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Solar energy to illuminate a forgotten island in Nigeria

Solar energy to illuminate a forgotten island in Nigeria

By Augustina Armstrong-Ogbonna

"The lack of electricity on this island dampened my dreams of creating job alternatives for young people," said Onos, 35.

Most of the villagers live by fishing, and since there is no electricity they smoke the fish and try to sell it quickly, often at a low price. But with enough solar power, they could cool the catch.

Until recently, many children believed that the light only came from gasoline generators or the reflectors of freighters arriving at the Apapa pier.

Onos's house is one of the few with solar panels; only five of the 7,000 homes in his neighborhood were benefited.

When the solar project was first discussed, many residents did not believe it would work; They were suspicious of a failed government attempt to install solar street lights. After a few months, the light bulbs stopped working.

But Onos volunteered to participate in the new initiative and is now considering starting a refrigeration business offering storage for the fish.

For now, your kids are enjoying the novelty. "At night, they gather around my house and they dance happily and play until they are tired," he said. "They had never seen a power source 24 hours a day," he said.

The Sagbo Kodji community is one of 34 riverside communities in the Amuwo-Odofin area of ​​Lagos in southwestern Nigeria. The island, inhabited for a century, is linked to the port of Apapa to the south, but still has no electricity.

According to local leader Solomon Suenu, the community was founded by a fisherman from the ancient city of Badagry, who used to rest there during his fishing expeditions. He then brought his family and was followed by other merchants and other people from Lagos.

Local people smoke the fish with wood stoves and then sell it in town. Many of its residents are unaware that a group of fishermen get on their boats every day to sell their merchandise in the center of Lagos, in its markets and on its street corners.

Sagbo Kodji is characterized by a dense fog, caused by the burning of wood for stoves that women use to preserve fish or to cook for the family.

Until recently, many children believed that the light only came from gasoline generators, very expensive for most of the islanders, or from the reflectors of the freighters that arrived at the Apapa pier.

But everything changed several months ago, when the pilot project led by Arnergy, a renewable energy company founded in 2013 by a young businessman from Lagos, began.

Its CEO, Femi Adeyemo was impressed to learn that the community had been without electricity for a century. And after visiting the island and meeting with its leaders, he decided to change the situation.

The implemented system allows beneficiaries to pay 100 narias (about 50 cents), 200, 300 and up to 500 narias a day for 24 hours of electricity, thanks to the energy produced by the solar panels and stored in batteries.

Before installing panels in a home, the company takes an inventory of the appliances and devices that its residents will use, to ensure delivery of the correct panels.

"Sometimes people can be cheats," Adeyemo observed. "After listing the devices they will use and having finished the installation, they include new ones," he explained.

The company has technology to detect overloads over a wireless network, allowing it to cut off the supply from its office if the customer used up their prepaid units.

Arnergy secured funds from investors, including the Nigerian Industry Bank, which contributed $ 600,000 to distribute the system to 3,000 homes on three streets.

But giving electricity to the entire island will be very expensive, about 1.2 million dollars per 1,000 homes, since solar panels must be imported, Adeyemo said.

The company asked agencies of the United Nations (UN) and other international donors for help.

"But so far most of the promises have yet to be fulfilled," Adeyemo said. "Many investors find it difficult to believe that there is a community in Lagos, known as a megacity, without ever having been connected to an electricity grid," he stressed.

But with more financial support, the social and economic life of residents can develop faster.

Businesses will flourish, schoolchildren will be able to study at any time, and women will no longer inhale the smoke that has damaged their health.

"This solar energy project will change the air they breathe," said Adeyemo.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution from the use of solid fuels kills about 80,000 people each year in Nigeria. More than 60 percent of the 166 million inhabitants of this oil-rich country are not connected to the national grid.

A federal government program to supply rural communities with kitchens supposedly running on clean energy has stalled.

Hamzat Lawal of the nonprofit Connected Development said that women in communities like Sagbo Kodji would benefit from the initiative. But there are no concrete plans to implement it or to distribute the kitchens, he said.

"We know there are real women who need that source of energy," Lawal said.

But the initial plan was for the stoves to run on naturally fallen wood, which would later be replaced by liquefied petroleum gas.

Meanwhile, many residents of Sagbo Kodji hope that their houses will receive solar panels in the next stage of the Arnergy project, but they depend on the company to obtain financial support to expand its activities on this island.

"I would love to see light in every house," said Madam Felicia Akodji, a 68-year-old community leader. "Aren't we part of the megacity of Lagos?" He asked.

This article is being distributed via Voices2Paris, the UNDP climate change contest, created thanks to Megan Rowling of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Translated by Verónica Firme

Inter Press Service - IPS Venezuela


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