#PoweringUpake: Light at The End of The Tunnel as Rea Launches Solar Mini-grid Power Project

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Jimoh Odivo, 39, has lived all his life in Upake, a small, agrarian community in Ajaokuta Local Government Area of Kogi State. The father of seven has virtually no experience of electricity in his community, save for the occasional trips to Itobe Market to sell his farm produce. For Jimoh and the 5000-odd inhabitants of Upake and her sister community, Obangede; it is a hard-scrabble existence without electricity, clean, drinking water, healthcare facilities and other key social amenities which significantly improves the quality of human life.

Like other men in the community, Jimoh’s occupation is heavily influenced by the seasons: he farms and fishes alternatively during the rainy and dry seasons.In between seasons, he hunts and lays traps for small mammals and rodents in the fauna rich forests around Upake.

Most of his farm harvests, fish and game catch are consumed by him and his family of two wives and eight children; while the rest are taken through circuitous jungle paths to the only beacon of civilization he knows-the waterside market at Itobe, 24km from the Ajaokuta Steel Company’s Steel Millplant.

Survival for Jimoh and other inhabitants of Upake and Obangede communities entail living off the land, and sleeping and waking in darkness due to inaccessibility of electric power supply from the National Grid system. This lack of access to electricity supply has over the years, severely constrained the social and economic lives of the people.  Most of the agricultural activities carried out by the men and women in the two communities are subsistence, with a small percentage of farm harvests taken to the waterside market at Itobe; on the eastern part of Ajaokuta, and where they are forced to sell at giveaway prices. It is either they sell cheaply or risk their harvest perishing because of the absence of adequate storage/processing facilities engendered by the lack of electricity.

However, it appears there is light at the end of the tunnel for Jimoh and his people as all is set for the launching of an 80kWp Solar Hybrid Mini-grid Power Plant on Monday, 19 August 2019, a project initiated and completed by the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) as part of the Federal Government’s Nigerian Electrification Project (NEP). The Mini-grid will generate and supply electricity to households and businesses in Upake and Obangede communities.

The journey to this historic day began in 2005 when the Federal Government of Nigeria set up the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) under Section 88 of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA 2005), with the responsibility of implementing FGN’s aggressive rural electrification programmes. Nothing much was heard about the Agency by the Nigerian public until the inauguration of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration on May 29, 2015.The Buhari-led administration came into office with tackling Nigeria’s seemingly intractable energy problems as a cardinal socio-economic policy.

The administration launched the Rural Electrification Fund (REF) as an adjunct of REA and tasked the Fund with the objectives, among others, of guaranteeing equitable access to electricity across regions, promoting expansion of the National grid, developing off-grid electrification, and stimulating innovative approaches to rural electrification.

With a committed board in place REA has hit the ground running, after the inertia of its first decade in existence, functioning as a complimentary Agency in the ongoing efforts by the FGN, through the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, to completely revamp the electric power sector and end decades of GDP-inhibiting electricity generation and distribution problems in Nigeria. REA has deployed a multi-prong approach in bringing clean, reliable electricity to underserved communities across Nigeria.

Through the Nigerian Electrification Project (NEP), an FG-owned, private sector-driven initiative, REA seeks to provide electricity access to households and micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) in off-grid communities across the Federation through renewable energy. The NEP, in collaboration with the World Bank, aims to provide reliable power supply to 250, 000 MSMEs and one million Nigerian households.

Already, REA’s interventions in providing off-grid electricity access to underserved communities are having positive impacts on the business and educational sectors. Through its Energizing Economies Initiatives (EEI) which aims to support rapid deployment of off-grid electricity solutions to MSMEsin economic clusters across Nigeria, REA has already commissioned and launched, as Pilot Projects, the Ariaria Market Independent Power Project, Aba and Sura Shopping Complex Independent Power Project in Abia andLagos states respectively. In all, over 100, 000 establishments in 340 identified economic clusters will be connected to reliable electricity supply while creating at least, 2,500 jobs and transforming over 200, 000 MSMEs.

REA is also making headway in tackling the electricity supply challenges in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. Through the Energizing Education Programme (EEP) Phase 1, it recently launched a 2.8MW (Megawatts) Solar Hybrid Power Plant Project at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (FUNAI) in Ebonyi state. 36 other federal universities, as well as seven affiliated teaching hospitals are primed to benefit from the programme and have uninterrupted access to clean, renewable and reliable power supply.

The commissioning of the 80kWp Solar Hybrid Power Plant in Upake is therefore another noteworthy milestone achieved by REA through the Rural Electrification Fund. REF funded projects are administered using Public Private Partnership (PPP) model and Upake is among 12 other communities across Nigeria expected to benefit from the REF #EnergizingCommunities programme in its first phase.

According to Renewable Energy expert, Engineer Rahimat O. Yakubu, REA’s Upake Community Mini Grid Project consists of a solar hybrid generation power plant of 80 kWp (Kilowatts Peak) with a 9.6km (Kilometres) distribution network.For the project, REA engineering partners installed 380 Mono-Crystalline solar panels.

She explained that Monocrystalline solar panels have solar cells made from a single crystal of silicon hence, Monocrystalline Panels have the highest efficiency rate in all weather conditions; and are very durable with typical life expectancy of 25 to 50 years.

Explaining further, she said that each of the 380 mono-Si Photovoltaic Panel or module is a DC 265Watts. The sum of total DC power the mono-Si panel is capable of generating is 81.602kW per hour. With an average 8 hours of solar radiation on the Photovoltaic panels in 24 hours, the total energy produced from the Photovoltaic array for 8 hours is 652.96kWh per day.

Additionally, the hybrid Mini-grid plant has a total inverter capacity of 60kva. This, in her professional opinion, will be able to power and supply 24-hour, uninterrupted electricity to 496 connections within Upake and Obangede communities respectively, both residential and commercial.

Access to electricity is one of the major challenges facing residents of rural and remote communities like Upake and Obangede. Since rural and remote areas have fewer infrastructures, connecting to the main national electrical grid can be challenging and extremely costly. This off grid project by REA will guarantee access to uninterrupted, reliable and affordable electricity unlike the grid connected system.

Apart from providing energy for lighting and cooking, the off-grid project supports the delivery of public services: access to quality education, water, primary health care, agriculture and other commercial activities which have the potentials to empower rural communities, especially vulnerable groups like women and youths.

Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbanjo said recently while commissioning REA’s 2.8mw Solar Hybrid Plant at FUNAI, Ebonyi state, that “gone are the days when students read at night with candles, lanterns and torches”.

He may as well have been talking about Jimoh Odivo and other inhabitants of Upake and Obangede communities who are, expectedly, joyously anticipating the moment when electricity will become available to them for the first time ever, thanks to the Rural Electrification Agency #PoweringUpake through the NEP.

For Jimoh and others in his community, the long wait is over: Light; clean, renewable and reliable, is finally here at the end of the tunnel. For them, Monday 19th day of August, 2019 cannot come soon enough.

A broad smile of unfiltered happiness wreathes Jimoh Odivo’s weather-beaten features as he performed his nightly bedtime rituals the penultimate evening of the much-anticipated launch of the Solar Hybrid Mini-grid in Upake. As he lay down on the bed, he reached for the kerosene lantern on the small bedside table and turned down the wick, for the final time.

Nurudeen Shehu is Lead Strategist at BorderPoint NG, a Public Policy Analytics firm in Abuja, Nigeria. He tweets from @dinstots.


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