Kano — Nigeria is one country in Africa with records of dismal electricity supply, a situation that is forcing the people to search desperately for other sources of power.
In Kano, the solar power technology is a recent phenomenon that provides suitable and efficient alternative to the miserable supply network of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). And the technology is gradually gaining acceptance.
About two years ago, in a quiet upmarket neighbourhood, the Goethe Institute, a non-profit German cultural organization set up the first solar panel in Kano State in a grand ceremony that witnessed the presence of the then state governor Malam Ibrahim Shekarau and other top government officials.
The large solar panels, which were said to have cost the institute almost N5 million was installed within the premises of the century old Gidan Dan Hausa mud bungalow, fortified with a barb-wired fence.
When Daily Trust visited the location last week, it was gathered that the managers of the institute were not back from the Christmas/New Year holiday. But one of their assistants, AbdulHadi Adam, who spoke to our reporter, said the device has been providing electricity to the building constantly, and has never developed fault since it was launched.
"It supports electrical appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions, projectors, laptops, white fluorescent bulbs and other appliances that don't consume much electricity. But it has some limitations; it doesn't support pressing iron and boiling rings," he said.
Adam said the device simply switches off itself when the level of consumption gets higher than its capacity. He explained that the panels normally revolve in any direction that has sufficient sun rays.
According to him, during rainy seasons or other atmospheric conditions in which sunlight becomes scarce, the panel could still work though the power supply may not be as strong as when there is sufficient sunlight.
"For instance if the batteries, normally charged by the solar panels, provide you with light up to 24 hours, the number of hours may drop to like 18 or 10 when sunlight is not sufficient...but it would continue to work," he said.
"It is really an efficient alternative to the traditional electricity source used by the PHCN," he added.
Samuel Janyo, a technician at the site explained the categories of solar panels available at the site, saying the panels are grouped based on their capacities.
"There panels with 80, 100, 125, 160 and 220 watts", he said, adding that the panels don't get damaged easily "unless they are poorly installed or placed in an environment where objects can fall on them and break them."
The technician added that, "a panel with a capacity of 125 watts can last for 15 years or more. You only need to be changing batteries and or charge controllers which also last for years without getting weak. You also need to ensure that the surfaces of the panels are always free from dust."
Asked on the affordability of solar energy, Jenyo said that because it is new to the Nigerian public, it is not easy for an ordinary man to afford.
"Components like the charge controllers can cost between N15, 000 to N150, 000, depending on the brands," he said.
Our reporter gathered that smaller solar panels can cost up to N150,000 to N200,000. The large capacity ones can go for up to millions of naira.
Jenyo also showed some micro solar panels to our reporter, saying that they could be used to power torch lights and charge GSM handset batteries. This kind of device, he said, costs about N6, 000.
The technician also observed that governments could utilize the solar technology to power traffic and street lights in order to save the cost of diesel.
"Instead of spending huge amounts of money buying diesel to power the traditional traffic and street lights, governments can spend the money to buy more solar powered lights that don't require much money to maintain," he said.
But solar power technology is largely used for domestic purposes rather than industrial purposes because their capacity cannot support heavy electricity consuming machineries.
"Only chicken poultry operators can use them since they are using bulbs which do not consume much energy," he said.
The Kano experience has provided some succour to residents who have had to live long years of frustration caused by a highly inefficient power sector. The question is whether government will encourage the use of solar power technology beyond street lighting in state capitals. Only time will tell.