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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Prof Eli Bala: How cheap, renewable energy is transforming rural lifestyle

Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), Professor Eli Jidere Bala, in an interview, sheds light on the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, which the ECN is implementing in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). According to him, the aim is to ensure that rural dwellers have access to modern energy services by utilising the in-situ (locally existing) renewable energy sources.

Prof Eli Jidere Bala, Director General/CEO, Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN)
Prof Eli Jidere Bala, Director General/CEO, Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN)

The project is the implementation of the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative in Nigeria and it is being handled by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN).

We (ECN) have been their (UNDP’s) focal point for sustainable energy development in Nigeria and this particular project really is to provide some basic amenities to the rural communities around the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) here that will change their lifestyles, and improve their standard of living.

Living in health and education, and by social amenities around you and these things are driven by energy. Unfortunately, these rural communities are not grid-connected and even those which are grid-connected supply is epileptic and not regular to sustain a good standard of living.

Fortunately, these areas are endowed with some energy sources within their own communities and these are referred to as renewable energy, like the sun, wind and the biomass that is available to them within the area.

So, they can utilise these with modern technology to enhance their standard of living. So, what we did around these villages around Bwari Area Council is to provide them with clean water supply, using clean water supply from underground, driven by solar energy. When you drill a borehole and you get water; it has to be lifted up, it needs energy to bring it up and so the energy we use is solar energy.

Solar energy is there with them, using solar panel to drive the submersible pump to lift the water up to tank level, and this provides them with clean water to drink and for sanitation which is basic to improve the standard of living.

Secondly, we are also able to provide light to clinics in rural areas. There are clinics in the rural area that do not have power. Those who built the rural clinics did not make provision for energy supply for light.

And you discovered that deliveries were done in the night without light and of course it is injurious and dangerous to our mothers and sisters. So provided them with light from energy again and we have solar panel mounted on the roofs of those clinics stored in the batteries and utilised this light in the night.

They also use electricity from the solar PV to drive refrigerators to store vaccines; refrigerators that vaccines are stored in so that their potency will be maintained and to use in polio vaccination, so and so forth. It also provides ventilation; electricity to power fans to ventilate the rural clinics.

Over 65 per cent of the energy utilised in this country is for cooking and it is derived from biomass which is the wood cut from the forest. Now, substitute has not yet been provided, so we cannot stop people from cutting the forest as a source of fuel. We know the effect of cutting the forest, it increases the risk of desertification, as well as erosion.

So, the best we can do now for our people is provide them with cook stoves that are efficient and readily available and which they can manipulate by themselves, not high tech cook stoves. And, by this, we simply modified the conventional clay type.

Our (the ECN) Sokoto energy research centre has been doing a lot of research into improving the efficiency, its heat retention and also, redirecting the smoke which is dangerous to our mothers while they are cooking. The technology redirects the smoke outside the home; even in the rainy season, they can cook indoors.

The technology was brought from Sokoto and imparted into the rural women, who took part in the moulding, designing and installation of these stoves in their own homes.

It can also provide warmth for the people during the rain. There are two benefits, they will be warmed during rainy season and also their health will be improved.

The other thing we did is to install lights in the town halls and town centres where people congregate in the night – either in the mosque or in the church or in front of the district heads, where people come together and interact. It enhances commercial activities and keeps the youths busy. We also provide street lights to enhance security.

All entail conversion of renewable energy to electricity, and conversion of renewable energy into heat for improvement in the standard of living of our own people.

Now, this energy resource is in-situ, it is not brought from other places. If it is petrol or kerosene lamps, they have to bring the kerosene from somewhere else and it is costly and its accessibility is poor.

We believe that this project can be replicated in various locations in Nigeria for the benefit of the people.

Now, remember that the entire world is now changing from Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MDGs have so many goals relating to health, infant mortality and others. But, to drive this, energy is required and energy was never a goal in the MDGs.

The SDGs have goals 17 or 7 as one that underlines the importance of sustainable energy supply to drive health, education and to drive other goals.

The role the community will play is to ensure that these systems are safe. If there is any problem they should report to us through their community maintenance committee that has been developed with the community. If it is beyond them they can report to us.

Members of the committee had been trained alongside the installation. UNPD provides the funding but the exact amount can be obtained from them. The ECN is to provide the expertise and ensure that the project is well implemented within our country.

The challenges are maintenance aspect of it –because when they report back to us, you will discover that we are also under funded by the Federal Government, our overhead cannot sustain this project. The communities are also financially incapable. Finance is the basic challenge to most of government grant funded projects.

As regards plans to extend the project to other parts of the country, It can be extended but subject to government funding it.

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