Many solar energy projects in Africa fail because they lack proper planning and long-term government support, according to a study on solar power in Nigeria.
The study, published last month in Renewable Energy, sought to find out why solar power is failing to deliver cheap energy to people in Nigeria. The researchers found that governments and agencies planning solar projects lacked awareness of how many people they wanted to reach, whether the location of planned solar parks was suitable and how the plant and the households it would benefit would be connected to the grid.
"So many projects fail because, when we talk about solar parks in Africa, most of the time people think this is just about finding an empty plot of land and implementing a project," says Eugene Ikejemba, an engineering PhD student at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, who led the study. More importantly, he adds, little thought is given to how projects will be managed once built.
Ikejemba and his coauthor Peter Schuur, a management and governance researcher at Twente, have since widened their research to cover solar power policies in Ghana.
Despite undergoing rapid economic growth, Nigeria and Ghana still fail to provide affordable energy to an increasingly affluent population, the two researchers warn. Nigerian households have, on average, access to less than 600 kilowatt hours a year of electricity, compared with a global average of nearly 3,500 kilowatt hours a year, according to the World Energy Council. This is despite the fact that Nigeria holds ample crude oil reserves.
The lack of available energy has made it difficult for Nigeria to help its poorer citizens participate in the country's economic boom, the researchers say.
"What motivated us to do the research was the fact that so many small businesses in Nigeria close up due to power problems," says Ikejemba. "The introduction of parks that generate both solar and wind energy would be a robust and environmentally friendly way to provide electricity."
The study suggests that a government seeking to build more solar parks must improve its ability to model the effectiveness of such parks and consider demographical as well as geographical factors.
Solar power should also be better integrated into communities, for example by putting panels on houses and giving access to solar power to people who are still off-grid, the researchers say.
The team's work in Ghana, which is yet to be published, shows that governments should also do more to regulate and support solar panel imports and installation.
Emma Onyejeose, the coordinator of Nigeria's annual Alternative Energy Expo, says that a recent influx of fake solar panels from China to Ghana was one example where a lack of government control led to people having bad experiences with solar power.
"Governments in Africa are still finding it difficult to officially adopt the technology, and this has greatly affected its uptake," she says.