(Bloomberg) – Suleiman Babamanu’s path to the heart of Nigeria’s largest solar energy program started in disappointment.
After university, he worked as an intern geoscientist for a unit at Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. A job in the industry – Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer – would have been a traditional and profitable route. But he was unable to find a job.
That was around 2010, when the growth of clean energy around the world made it look like a potential career. The industry had not gained much momentum in Nigeria, and he dropped the idea until a conversation with a relative convinced him to reconsider.
“A cousin told me not to go where the money is, but where the money is going,” he says. “I changed my mind immediately and applied for a master’s degree in renewable energy and won a scholarship.” This took him to the University of Newcastle, UK, and then to a range of public and private jobs in his country’s renewable energy industry, including projects that had received funding from the World Bank.
Now he is implementing Nigeria’s largest investment in solar power, part of the country’s Covid economic recovery plan. The project, Solar Power Naija, is also a step towards solving one of Nigeria’s biggest problems: the lack of reliable electricity.
Under the Paris Climate Agreement, Nigeria promised cut carbon emissions by 20% by 2030. To do this, it intends to generate 30% of its energy from renewable sources. To make progress, 10% of the government’s 2.3 trillion naira (US $ 5.6 billion) in spending to stimulate the recovery from the pandemic will be used to install 5 million domestic solar systems. The goal is to provide electricity to 25 million people in rural communities who now have no access to the grid.
With Solar Power Naija, the government aims to solve the development problems that the lack of access to electricity has created, as well as the pollution that fuel generators, one of the most popular energy sources, cause.
“Rural communities, companies and people using generators or even candles would have access to a cleaner and more efficient energy supply,” says Babamanu. “Emissions will be greatly reduced.”
The launch will focus on building autonomous connections, which use solar panels to charge batteries that can be used at any time, and minigrids, which operate in a similar way, but can meet greater needs. Both will work separately from the national network.
The project will also give bidders across the industry low-interest government loans instead of contracts or concessions to finance equipment and construction – a departure from Nigeria’s normal approach to electrification. The companies will pay back what they borrowed from their customers’ revenue.
“It is good that the government is trying to use renewable energy not only as a tool to solve the energy problem, but also to alleviate poverty,” said Adedeji Adeniran, senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Africa’s Economies in Abuja . “It shows that the sustainable agenda is being taken seriously.”
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