Lessons for Nigeria from Kenya’s Solar Ecosystem

By Okafor Akachukwu 30/05/2017

Kenya Solar

Kenya’s renewable energy market and ecosystem particularly for solar energy (off grid solar PV and solar home systems) is unarguably the most successful in sub-Saharan Africa and the world. It has one of the largest per capita markets in the world – its level of product development, penetration and growth, consumer base, use of innovative solutions especially smart metering and mobile payment systems, and efficient customer service has remained a subject of learning in the sector, particularly for other African countries.

In a previous article, I highlighted Nigeria’s poor energy policy environment compared to the other 110 countries that were studied for the Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE) report. What I did not highlight is that Kenya is the only sub-Saharan African country that scored tops for all three categories – energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy. The other countries in the developing world that scored highly in the three categories were India and Sri Lanka. Compared to Nigeria’s overall score of 22, 11 and 29 for energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy respectively, Kenya’s scores are 82, 48 and 63 respectively. Easily observed is the fact that Kenya’s phenomenal solar market development is reflective of a good and enabling sustainable energy policy environment. What this means is that the huge success of Kenya’s solar market is a result of deliberate government and development sector policy interventions that align and connect with other market interventions and activities.

This corroborates the findings of a research team at Sussex Energy Group (Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom) which provided a clearer understanding of what has contributed to Kenya’s success. They argue that hardware financing – financial investments in the demand and supply sides of solar technologies – and private sector entrepreneurship focusing on investing venture capital in entrepreneurs to drive and grow the market at the micro economic level, are not the only contributors to the Kenyan success as many have long believed. Rather the success was as a result of policy interventions that understood the need for a systemic approach in nurturing innovation and technological change through policy. This systemic approach leads to interventions in a wide range of areas that is generally regarded as creating an enabling environment.

The question is how can policy interventions help create the enabling environment that is required for the kind of success that Kenya has achieved? The authors argue that the overall goal of policy must be to build functioning socio-technical innovation systems that add to other efforts for the transfer, development and diffusion of sustainable energy technologies that meet the needs of all groups of consumers. Goals of policies and interventions must intentionally (1) build networks of diverse stakeholders; (2) foster and share learning; (3) promote the development of shared visions; and (4) support diverse experimentation. Two examples of how these can be achieved are the creation of sustainable energy access relevant innovation-system builders (SEA-RIBS) and using projects and programmes to build socio-technical innovation systems. The system builders are the institutions, including national and international companies, agencies, donors, networks, groups and financial institutions, that work to provide and improve relevant energy access support which may be needed in the implementation of relevant energy access projects and programmes.

In Nigeria, the mandate to lead energy access interventions – projects and programmes especially for rural areas – falls on the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) which is leading government’s effort to electrify rural communities in Nigeria. Unfortunately, in the recent past, REA has failed to provide the leadership that is required of it. Its projects and programmes funded through the Rural Electrification Fund (REF) have failed to build networks of diverse stakeholders, foster and share learning, promote the development of shared visions and support diverse experimentation. Projects have been treated more like a transactional activity than an experimentation and development activity to support learning that will help build systems. Recently, some stakeholders in the renewable energy sector especially project developers, have expressed their displeasure over the contract awarding process in the agency. For instance, the bill of quantities for some of the projects advertised by the agency does not meet industry standards and therefore cannot be executed, even if the projects can work with little or no challenges. The fear is that if solar projects are implemented based on a bill of quantities that are not standardized, not only will the projects fail to deliver on expectations, they will most likely breakdown within a short timeframe, which will start a bad story for solar technology. Project developers in Nigeria are already doing their best to change the bad image given to solar technology over the years due to badly implemented government solar projects. To invest 2 billion Naira of the Rural Electrification Fund on projects which are likely to breakdown in a short time impedes and reverses the efforts of the renewable energy sector to use solar energy to improve energy access in Nigeria. The agency must look at itself as the leading sustainable energy access innovation-system builder who must consciously look at its mandate as not just electrifying rural communities but also building a socio-technical innovation systems. This should be done by applying a broad systemic approach to the way it interacts with other stakeholders, designs and implements policies and interventions.

It is interesting to note that recently, the Federal Government inaugurated a new board for the Rural Electrification Agency whose Executive Director (Rural Electrification) is Dr Sanusi Ohiare, who holds a PhD in Rural Electrification. As my friend and colleague, I have reminded Dr Ohiare of the enormous responsibility that he has on his shoulders to ensure with the rest of the board that the right things are done at the agency to help build a sector that is resourceful in effectively meeting its mandate. One that is efficient in assisting to create an enabling environment for energy access and building a renewable energy sector and market that is successful. It is my earnest hope that the new board understands that its projects, programmes, policies, interventions and activities can make or mar the actualization of universal sustainable energy goals in Nigeria and beyond.


Okafor Akachukwu is the Energy and Environment Editor, The Initiative for Policy Research and Analysis (InPRA) and a Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert. Email: akachukwu_okafor@yahoo.com

Directing Nigeria’s Sustainable Energy Future

By Okafor Akachukwu | 12/05/2016


The debate for the future of Nigeria’s burgeoning energy sector may have just began. Few weeks back, the nation woke up to media reports that Nigeria’s power generation dropped to 0 megawatts (MW) for 3 hours when they were in bed. This wasn’t good news at least to the officials at the Power Ministry, who will have to remind Nigerians that the usual outages were a result of vandalised gas pipelines, union strikes and probably low volume of water at the dams. Some reports and opinion argued that the outage normally occurred, but this particular incident may have gotten wide media attention because of the current petroleum products scarcity in the country. These incidences are enough to spark public debates on Nigeria’s energy future. How long can we continue in darkness; what are the real solutions to the crisis; what better ways can we source our power needs in environmentally safe and sustainable ways? These discussions, especially the last, is likely not to come from the public, maybe not just yet. We aren’t used to engaging in debates, conversations that shape public policy.  We usually leave debates to the policy makers and interest groups who normally have only their interests to protect. What then happens to the general public interest?

The history of energy systems show that people do not really care where the energy they consume is sourced, they are often reluctant to do so. Energy debates have only evolved to become topics of public policy concern, especially when there has been an environmental catastrophe, as witnessed mostly in the late 70s and 80s. The US Three Mile and Chernobyl disasters are examples, including the recent Fukushima Daiichi disaster. These incidents sparked a new wave of movement and resistance against nuclear energy, which had a huge impact in directing the energy systems that exist today. Mostly recently, adverse environmental impacts of fossil fuel exploration, and consumption, and climate change impacts birthed new movements against continued fossil fuel use especially coal – the highest contributor of global carbon emissions. These changes have resulted in the development of streams of renewable energy (RE) technologies and solutions with diverse areas of applications. Something that was unthinkable two decades ago. Deployment of RE technologies is experiencing a rapid increase, eliciting debates of how this process needs to evolve and governed, and in which direction. On whose terms are the complex global, regional, national and local energy system changes going to happen? Who will direct this process and at what cost?

In 2012, the Government of Nigeria issued coal mining licenses in line with its ambition to use coal fuel to meet 30% of Nigeria’s electricity demands. Armed with these licenses, mining commenced with consequent environmental and health impacts on the communities that host mining sites. One of such communities is Okobo, a peasant farming community in Kogi State, Nigeria, that is host to coal mining sites that will power a proposed 1200 MW coal power plant located in another community called Itobe – also in Kogi State. These adverse environmental and biodiversity impacts have caught the attention and response of Global Rights, a human rights and justice focused organisation. Global Rights have started ask some difficult questions that stakeholders usually ignore or are reluctant to ask, or even work to find answers to. It organized a workshop to launch and debate on “Power at What Cost?” – A report that highlights the impact of coal mining and coal power generation on Okobo and Itube communities of Kogi state.” The report exposed the air, water, soil and other forms of environmental pollution that the community is suffering as a result of the coal mining.

The debate amongst the workshop participants exposed future severe dangers and challenges that Nigeria’s environment and energy systems is bound to face, if urgent appraisal of our energy strategy and enforcement of certain environmental laws are not undertaken. Unfortunately, the agencies and departments of government that are charged with these responsibilities lack the capacity and capabilities to act. For instance, a representative of the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development stated that the ministry lacks the resources to undertake regular inspection of most of the mines in the country. On the other hand, representatives of the Climate Change department, Ministry of Environment disclosed that it has no measure or framework of ensuring the that operations of coal mines in the country comply with strict environmental regulations that will ensure that: the environmental impacts are minimal, Nigeria meets its ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). Also, the Ministries of Power, Environment, Solid Minerals Development, Agriculture are yet to develop a plan on how Nigeria can implement its INDC of 476 million tonnes per year of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions reductions in 2030 through different measures that do not include coal, generate 13,000 MW of electricity from off-grid solar PV. Incidentally, the activation of power from coal is unlikely to help the situation. Other questions that came up during the workshop were as follows: What are the true costs (financial, environmental, socioeconomic, health impacts) of power from fossil fuel – coal, gas and renewable energy such as solar, wind, biomass? Who should bear these costs? What should be the contribution of various energy sources to the energy mix? How can the system meet the very complex and dynamic demands while keeping issues of human rights, equity and social justice obligations towards the poorest and marginalized groups on the front burner?

The conversation that will deliver efficient, reliable energy systems, promote energy access across all sections of the population and promote sustainable development need to grow bigger than the conversation at the workshop. The system needs to be open to participation by all actors and stakeholders, who must take ownership of the system and demand that the interests of all sections of the society be represented in Nigeria’s future energy system.