government entity, for providing a public asset or service, in which the private party bears significant risk and management responsibility, and remuneration is linked to performance”. This is seen by operators as the key to resolve lingering challenges of poorly executed solar projects.
In Nigeria, most solar PV projects are designed for street lighting, water pumping and general stand-alone/minigrid rural electrifications but several solar PV projects that have been installed in various parts of the country fail to meet the minimum life-span due to a number of limiting factors.
A research paper on the implementation of Standard Solar PV Projects in Nigeria by A.S Sambo and others found that “These include poor or improper fundamental design, use of sub-standard components, adoption of poor installation procedure by inexperienced personnel, bad construction/civil works among other factors,” said the researchers.
The blame for the substandard products goes high up. Abubakar Sambo, former director-general of the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), and Vice Chairman of World Energy Council (WEC), Africa Region recently said that Nigerian lawmakers corrupted the process for the award of solar street light contracts.
In major cities across Nigeria, shards of failed solar street panels provide the clearest evidence, some Nigerians say, of the unreliability of solar power fuelling the notion that solar infrastructure are not only expensive but unreliable.
Sambo said the reasons are more nuanced. “We had guidelines that were established for the projects and they were appropriated for in the national budget but the legislators will bring their companies to execute them, we refused,” he said at event in Lagos, this year.
As boss of the Energy Commission, Sambo tried to prevent the legislators from awarding solar power contracts to themselves. When it was awarded to others, the lawmakers still corrupted the process asking contractors to bring money before they get approvals. Eventually the commission decided to take the projects to the local government level.
“The local governments signed with the commission to look after these assets, but they never did, nobody was resetting the charge controllers, they neglected wiping dust from the panels you need which reduces transmission of rays. To compound the situation many of the panels were stolen within months of installation.”
“Worse still, the funds were never coming in block, someone will put money in Epe, another time in Ota, Ogun state, so no coordination, different projects over several years, as lawmakers award them carelessly saying they want to bring dividends of democracy to their people,”
This explains Nigerians apathy towards solar but PPPs provide incentives to guarantee project success and prevent abuse by demanding contractors to be paid based on performance.
Another safeguard is in regulation, but Nigeria’s solar market is largely unregulated. Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), operators say lack the technical know to adequately regulate substandard solar PVs. Hence the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria, led by Segun Adaju currently fills the void.
Globally, solar is proving to be a smarter way to provide power. The IEA says global solar PV capacity will hit a total of 740GW by 2022, more than the combined total power capacities of India and Japan today, driven by continuous technology cost reductions and unprecedented market dynamics in China due to policy changes. Nigeria should then begin to engage seriously with solar.
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