Solar Power Is Illuminating Maiduguri After Long Blackout

Residents of Maiduguri in Borno State, Northeast Nigeria and its environs have adopted reliable energy sources to power their homes and businesses after a year of power cut brought on by the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP).

The idea of switching to renewable energy came to Bukar Babakura after what he described as a testimonial. He noticed how seamlessly a neighbour powered his household, including the borehole pump that supplied water for the family’s consumption, and regretted not adopting it sooner.

Babakura, who is a resident of Maiduguri, Borno State, Northeast Nigeria, said it took him eight months into an electricity blackout before he acquired a solar energy kit. “In those eight months, I first got a gasoline generator that used a gallon of petrol per day but later on switched to a 10KVA generator that costs N2,000 daily to fuel.”

He admitted that he spent so much money that could have comfortably afforded him the solar energy kit he currently uses. The kit consists of 12 solar panels, four batteries, and a 5kVA hybrid inverter that comes with an inbuilt charging controller.

“It takes care of all my needs. I operate my borehole during the day, a fridge, a freezer, one of my water heaters,” he stated. 

In January 2020, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) reported that insurgents had cut off Maiduguri from the National grid due to damages caused to the company’s facilities and transmission lines between Maiduguri and Damaturu. 

So Babakura’s experience is not an isolated one. Kwapchi-Bata, a fashion boutique owner in Maiduguri also uses solar energy at home and now has a kit in her shop. This has reduced her business’s running cost.

Both Babakura and Kwapchi-Bata give the same account of how convenient it is in comparison to generators.

“For one there’s no noise,” Kwapchi says. 

“It has reduced daily expenses in terms of fueling generators and monthly servicing,” Babakura adds. “All these things are off my neck.”

Perpetual darkness in Maiduguri 

Residents of Maiduguri and other parts of Borno State were thrown into an electricity blackout after insurgents destroyed towers supplying electricity to the city from the national grid.

Although there was restoration of electricity in March 2021, another attack was carried out by members of Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) barely 48 hours after.

The power cut, which is currently in its second year, has grounded many businesses, while making residents’ lives unbearable.

Fatima Ibrahim, a 32-year-old widow, lamented that the biggest setback for her small business is the lack of electricity to power the refrigerator that cools the Zobo drink she sells to put her son through school.

Others also recount how the months of March, April, and May, have become the worst periods of their lives as weather temperature usually rises as high as 43 degrees celsius in the region. 

Barriers to renewable energy development, adaptation

Ali Nafisat, Umar Gutti and other residents of Maiduguri that adopted this new way of powering their homes, shops, and offices have unanimously agreed that they found it more convenient, especially when compared to generators. However, “everything that has an advantage also has disadvantages,” Nafisat puts it.

One setback Nafisa, who is a business owner, experiences while using solar power is the need to service or change the battery on a regular basis. “The more the solar works, the weaker the battery gets.”

Although it is cost-effective compared to running a generator, she still owns and uses a generator from time to time. “The solar is also dependent on weather; in the dry season when there is haze, or when it is raining, I will have to charge the batteries with my generator.”

Gutti, on the other hand, had been using a small solar grid before the blackout, but upgraded due to the running cost of a generator. He, however, uses generators as a backup and listed how lack of proper knowledge from vendors and inflated prices of appliances puts renewable energy at a disadvantage. 

Mareri Muhammad Usman, a renewable energy expert, agrees that the technical know-how is lacking and the prices of appliances are not really affordable. But this is not a problem faced in Nigeria alone, he argues. “Even to the world at large, it is still a fresh concept. Research is still ongoing on the extent to which renewable energy can be used.

The cost of producing the equipment too is quite expensive, especially the solar panels, and since we usually import it, plus the naira to dollar margin, it is quite expensive for the common man to own.”

Usman adds that the potential of solar energy in Nigeria is enormous. “When you look at solar radiation, especially in northern Nigeria, it is about seven kilowatts per square meter (7kW/m2), which is the highest radiation in West Africa.”

In 2015, the Federal Executive Council signed the National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy (NREEEP). The policy is broadly geared at removing barriers that prevent the use of renewable energy, and provide a conducive political environment that will attract investments in the renewable energy and energy efficiency arena which comes under SDG 7.

Still, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerians spend about $14 billion on servicing and fueling generators yearly. 

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Zubaida Baba Ibrahim

Zubaida Baba Ibrahim is a journalist and a creative writer. Her works have been featured on Daily Trust, Premium Times and Guardian. She also has experience in broadcast journalism and is a graduate of Mass Communication from Baze University, Abuja. She tweets through @zvbaida

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