Solar energy in Nigeria: necessary for the climate, an opportunity for business

Working for a pharmaceutical company in the 1980s, pharmacist Bolade Soremekun went in search of a source of energy to keep medicines and vaccines cool. ‘I discovered that solar energy was by far the best way to escape dependency on diesel and polluting generators,’ he says. ‘A new world of possibilities opened up for me. I never looked back.’ Bolade founded one of Nigeria’s first solar energy companies.

Through his Rubitec Solar Academy Bolade also trains professionals, thus increasing the knowledge and capacity of his country’s solar energy industry. What’s more, he is part of the new Dutch-Nigerian RenewableTechNigeria impact cluster, which was launched at the Netherlands Nigeria Clean Tech Event.

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Bolade Soremekun

You were one of the first people in Nigeria to start a solar energy company?

‘That’s right. One way or another I was convinced quite early that solar energy could be the future. That this form of energy could be an alternative for polluting fossil fuels.’ Each year in Sub-Saharan Africa $50 billion worth of diesel fuel is used. In 17 countries in the region diesel generators actually produce more energy than the entire energy grid. This is a major source of pollution. In Nigeria, these generators’ emissions are equivalent to all of the country’s 150 million cars put together.’

Was everyone ready right away to switch to solar energy?

‘Still today, we have to convince people that solar energy is a reliable, affordable alternative to traditional energy sources. “Can you really power a whole home or business with solar panels?” is one of the questions we still hear. What always helps is just showing people. We take potential customers to a site – a home or business or even a whole street – and show them that it’s really possible.’

How important is it for Nigeria to make the transition to renewable energy, and what effects of climate change are Nigerians noticing?

‘With 218 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous African country. Its need for energy is huge. If we don’t meet the country’s energy needs in a sustainable way, the effects will be devastating. Now already Nigeria is dealing with the effects of climate change, which we’re not even responsible for ourselves because of our relatively low emissions. This year we’ve been hit by the worst floods in decades, which have taken hundreds of lives. This past week I was still seeing film clips of people fleeing their homes and being swallowed up by a mass of churning water. It was frightful to see.’

As we speak COP27, the annual UN climate summit, is taking place in Egypt. Do you support the demand by poor countries that are dealing with climate-related disasters that rich countries should help them financially so they can cope with the consequences of climate change?

‘Absolutely. Poor countries bear the least responsibility for climate change, yet they are suffering the consequences. While they don’t have the financial resources to protect themselves. The rich countries do have the resources and are the ones most responsible for climate change. So they have a duty to help poor countries cope with the consequences.’

Are the Nigerian authorities supporting the energy transition?

‘So far we’ve been relatively successful in getting government on our side in making the transition to solar energy. When we connect a community or a village to solar panels, the state’s governor always comes to take a look at what we’ve done. They’re well aware that solar energy is not only good for the climate but can also set social and societal change in motion.’

What kind of social and societal change?

‘Nigeria has communities and villages which aren’t on the national energy grid. In the country’s north and northeast, for instance, which are also areas that have been turbulent and unsafe for years. We’ve installed solar panels in a number of these towns and villages. This means they have electricity for the first time. Even at night, in their houses and on the streets, thanks to solar-powered streetlamps and traffic lights. The people who live there have told us that having light makes them feel safer. Businesspeople are happy to have a stable electricity supply too. Their restaurants, bakeries and garages used to have to shut down because of sudden power outages. Now they can keep working without interruption and keep earning money.’

Are big commercial companies interested in solar energy as well?

‘More and more Nigerian businesses are making the switch to solar energy. Partly because they want to make a contribution to the energy transition, and partly to save money now that global energy prices are rising to record levels. We have several banks as customers, for instance. We’ve equipped cash machines with solar panels for them.’

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Solar-Powered ATM

Installing solar panels is a skilled trade. How do you find staff?

‘We established the Rubitec Academy in 2019 to meet the growing demand for skilled personnel. We’re working with universities and technical institutes to get students interested in careers in technology. By now over 200 students have finished the six-week course and found jobs as registered fitters, mini-grid design engineers and project supervisors.’

Rubitec Solar is part of the RenewableTechNigeria consortium which was launched in November. What kind of initiative is this?

‘Nigerian and Dutch public and private partners collaborate in this consortium to promote a sustainable energy transition in Nigeria. The Sustainable Electrical Energy Centre of Expertise (SEECE) is one of the Dutch partners we work with. This centre for sustainable, reliable and affordable electric energy supply at the HAN University of Applied Sciences in Arnhem and Nijmegen helps develop training and other courses for our Rubitec Academy.’

Clean Tech Event: launching RenewableTechNigeria

The two-day Netherlands Nigeria Clean Tech Event was held in early November in the Nigerian capital Abuja and its biggest city, Lagos. The Dutch-Nigerian RenewableTechNigeria impact cluster was launched at the event. RenewableTechNigeria focuses on facilitating, demonstrating and supporting the rollout of hybrid solar systems, mainly through matchmaking for companies. Its aim is to replace the many diesel generators that currently power a big share of the Nigerian economy.

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Netherlands Nigeria Clean Tech Event

The RenewableTechNigeria partnership is a result of the shared commitment of the Dutch and Nigerian private sectors and the Dutch government to the energy transition. The project will actively support cooperation between Dutch and Nigerian businesses and knowledge institutions, so that they can enter the Nigerian market together while stimulating the development of Nigeria’s renewable energy industry.

The consortium is a partnership between private Dutch and Nigerian players focused on solar energy applications. These actors, which are not each other’s competitors, have complementary skills, expertise and knowledge.