To say solar power adoption in Nigeria is growing is an understatement. It is actually evolving- slowly but surely. In 2013, the solar power sector was chiefly dominated by portable solar home systems and small-scale roof top installations.

Fast forward to today, there are thousands of residential and commercial roof top installations and at least, “11 mini-grids producing electricity for 9,000 people” in different parts of the country- mostly in rural communities. Mr. Bello Bamalli, Founder and CEO of Zahra Energy confirmed this during a recent Gridless Africa Tweetchat on mini-grids.

Access to energy in Nigeria remains a tenacious challenge and the rapid deployment of alternative power solutions such as solar mini-grids is proving to be a cost-effective and practical solution when compared to grid expansion in a timely manner.

Mini-grid deployments in Nigeria only actively started within the past 3 years. Efforts to support its success have been in the form of legal and regulatory frameworks by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) as well as financial and technical assistance for operators by local and international stakeholders.

Historically, mini-grids have successfully failed to be included in previous national power system improvement strategies. However, with the advancement of new and renewable energy solutions like solar power, they are now integral elements primed to enhance energy access for thousands of communities currently not connected to the grid. What this inclusion also generates is an aura of confidence which makes foreign investors more likely to participate.

The World Bank reports that the proportion of Nigerians connected to the grid has steadily increased from 27% in 1990 to 58% in 2014 and currently estimates that 40% of Nigeria’s population- 75 million people, lack access to electricity. Gridless Africa’s Development Director, Lanre Okanlawon revealed that “75 million people is actually more than the sum total of the least populated 99 countries in the world today including Uruguay, Jamaica, Qatar, Namibia, Botswana, Slovenia, Gabon, Latvia, Mauritius and Cyprus”. He continues, “this confounding piece of information drives home the gravity of Nigeria’s energy predicament. It is an energy crisis.”

According to the Rural Electrification Agency, “developing off-grid alternatives to complement the grid creates a $9.2 billion/year market opportunity for mini-grids and solar home systems that will save $4.4 billion/year for homes and businesses in Nigeria.” The agency has since rolled out the Off-Grid Electrification Strategy which aims to increase the contribution of clean energy to account for 10% of Nigeria’s total energy consumption by 2025. With Nigeria being one of the most attractive off-grid markets in the world by virtue of the size of its economy and population, there is a real opportunity for economic growth and the reduction of poverty.

Brazil, China, Philippines, Senegal and Tanzania are known to have significantly bridged some of their energy access deficits by integrating mini-grids into their national power improvement strategies. In Senegal alone, as of 2017, 700 mini-grids were being developed by the country’s rural electrification agency in collaboration with its local and international partners.

The untapped market for solar power mini-grids in Nigeria is vast. The opportunities are unlimited. And the benefits for households, businesses and the economy are immense.

Gridless Africa is a non-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting renewable energy adoption through advocacy and outreach.