The tarred road ends 6 km before you reach Charwa-Chakun, in rural Kaduna State. To complete the journey, you must take a rough, untarred road filled with potholes, and finally a makeshift path that leads into the village. On arrival, one notices the mud houses with zinc roofs, and the storage silos dotted on farming plots with animals grazing around. The closest power line is 3km away, and mobile telephone coverage is very poor.
On a recent morning, Hassana, a young mother, was carefully watching her four older children play while cradling the youngest. She stood in front of her house, a round mud construction. Inside was a mattress in the corner with no bedding, and a three-seated sofa. In the centre of the living area was a single lightbulb. It was lit. Hassana pointed to it, beaming.
“Before, we didn’t have light because we live in the village,” she said. “We used candle and lanterns. Now there is light in the house. I can cook at night with the light. We don’t have a TV, but we can use the fan. The children like it.”
The source of the change was perched on the rooftop of her house. It’s a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel that captures energy from the burning sun above the village and delivers it into her home. Hassana no longer needs to use kerosene lanterns, nor wait for the electricity grid to one day reach the village.
Householders like Hassana, in under-served areas with ample sunshine, are natural consumers for distributed solar energy. The solar technology is well proven, it is much cheaper than burning kerosene, and works anywhere.
Hassana, though poor, is perfectly willing to pay for her solar power. The only barrier was not being able to afford the up-front cost of the equipment. The Nigerian solar company Arnergy allowed her to pay as low as N50/day (N1,500 per month). Arnergy provided systems to 200 residents like Hassana in Charwa-Chakun in early 2016. The systems enable the use of everything from a single lamp to multiple lights, a television and fans. The solar units have integrated electronic control systems, with an in-built long lasting lithium ion battery. Subscribers pay a token sign-up fee to have them installed. Arnergy manages the payments and operations using unique software.
In Nigeria many millions of people like Hassana would be happy to pay as they go for solar power. That’s where Solar Nigeria comes in. The Abuja-based programme is working with solar suppliers and financiers so they can extend credit to more people like Hassana and her fellow residents.
Arnergy is one of 16 companies that Solar Nigeria is currently supporting through pilot grants, so they can build the capacity of their personnel and offer solar products and credit to many more consumers.
These suppliers are providing households with plug-and-play solar.
Through various suppliers and solutions, some 49,000 households across Nigeria received solar power systems in the first three months of 2016 alone, thanks to Solar Nigeria’s support.
“Millions of Nigerian households could save money while enjoying bright light and clean power using solar instead of kerosene lanterns and small generators,” said Leigh Vial, Solar Nigeria’s head of consumer markets. “So why do they not already use it? They need someone trustworthy to make quality solar products available to them in their village, and they need to be able to pay for it over time.”
At Arnergy, the support is going to good use. “Since the grant was awarded, our business has taken a new turn,” said Kunle Odebunmi, Arnergy’s co-founder. “We have trained over 100 solar agents – we call them ‘solar angels.’ We have grown our distribution network with a branch expansion in Kaduna, organised a community training and awareness programme, and developed our marketing materials in local languages.”
Solar Nigeria’s support is premised on the notion that competent, scaled-up companies like this, with the ability to reach consumers where they are and offer financial solutions that make sense to them, are the key to healthy growth of renewable energy in Nigeria.
The early signs from Charwa-Chakun are positive. “The light shows progress,” said Adamu, a father of three. “Progress is coming to the community. We are happy.”