Sunday Ehigiator writes on effort by Lighting Africa Program to increase access to cleaner, more efficient and safer off-grid lighting and energy products for rural and semi-urban populations, as well as creating opportunities for gainful employment
In an increasingly interconnected world, the importance of energy cannot be over emphasised. Access to energy plays a significant role in the day-to-day lives of individuals and acts as a critical driver of economic growth. It is in view of this that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Number Seven(SDG7) was initiated. The SDG7 has the single purpose of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. This goal is of particular importance, as no genuine global development can occur without energy -especially in rural areas where more than 80 per cent of the world's poor populace reside.
With an estimated 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa's people living without reliable access to electricity, a report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) reveals that, the growing energy shortage has effectively stunted Africa's development. Further, the International Energy Agency (IEA), reports that sub-Saharan Africa will require more than $30 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity by 2030. Rural sub-Saharan Africa will require a huge proportion of these funds, as more than 85 per cent of those living in such areas lack access to reliable electricity.
Nigeria's widespread energy shortfall is drastically affecting businesses, the healthcare system, education and most other sectors of the economy. This has encouraged the adoption ofalternative sources of power, which emit harmful fumes into the atmosphere.
There are ongoing intervention programs from international development organisations which seek to improve energy access, boost quality of life and promote economic activities, with a special focus on low-income households and small and medium-sized enterprises.
One of such program is Lighting Africa. Launched in Nigeria in March 2015, the Lighting Africa Program aims to increase access to cleaner, more efficient and safer off-grid lighting and energy products for rural and semi-urban populations.
An initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank, the program seeks to help an additional six million people gain access to clean, modern, and affordable lighting products, while catalysing a sustainable solar off-grid energy market similar to those already developed in India, Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, among several other countries.
The program also aims to avoid 120,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually which would have been created through the use of kerosene lanterns, candles and other fossil fuel-based alternatives.
Key components of the Lighting Africa program are quality assurance, consumer education and awareness, business support services such as retail channel development and corporate outreaches, access to finance and market intelligence.
The program works with manufacturers, distributors, retailers, microfinance institutions (MFIs), and other stakeholders to catalyze the market for commercial off-grid energy products that are clean, safe, affordable and durable.
The associate manufacturers/distributors working with the program are d.light, Greenlight Planet, Omnivoltaic Power, Villageboom, Smarter Grid International and A4&T Integrated Solutions. The program also supports distributors of solar energy systems such as Total, Sosai Renewable, Emel Solar Solutions, Electric Download, Roncho Energy, Solar Sister and New Trends.
To help build credibility for the sector and reassure consumers, Lighting Africa supports the marketing of quality-verified products that meet the standards of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for off-grid solar lighting.
Today, there are over 36 quality- verified products in Nigeria, serving the needs of different segments of the market. These products range from simple single-light units to plug-and-play solar home systems powering multiple light points and energy-efficient appliances such as radios, fans and television sets.
Most important for consumers is the ability of a great number of these products to charge mobile phones and enable communication even in the remotest villages.
Solution to Nigeria's Energy Challenge
According to Allwell Nwankwo, Lighting Africa's program lead for Nigeria, "Off-grid energy partly holds the solution to Nigeria's energy challenge. Everywhere I go, I see a growing recognition of this fact. As a result of the work we and other stakeholders in the sector have done, consumers are also becoming aware of the options available to them. It behooves players to ensure that they offer consumers quality products that deliver on their promise. That's why we do what we do."
Speaking on the impact of the Lighting Africa program, Nwankwo goes on to say, "It's amazing the difference even a pico-solar product can make in the life of a family, in how long a business can stay open, in how exciting studying becomes to a little girl. If you are used to electricity, you can't imagine what it means to be sentenced to perpetually using a kerosene lantern or a candle and inhaling the smoke.
"Now when you consider the cost of kerosene and candles, you'll realise they are not even alternatives to consider as solar products are, overall, more affordable."
With the combination of consumer education, channel development and consumer access to finance, the Lighting Africa program in Nigeria ensures that solar products get into the right hands, while facilitating the ease of purchase and payments.
Lighting Africa/Nigeria has engaged 15 microfinance institutions (MFIs) to provide loans to enable consumers purchase quality-verified solar products. The program's work with MFIs has yielded over 80,000 micro-loans valued at over US$3 million. Significantly, 86 per cent of the loans went to women.
The microfinance institutions providing consumer loans are LAPO, Grooming Centre, Olive MFB, Susu MFB, Forward MFB and Ilishan MFB. Others are Agosasa, Awe, Riverside, Alekun, UNAAB, Polybadan, Custodian, Multivest and Onibu-Ore.
Speaking on the role MFIs play in providing solar energy solutions to Nigerians, Ngozi Stanley-Obi the Managing Director of Olive Microfinance Bank said, "Societies grow when essential services are made available to all. In order to facilitate growth, the MFIs collaborating with the Lighting Africa program provide loans for the purchase of solar products to their customers who are usually unbanked or financially disadvantaged.
"In doing this, we enable them to keep their businesses open for longer. Beyond the economic impact of extended business hours and the attendant opportunities, solar products help customers save money. As a result of the flexible repayment plans and the durability of the products, the cost is negligible compared to other light sources such as kerosene lamps."
Lighting Africa/Nigeria also works with cooperative societies, farmers, traders and other self-help groups to help their members adopt clean energy products. Further, in order to ensure that products continue to serve consumers after the warranty period,the program trains technicians to provide after-sales maintenance and repairs.
So far, the program has trained over 230 technicians in different parts of the country. By so doing, it not only develops human capital but also creates opportunities for gainful employment.
The program has trained over 2,000 retailers and recruited over 5,000 to bring products closer to consumers. In the process of recruiting retailers, the program has reached over 40,000 retailers in different parts of the country.
Using a mix of radio, press and digital campaigns alongside roadshows, exhibitions and product demonstration forums, the Lighting Africa consumer education work has reached over 45 million people across Nigeria, making it one of the market development programs with the most extensive reach in in the energy sector.Most importantly, the nation's energy landscape appears set to change as more people embrace solar.