Solar: illuminating young minds in Lagos

17/04/2015

Lagos is an African success story. Rapid economic growth has secured its position as Nigeria’s commercial centre and west Africa’s financial services hub. It accounts for 12% of national GDP with an economy larger than the whole of Kenya.

Lagos has diversified away from oil – which accounts for more than 90% of the country’s export revenue – securing its position as a model of economic development. But a city’s future is only as strong as its next generation – today’s young people.

Here, Lagos tells a different story, as health and education systems remain weak. The effective delivery of education and health services requires electricity but in Lagos, 67% of public schools and 23% of public primary health care centres lack access to reliable power.

In Lagos State, some schools and health centres are remote so the electricity grid does not reach them. But even where the grid does reach, it provides as little as one hour of electricity per day. Current efforts to improve the reach and reliability of the grid will not close the gap anytime soon. In the meantime, for those schools and clinics that use diesel or petrol generators, a lack of funding means that this power is also limited.

Students suffer. Seldom can they do practical science or use computing and other technology essential for employability. And only 14% of students attend compulsory evening classes because of the lack of electricity. In clinics, health services are constrained. Most clinics avoid stocking lifesaving drugs that require cold storage; in recent months, 46% of drug stocks were spoiled because of unreliable electricity.

One way to provide reliable power – at lower cost than generators – is with solar power. Since 2011, international prices for solar panels have dropped and they can often provide electricity at a lower cost of power than diesel generators.

But the use of solar in remote schools and clinics in Africa remains low. There are several reasons: inadequate equipment, inefficient public procurement resulting in unnecessary additional cost and a requirement to pay for all the equipment up-front, whilst the cost of generators is spread out over time.

An innovative new partnership is now increasing the use of solar power in Lagos State. The Lagos State Government and the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) are providing solar power to 172 public schools and 11 flagship public healthcare centres across 10 local government areas.

Adam Smith International is implementing SolarNigeria, which mitigates factors that caused previous solar interventions to fail: inadequate provision for ongoing maintenance, poor design and/or inaccurate forecasting of energy needs and non-competitive procurement.

Each of those factors is resolved by ensuring industry leading quality assurance, enhanced training of technicians for installation and operation, technical controls to prevent system overload and premature battery decline, a plan and resourcing for preventative and breakdown maintenance and spares, and remote-monitoring of all systems in real time. Anchoring all of this is a robust and capable institution to manage the systems through their operating life – the Lagos State Electricity Board.

Following a comprehensive energy audit of more than 600 schools and clinics in Lagos State, 172 secondary schools and 11 primary health care clinics will benefit from solar lighting. The impact is significant. The burden of operating 352 diesel/petrol powered generators will be removed, providing significant reductions in financial costs and climate altering emissions. The ongoing work of operation and maintenance will provide new jobs in solar for over 200 young Lagosians.

Since the arrival of solar power at the first primary health facility staff are enjoying a better work environment, and patients are already expressing enhanced quality of service. As one patient said: “This solar will ensure I am not sick again.”