Driving the Sustainable Development Goals through Decentralized Renewable Energy
Teina Teibowei* and Ifeoma Malo*
With its 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development, the Nigerian government has set ambitious goals for future economic growth, aiming to become a middle-income country by 2030. The development of a reliable and climate-resilient energy system plays a central role in the agenda, as indicated in Nigeria’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Agreement adopted in 2015.
Nigeria is ranked as one of the largest economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the economy is diversifying and has grown at over 6% per year the past decade; its GDP per capita in current US$ is about $2,950 and puts us in the classification of a Lower Middle Income Country. The lack of access to energy along with climate change, food insecurity, and the high unemployment rate, amongst others, remain constraints on economic development.
Today, an estimated 90+ million Nigerians lack access to electricity or have their electricity needs unmet by the country’s grid system. This poses one of the greatest energy challenges in the world particularly because decades of billion-dollar investments on the grid have failed to provide the required improvements in the country’s electricity sector. The lack of electricity has impacted every formal and informal sector in Nigeria – from business to health and education and even the environment. The current energy supply infrastructure in Nigeria is largely reliant on gas-fired stations and hydropower which leaves large carbon footprints including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and low levels of water for Hydro generation– thereby contributing exponentially to climate change. These challenges contribute to the inability of the national grid to operate and generate electricity at an optimum, meaning that the current pace of grid-based power is incapable of meeting Nigeria’s current population energy access needs.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides an opportunity for countries, especially developing countries like Nigeria to meet a significant degree of national and global targets in meeting energy access goals. The SDGs recognizes the important role that access to modern energy, clean cooking fuels and electricity has in many aspects of development. This is manifested in SDG 7, which aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030”.
According to the 2018 Energy Progress Report, there is some significant progress being made– particularly in the expansion of electricity access in developing countries. The report also states that renewable energy is a huge factor in this trend and with the right approaches and policies, developing countries can make substantial progress in clean energy and energy access, and improve the lives of millions of people.
The opportunity for Nigeria is global when it comes to achieving SDG 7, and the government has taken some encouraging steps in this direction. Under the country’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there are targets reduce Nigeria’s GHG emissions by 20% independently and attain 45% reduction with the support of the international community through finance and investment. Notably, the country intends to put an end to gas flaring, improve energy efficiency by 30%, as well as add 13 GW of renewable electricity to the grid.
Decentralized renewables have a bright future in Nigeria. The off-grid market for mini-grids and solar home systems is estimated to yield $10 billion annually in revenue, and a savings of $6 billion for Nigerian homes and businesses. Between 2015 and 2017, 1.7 million off-grid solar products were sold in Nigeria with an annual growth rate averaging 36% between 2014 and 2016. Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency (REA) plans to deploy 10,000 mini-grids across the country and estimates that installing 100kWh each per mini-grid will only meet 30% of the country’s anticipated power demand in the country.
Providing access to modern energy services and connecting people to electricity is important in ensuring a satisfactory quality of life and promoting development. However, the true impact arises from the associated services, development and quality of life that energy access will provide. This is reflected in other SDGs in the following ways:
SDG 3: Good health and Well-Being:
An estimated 30 percent of hospital burn cases in Nigeria are due to kerosene lamp explosions. The use of kerosene for lighting and cooking creates household air pollution which affects 136 million Nigerians and kills 64,500 persons annually. It is also a leading cause of child poisoning. Decentralized renewable energy can provide opportunities for improved health and wellbeing, particularly in rural regions. This is clearly possible through the reduction of kerosene dependency for lightning or cooking and transitioning people to clean, renewable energy options: Midwives in Nigeria find that solar lights and home phone charging contribute to better patient care. As part of the Solar Nigeria Program, decentralized solar systems have been deployed in 45 primary health centers in the Kaduna and Lagos states, and this has made a significant improvement in life expectancy including reductions in infant and maternal mortality rates. The impact in health care centers is also evident in improved night-time care, enhanced capabilities in vaccine and medicine refrigeration and an increase in the number of patients seen; thereby increasing the population’s access to health care.
SDG 4: Quality Education
In Nigeria, 65 percent of primary and secondary schools predominantly in rural areas are without access to electricity and leads to a lack of technology-based educational services. Decentralized renewable energy can play a vital role in electrifying these schools: the Lagos Solar Project (as part of the Solar Nigeria Program) has provided decentralized solar to 175 schools in Lagos state. The result has been extended study hours and computer usage, as well as increased child enrolment and better school performance. The Nigerian Safe School Initiative launched in 2014, provided solar lighting to schools in north-east Nigeria to improve lighting services and security in states impacted by the Boko Haram menace. It is important to note that National entrance exams to secondary and tertiary schools in Nigeria are largely accessed online and students in rural communities without electricity, computers or ICT skills are largely left behind.
SDG 5: Gender Equality
Women are in the majority amongst Nigeria’s poor and are the most affected by energy poverty. DRE solutions can create opportunities for women through savings from kerosene use and renewable energy entrepreneurship. Improved decentralized energy services can help improve health outcomes for women, 830 of whom die every day around the world from preventable causes relating to pregnancy and childbirth, with half of these deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Solar Sister Nigeria employs a network of female entrepreneurs to distribute such solutions. Power for All Nigeria’s gender program is also empowering women to adopt decentralized solutions. The Rural Women Energy Security Initiative is using small-scale renewable energy projects to target rural energy-poor women with the highest incidence of health-related issues from ‘harmful energy practices’ such as the use of kerosene, diesel, and charcoal.
SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Empowerment
Lack of access to electricity is a major constraint for Nigerian businesses, resulting in a loss of competitiveness and profitability: 14.2 million households and 4 million small and medium-sized enterprises in Nigeria have no access to electricity, while 37 million micro, small and medium-sized enterprises experiencing energy poverty or a reliance on expensive petrol and diesel generators. For every additional megawatt of renewable electricity deployed in Nigeria, it has been estimated more than 3,000 jobs could be created. The National Solar Programme launched by the government and enterprise Azuri in February 2017 is aiming to create 500 direct jobs (e.g. solar installers and agents) and 5,000 indirect jobs.
SDG 13: Climate Change
In Nigeria, more than 60 million people use petrol and diesel generators for alternative power supply. However, a full transition to decentralized renewable energy could generate 6.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions reductions in a year for the country – the equivalent of 1.6 million mid-sized cars removed from roads. This is equivalent to 1.3 percent of Nigeria’s total emissions in 2014. Nigeria consumes 2.3 billion liters of kerosene annually, with each kerosene lamp emitting about 200kg of CO2 per year: a full transition to decentralized renewables will lead to a reduction of Nigeria’s carbon emissions by 20% by 2030. The Great Green Wall program deployed 92 solar-powered boreholes in 92 communities in Northern Nigeria and has reduced water stress, by increasing irrigation and helping to combat the effects of climate change and desertification.
These examples reveal the significant benefits of electricity access to through decentralized renewable energy. There is a strong need to align the SDGs and directly link the contributions and benefits of energy access to poverty reduction. DRE adoption will enable more Nigerians to climb the energy ladder, and ensure sustainable development across the board. An integrated approach towards its implementation must, therefore, recognize the importance SDG 7 plays as the pillar to make these other SDG targets a reality.
*Ms. Teina Teibowei – is Lead Stakeholder Engagement, Nigeria – Power for All
*Ms. Ifeoma Malo – is Campaign Director, Nigeria – Power for All