With almost 800 million people globally lacking access to electricity, most in rural communities, novel solutions are needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 7 of universal access. Millions of these people are living in Nigeria, and those who are connected to the grid often endure intermittent supply—less than 12 hours a day without power.
The Abuja-based solar energy provider Havenhill Synergy Limited, on a mission “to end blackouts in Nigeria”, is partnering with the country’s Rural Electrification Agency to increase energy access with hybrid mini-grids. Havenhill Synergy Ltd’s latest and largest mini-grid deployment is in Budo Are community in Itesiwaju Local Government Area of Oyo State in South-Western Nigeria.
The community, having a population of about 4,000, is comprised primarily of miners of precious stones such as mica, tourmaline and amethysts. Agricultural activities, trading and small businesses such as welding make up the rest. While relatively prosperous and with a fair transportation network accessible by buses, cars, and motorcycles, Budo Are has been off the grid. With the nearest distribution network approximately 30km away, most businesses have been reliant on petrol generators for their electricity needs.
The deployed solution, delivered through a private-public partnership, is comprised of 100kWp of solar PV and 316kWh of energy storage supplied over a distribution network of 4.5km – sufficient to power over 400 households, 50 private businesses and public buildings including mosques, churches and schools.
“After deploying solar-powered mini-grids in three rural communities in Abuja, we witnessed the effect of the availability of reliable electricity on rural economies, health, income, businesses and more,” says Havenhill Synergy.
The company adds that a major lesson learned was about project sustainability, emphasising the importance of having a community core comprising commercial and productive users. In Budo Are, the fact that community members were purchasing fuel for the petrol generators indicated there was a willingness to pay for electricity.
Havenhill Synergy has identified four major milestones in its delivery. The first was the development phase, which included site identification and assessment, community engagement, signing of the exclusivity and commercial agreements, purchase of the land, etc. This was followed by the procurement of all components from local and international suppliers. Then there was the construction phase, which included all the infrastructure as well as the wiring and customer connections.
One of the biggest challenges experienced arose in this phase, which was the transportation of some of the project equipment to site, particularly heavier items such as concrete electric poles, due to the state of the roads.
The mini-grid is now in full operation, with demand stimulation ongoing and maintenance as required. “With this solar system, our community is no longer a village. We have been enjoying the light,” said Budo Are Community Head, Hamza Ibayiola at its inauguration.
Due to the reduced cost of energy, commercial customers are beginning to realise increased operating margins on their businesses. With the improved electricity supply, commercial customers can improve service deliveries to their end customers.
Commercial customers have been offered an appliance finance scheme, which provides microloans to enable them to purchase appliances with repayments typically over 12 to 18 months. The scheme eliminates the usually prohibitive upfront cost of acquiring the appliances, and their availability can further stimulate the activities of those businesses.
Some businesses that have participated to date include tailors, small grocery stores and hairdressers, among others; and appliances purchased have included TVs, fridges, freezers, sewing machines and electric welding machines.
During the construction phase, about 30 local residents were employed. Subsequently, community members have been trained and employed as site operators and electricity vendors. The deployment has also led to an increase in night-time social activities with the enhanced security the electricity has brought.
“This model is easily replicable, particularly in communities with similar characteristics,” says Havenhill Synergy, which has in its sights delivery of 50,000 new connections through a phased approach over the next two years. The company has developed a framework to help identify and select communities – with key factors for commercial viability being the willingness, ability and capacity of customers to pay for the electricity generated.
The company also ensures that the mini-grids can meet the demand of the communities and they are developed with scalability in mind. When the demand increases above the generation capacity, more generation assets such as solar panels, inverters and energy storage can simply be added.
“What we are witnessing is the outcome of a public-private partnership,” says Olusegun Odunaiya, CEO of Havenhill Synergy Ltd. He cautions that without some amount of subsidy, it will be difficult for private developers to electrify Nigeria’s off-grid rural communities. “We are excited about the impact of this partnership.”