RENEWABLE ENERGY GENERATION OPTIMISATION AND INNOVATION

The capital city of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria, is severely lacking in road lighting infrastructure. This has created a volatile socio-economic outlook for the residents due to the high level of insecurity and lack of light at night – reducing the night time economic trade. This resulted in an urgent needs assessment by the state government at the time to ensure that the roads and streets have adequate public lighting which can operate in a sustainable manner. A tender was issued in the public domain which emphasised the use of a novel and innovative solar technology which gave birth to the first on-road solar photovoltaic (PV) tunnel, ‘Solar Farm Tunnel (SFT)’, otherwise known as The Light Up Kwara solar project.

The project partners include Riccofortezza Nigeria Limited (and its subsidiary – Riccosolar), and Asteven International Company Ltd. A special purpose vehicle (SPV) was formed called, Riccofortezza-Asteven Energy Limited, for the sole purpose of executing this project. Riccofortezza Nigeria limited is the project leader, overall project manager, technical and operation and maintenance service provider. Asteven was drafted in to handle the procurement and engineering end of things. Both companies jointly constructed and installed the assets on site.

The project took approximately two years from start to finish costing an estimated $8 million (EUR7 million). The project was rolled out in three phases: the execution of the first phase started on March 2017 and ended in October 2017. The second phase was completed in December 2018, while installations in the third phase were completed and became operational in June 2018. Phase I included the installation of 522 standalone single-arm LED solar streetlights; Phase II saw the installation of 17 standalone single-arm and 266 double-arm LED solar streetlights; and in Phase III, the installation of all three SFTs with capacities of 105,000W, 130,000W and 160,000W was completed.

This is the first fully-autonomous on-road solar PV mini-grid power generation system in Africa, supplying clean electricity to previously moribund and polluting road lighting infrastructures in a sustainable way. Over 25 km of road networks were covered with extra capacity to power even more routes.

For the first time, the populace enjoyed nighttime-security, increased business activities, extended trading hours, and improved driving conditions at night. The utilisation of high polluting diesel and petrol generators for the powering road and street lighting assets is now a thing of the past. These and more were major results for the project partners and the state government.

PROJECT MILESTONES AND CHALLENGES

From the initiation stages of the project right through to completion, the project design and implementation have successfully showcased that this kind of solar mini-grid infrastructure can be used to power moribund road lighting infrastructures. This is a major milestone in the project. In addition, structural framework of the SFTs was delivered on time.

A major challenge that the project development team faced was the occurrence of vandalism of the underground PV cables. The stand-alone LED solar street lights also fell victim to vandalism. The theft of underground cables has been happening for many years, without the project team’s knowledge. This is also the case for the rampant theft of the gel batteries used in previous stand-alone solar street lighting installation in Kwara state. This is further worsened by the illegal demand for copper, the poor state of the economy, poor security, lack of government will to provide adequate security to secure installed assets coupled with a high level of poverty in the state – pertinent issues that the new administration of the Mallam Abdulrahman Abdulrazaqled government is trying to rectify.

In addition, there were a number of shipping delays from the manufacturers, which led to some hitches in fulfilling the original completion timeline. Some government funding delays also resulted in further delays. The SPV obtained a government-guaranteed loan to aid the execution of the project. Despite the SPV fulfilling its 30% equity contribution, there were some bureaucratic delays due to the release of some tranches of loan payments.

COMMUNITY UPLIFTMENT

The Light Up Kwara project has led to an increase in business activities and security in the state. Since its completion, more businesses (retail outlets, restaurants, and salons along the path of the solar street lighting assets) have been opening in the state capital and more jobs are being created, as a result. In addition, twenty-five youths have been trained in solar technology and entrepreneurship from various communities within the state. This project is replicable with permission, and scalable as well.

For instance, by expanding the capacity of the SFTs, more highway and/ or streets can be covered. This would also imply that the lithium-ion battery, equipped with the battery management system, has to be expanded to meet with the requisite lighting hours. The lithium batteries are housed in a cooled container, with all aspects of the systems monitored using a computerised interface/monitor. Performance parameters – such as the level of charging and which solar PV modules are not generating enough electricity – are monitored 24 hours a day.