31 July 2011

Nigeria: Inside Sokoto's Unsteady Solar Energy Project


Sokoto — The idea by experts that it is possible to explore the use of solar energy in Nigeria to complement the nation's over-dependence on the national grid for electricity supply, was applied by scientists from the Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto.

So also did experts in Borno State, the two major states experiencing the hottest weather in the country. Believing that they had the ability to utilize the heat in Sokoto and other parts of the country to generate the much needed electricity, scientists from the famous university commenced a research into how best to convert the wasted heat to power generation.

That gave birth to the establishment of the Sokoto Energy Research Center (SERC) in 1982. The center commenced with a vision to mitigate environmental damage and alleviation of poverty, inadequate power supply to the nation, over dependence on the then National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), now Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), for epileptic power supply through the promotion of the use of solar energy other renewable energy resources commonly found in the country.

The center successfully adapted solar to power the supply of light, now used in several places to complement electricity. So many states including Sokoto subscribed to the use of solar to electrify villages and streets of major towns that do not require the use of other electrical appliances like air conditions, electric cookers, pressing irons and fridges that may not be powered through solar. The vision was seen as an added advantage.

The Special Adviser to the Sokoto State Governor on Rural Electrification, Alhaji Garba Umar Kyadawa, told this reporter in his office in Sokoto that the present administration in the state planned to electrify all towns and villages in the state. This is expected to be done between 2010, when the massive electrification of the state started and 2014. He said many towns and villages had so far been electrified by the present administration in the state.

"Already, 213 towns and villages have been contracted out for electrification by the state government in the past three years. Eleven of them have been completed and connected to national grid. Forty-five transformers, ranging from 300 to 500 KVA have been bought by the state government. About 39 of them have been distributed already. We are electrifying the state in batches. We have five other electrification projects completed recently. In all, 85 percent of the project have been completed.

"There are some electrification projects being handled by the federal government which the state government took over and completed because they were abandoned. They include projects like the Kagara, Gorau and Sabon Garin Dole in Goronyo local government. As it is, we are also having problems with epileptic power supply by PHCN, just like every other part of the country. Government now felt we should try the solar energy in some villages and streets in major towns where they may not require the use of electrical appliances. As a pilot project for the solar energy, contracts for the installation of street lights powered by solar energy at Tambuwal town and some streets in Sokoto like Gawon Nama, Dange and Shuni roads were connected," he said.

However, Alhaji Kyadawa said the state government was not satisfied with some of the solar energy projects executed in the state as some of them did not meet the expectations of the people. He said while some of the solar energy poles erected did not last long before they fell down, the entire project failed in some areas few days after their commissioning as they were either not done perfectly by the contractors or did not meet the standard required.

He said the inability of some of the pilot projects of the solar energy in the state to meet the aspirations of the benefitting communities prompted the state government to proceed with the electrification of the state through the use of electricity by connecting the state to the national grid despite the epileptic nature of electricity supply worsening daily. Alhaji Kyadawa said the state has so far spent over N3.8 billion on the electrification of towns and villages in the state.

However, Acting Director of the Sokoto Energy Research Center, Dr Danshehu Bagudu Gwadangwaji, told Sunday Trust in his office that solar energy is a very reliable source of power generation. He said the problem states and local governments were encountering with solar energy is because they give out their projects to contractors who do not have the technical knowhow to handle a perfect installation. He said even though contractors charge higher than the center, in most cases, they sublet the contracts illegally to some experts, who instead of collaborating with other experts to do a perfect job, do it alone and end up not doing it well.

Dr Gwadangwaji said the center had carried out some consultancy services for some states and organizations on the installation and use of solar energy. He said prominent among such projects was the one they did for Jigawa state in 1994 that are still in perfect working condition. He said Jigawa state has contracted the center to convert all government own boreholes from diesel power to solar power, noting that apart from the cost effectiveness, solar energy power boreholes are more reliable. He said the center is also doing some consultancy services for PHCN, UNESCO, UNDP, UNIDO and many other foreign and local organizations.

He said the centre is not only into generation of light by the use of solar energy, but that the centre, in 1983, took off with solar, biomass and wind energies as its main areas of focus. Dr Gwadangwaji said the center had the capability to investigate, the appropriate designs of solar and other renewable energy equipments and appliances for domestic, agricultural and industrial use and to develop, produce and test every inventible.

"We have the biomass unit which is one of the four research units that were established since inception of the center in 1982. The unit has the responsibility to carry out research and development in the area of biomass and biomass related system such as improved wood stoves, saw-dust stoves and coal stoves. The unit has produced many biogas plants of various sizes, improved wood stoves, saw-dust stoves and coal stoves across the country," he said.

Dr Gwadangwaji described biomass as the organic non fossil material of biological origin. He said it is an organic carbon based material that reacts with oxygen in combustion and natural metabolic process to release heat. He said in the process, bio-fuels such as methane gas, ethanol or charcoals are produced which after passing through some process, the elements of the materials are recycled in natural ecological or agricultural process.

He said the solar thermal unit of the center is responsible for carrying out research and development on the use of direct solar radiation for other applications such as solar dryer, solar water heaters, solar still and solar cookers. He said the location of Nigeria within a high sunshine belt makes the solar thermal products very effective.

The acting Director of the center said the photovoltaic unit of the center has been developed in a way that it has the technology to convert sunlight directly into electricity by the use of solar modules that are the products of solar cells with the ability to increase voltage and current. He said the solar cells manufactured by the center produce direct electricity current, from light that can be used to power equipments or recharge battery bank.

He said: "the first practical application of solar photovoltaic was to power orbiting satellites, space-crafts, and pocket calculators. But today, the majority of solar photovoltaic modules are used for stand-alone, mini-grid, grid applications. The unit had carried out studies on different types of modules and developed many researches and pilot projects in photovoltaic applications. We also have the meteorology unit that is responsible for studies on and keeping records of weather events which illuminate and are explained by the science of meteorology."

The center also has the small hydropower unit that manufacturers facilities that generate 100 kilowatts to 30 megawatts of electricity. Dr Gwadangwaji said the hydropower system rely mainly on the potential energy difference between the levels downstream. He said the water turbines that convert the potential energy of water to shaft rotation are coupled to suitable generators.

The chief executive of Zango Global Nigeria Limited, Alhaji Hassan Kangiwa who executed the contract for the installation of solar energy on the streets of Tambuwal town in Sokoto state, said he is very optimistic that the contract was perfectly executed. He said though his company did not consult or involve the Sokoto solar energy center on the execution of the project, experts on solar energy from the private sector were used and that the street lights are in perfect working condition.

He said the solar energy system is more reliable than electricity and more cost effective. He said like most projects and equipment in Nigeria, the solar energy system also has substandard equipment that when used for a project, the required standard may not be achieved. He said high quality materials were used for the Tambuwal project under the close supervision of engineers from the state government who made the job a perfect one.

However, a resident of Gidan Dare, Lugun Marina in Wamakko local government, Malam Mikailu Ibrahim, said their area has not benefitted from the state's electricity project under the present administration. He said the area he lives which is in the same local government with the hometown of the state governor, was electrified several years before the inception of the present administration. He said though there are electric poles in their area and most houses are connected to electricity, power supply to the area has been epileptic over a very long time.

"In this area, we can stay for three months without light. And when there is electricity supply to this area, it does not usually last for more than one hour. On most occasions, we are supplied half current that can hardly be brighter than the bush lamp. When the governor visited our area for his campaigns in 2007, we complained to him and he promised to address the matter but is yet to do anything till date. I am also aware of some villages in the state where they went and installed electric poles for them with transformers but they have never seen light in their village," he said.

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