The popular nursery rhyme reverberates…
“Some like it hot
Some like it cold
Some like it in the pot nine days old”.
In Nigeria we just like to own it. We have to own our borehole and pumping machine to be able to have running water. We have to own our own security outfit to provide security. We own our own neighborhood development to take care of the trash and road. And to generate power, we own our own diesel, petrol or kerosene generators. If we can’t afford either, we go to the bush and harvest wood to burn our own fires. That is the psyche of our people. The telecommunications revolution tapped into this and we grew from 250,000 lines to over 45 million active cell phones within a decade. A cell phone is something we can own. Something we call our own. No one can contest this ownership with us. It is part of us. It is part of our identity.
To solve the electricity problem, we have to carter to this need to own. Historically, heavily centralized services have not worked for Nigeria. From the government to telecommunications to water supply. What has proved effective and efficient is local service; a strategically placed water borehole serving a few streets in the city, a telecommunications mast serving all cell phones in a small area, a personal power generator providing power for a home or a small block of apartment buildings. These are the infrastructure we are used to. These are what we know works. These small, efficient machines or installations that we can see, touch and understand are the things we trust will work for us. We do not trust central infrastructure – you only need to drive down Benin –Ore road to realize the wisdom of staying local. And the average Nigerian learns to live with it and not trust that it would change.
This lack of trust is not necessarily a bad thing. Luckily, technology is making ownership of personal generators a lot cheaper and smarter. The burden of not having good infrastructure in Nigeria can be turned to an advantage in today’s world. We would totally leapfrog the infrastructure deficit of the past and move to a future where everything we could ever need would fit into our pockets just like the cell phone. For power generation, we cannot exactly carry a fire in our pocket – if you discount the flashlights on cell phones that is – but we can put that generator on the roofs of our homes.
Increasingly, cost of solar photovoltaic cells (PV) has been reducing exponentially. It is calculated that the cost of PV reduces by 7 percent every year. From $13/watt in 1980, it is $1.67/watt today and will be about $0.5/watt in 2030. (see graph). What this means for us in Nigeria is instead of using I pass my neighbor petrol generator, a solar generator could serve the same purpose, generate 500 watt of power at a cost of N5, 000 per year, by 2030 this cost will reduce to N1,500/yr in today’s naira. This however does not include the cost of inverter (if we could use only direct current devices, there will be no need for an inverter) and batteries for power storage to be used at night.
This is the great opportunity we could exploit today to assure every Nigerian access to clean affordable electricity supply. The adoption of wide scale roof top or floor mounted PV cells could open up entrepreneurship opportunities, jobs in solar PV manufacturing, scientific breakthroughs in research, new industries and products that are direct current (DC) based instead of alternating current (AC) based. It will grant us an opportunity to do something radically new and different and in this way enable us solve the electricity problem and create wealth while doing so.
* This article was originally published in Nigerian TELL Magazine Online