Suleiman Babamanu’s journey to the heart of Nigeria’s largest solar energy program began in disappointment.
After university, he worked as an intern geoscientist in a unit of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. A job in the industry – Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer – would be a traditional and lucrative route. But he couldn’t find a job.
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It was around 2010, when the growth of clean energy around the world began to look like a potential career path. The industry in Nigeria did not gain much strength and he put that idea aside until a conversation with a relative persuaded him to reconsider.
“A cousin told me not to go where the money is, but where the money goes,” he says. “I immediately changed my mind and applied for a master’s degree in renewables and received a scholarship.” This referred him to the University of Newcastle in the UK, and then to a number of public and private jobs in the renewables industry in his country, including projects that received World Bank funding.
It is now implementing Nigeria’s largest investment in solar energy, part of the Covid state’s economic recovery plan. Project, Solar Power Naija is also a step towards solving one of Nigeria’s biggest problems: the lack of reliable electricity.
According to the Paris Climate Agreement, Nigeria is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2030. To get there, its goal is to generate 30% of its energy from renewable sources. To make progress, 10% of the government’s 2.3 trillion naira ($ 5.6 billion) spending to boost recovery from the pandemic will be used to install 5 million solar home systems. The goal is to provide electricity to 25 million people in rural communities who currently do not have access to the grid.
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Solar Power Naija, the government wants to fix development problems created by a lack of access to electricity, as well as pollution caused by fuel generators, one of the most popular energy sources.
“Rural communities, companies and people who use generators or even candles would have access to a cleaner and more efficient power supply,” says Babamanu. “Emissions will be significantly reduced.”
The presentation will focus on building stand-alone connections, which use solar panels to charge batteries that can then be used at any time, and mini-sliding networks, which work in a similar way, but can meet larger needs. Both will operate separately from the national network.
The project will also offer low-interest government loans from all industries, instead of contracts or grants to finance equipment and construction – a departure from Nigeria’s usual approach to electrification. Companies will return what they borrowed with customer revenue.
“It is good that the government is trying to use renewable energy not only as a means to solve the energy problem, but also to alleviate poverty,” said Adedeji Adeniran, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of African Economics in Abuja. “It shows that he takes the sustainable agenda seriously.”
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