Ilorin, Nigeria – As recently as Monday morning, Matthew Bello, also known as Matty, turned on the generator that powered his shop in the state capital of KwaZulu-Natal at 9:28 a.m. It drops for a second before roaring in life, coughing up a cloud of gray smoke in the process.
Watching television, playing video games, getting a haircut and fixing mobile phones inside Bello’s versatile store. As David, Bello’s apprentice, moved the store’s fuse box from the utility grid – which is currently facing a blackout – to the generator, the TVs are on and the hair clippers have come to life.
Belo has installed DSTV and PlayStation consoles and potential customers are stunned for the stain to charge their phones. The noise from the generator fluctuates because it adjusts the energy appetite of the customers with its production range.
On that day, the bellows generator did not stop until 12 o’clock after 14 hours and 32 minutes of non-stop work.
“Sometimes there is NEPA lighting,” Belo told Al Jazeera, referring to electricity in the city’s electrical grid. “But it’s low current,” he said – and not enough to meet his store’s electricity demand.
He said the bellows generator uses 17 to 27 liters of gasoline per day, which costs between 2,500 naira ($ 6.08) and 4,000 naira ($ 9.72) for the country’s official exchange rate. Then there’s the extra 1,500 naira ($ 3.65) per week to measure and change the generator oil. A mechanic comes in three times a month for maintenance and repairs, costing at least 1,000 naira (2.43) per visit.
Everyone said that Bello’s monthly cost for his generator ranged from about 100,000 naira ($ 243.01) to 130,000 ($ 315.92). But his monthly income was at most 170,000 naira ($ 413.12), and he was able to buy less per month as the prices of fuel, food and other daily necessities skyrocketed.
Amid the coronavirus epidemic, Nigeria is facing its worst inflation in four years. Belo worries that paying increased costs to his customers will only make him lose business.
Haircuts, video games and TV time are not considered a necessity, which means that if people charge her more, she will stop sponsoring her shop. His story is just one example of the economic and human cost of the power crisis in Nigeria.
Hungry for power
An estimated 22 million small-unit generators are used by Nigerians like Bello, and according to the World Bank, they fill a significant gap in the country ranked 171 out of 190 in terms of access to electricity.
Nigeria’s grid has an average capacity of 12,522 megawatts, but due to poor infrastructure it is capable of supplying about 4,000 megawatts of electricity, according to the U.S. International Development Agency.
According to the World Bank, as of February, one percent of Nigerians still do not have access to on-grid electricity, and without reliable electricity, Nigeria loses ২ 2.2.2 billion annually (equivalent to two percent of its gross domestic product).
To bridge the gap between supply and demand, Nigerians are forced to generate electricity from off-grid sources in smaller units, usually fossil fuel-powered generators.
In addition to the financial cost of the generator, there are also health and environmental costs. Two out of three generator users in Nigeria have complained of hearing loss, according to data cited in a 2019 report (PDF) by the Access to Energy Institute (A2EI), a non-profit research and development institute working to promote the use of solar energy in developing countries.
“The noise is confusing,” Qadri Oladio, a student who used his own generator to read and work as a freelance photographer, told Al Jazeera. “Every time the generator shuts down, it’s like a part of your soul that you never knew the return was missing.”
“Everyone hates them,” he added, “but everyone has one.”
Most Nigerians are aware of alternatives such as health and environmentally friendly solar energy, but the lack of cost, quality and efficiency makes their implementation difficult. That requires more investment in solar energy, said Segun Adaju, president of Nigeria’s Renewable Energy Association.
“If 2 2 billion is invested in the solar energy sector, most businesses can run comfortably on 8 to 12 hours of fuel supply daily,” Adaju told Al Jazeera. “
Depending on the region, Nigeria receives between five and seven hours of sunlight per day. A 2019 report (PDF) by the Director General of the Nigerian Energy Commission estimates that if one percent of Nigeria’s land is brought under five percent efficient solar technology, about 333,480 megawatts of electricity could be generated, which is “too much for the country.”
Experts believe that solar power is currently unnecessary in Nigeria.
Nigerians, for example, may own solar-powered flashlights, solar-powered fans, and possibly solar-powered refrigerators, but each brings its own solar plate and power generation unit, rather than the ability to plug the entire house and each appliance into a single solar generator. .
A solar generator capable of storing energy on all these devices is rarely available in the market and is accessible to most lower-middle class Nigerians. A high-powered solar generator can cost upwards of 400,000 naira ($ 972.05). By comparison, the minimum monthly wage in Nigeria is 30,000 ($ 72.90) naira. And even when Nigerians can afford them, they lack the skills to help maintain solar-powered generators.
And cost is a big hurdle for business owners who have high energy needs. Bello said he has considered solar power many times but has been isolated due to price and potential production.
“I’ve never seen a solar power plant that could power five TVs and three clippers,” he said.
The current petrol-powered generators are preferred by people because they “meet that energy demand”, and “they do it quickly and economically-at least in the short term,” said Thomas Duveau, A2EI’s chief strategy officer.
But A2EI hopes to help Nigerians move to solar and has been working on the project since 2001.
To realize the energy needs of the people, the group installed smart monitors on 300 petrol-powered generators in Abuja Us Market so that they can monitor energy production, fuel consumption, how long each generator works and even the frequency of faults.
“We then used this information to build our solar generators, making sure they could surpass fossil-fuel generators,” Dubuu told Al Jazeera.
But matching the output of the petrol generator is only part of the challenge.
“Our biggest hurdle has always been financing,” Duveau said.
In 2019, before the coronavirus epidemic hit, A2EI shipped about 200 solar generators to Nigeria at a cost of 700 700 per unit.
The epidemic has delayed the tariff process on generators, Duouu said, and has further affected the economy. Last year sold solar generators without A2EI.
By 2021, the value of the Nigerian currency has reached 1111 naira in US dollars, which is even higher than the black market value.
Solar generators still cost 700 700, but that’s now 288,050 naira – 22,000 naira more than when it was first shipped.
To address this issue, A2EI said it has partnered with Nigerian banks and other financial institutions to provide subsidies and credit to help Nigerians buy solar-powered generators. Duvu said they had also approached the Nigerian government for help, but no specific response was received.
Renewable energy investment
In December 2020, the Nigerian government launched the Niger Solar Power Program, an ambitious project that provides solar electrification to 2.5 million Nigerians who were not previously connected to the grid.
The program plans to provide five million new off-grid or mini-grid connections and “encourage the creation of two and a half million new jobs in the energy sector.”
However, since the program began, the Rural Electrification Agency – the agency in charge of the program – has so far deployed 100,000 solar home systems.
Struggling to get solar-powered generators and to get off the ground, Bello’s petrol-powered machine continues to run, with gray smoke and endless noise মতো like its neighbors এবং and in the process reducing its earnings.