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Features:Why small business owners are exploring solar energy option

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By Victoria Onehi

Today, in Nigeria and other climes, the collective agenda to source power from cleaner sources as a strategic step towards creating a more environment-friendly place for lives and fauna is gaining gradual momentum, especially among small business enterprises’ owners in developing economies in Africa.

For Nigerian Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) owners, beyond the environment-friendly operational consciousness is the high cost of electricity that is making their productive endeavours inefficient and compelling many of them to close their businesses.

But then, in the face of the increasingly challenging environment, several other SME owners are exploring the opportunities availed by alternative sources of energy, particularly solar. To run their businesses as their desire to survive and get fair returns on their investments remains irrepressible.

 “Since I got this solar power, I can tell you that it has been very helpful and very economical compared to when we were using generator. Now, with the increase in fuel price, petrol has become very expensive and using the solar energy, has helped us to save some money.”

The above is a testimonial comment of Isaac Ikechukwu, the owner of a Business Centre at Federal Housing Authority, Kubwa Abuja.

While speaking with 120edgenews.com recently, Ikechukwu said his business had been running on Solar Energy for the past few months since the increase of fuel prices following Federal Government removal of subsidy on the product in June this year.

“Electricity in this area is not stable and I was spending so much on buying petrol for the generator. So, when this government came in and increased the fuel price, I decided to switch to solar energy because in the long run, it is cheaper for me. Also,I am assured of light to serve my business center anytime.

During an interactive chat with the SME owner, our Correspondant noticed the solar panel installed by him could power a desktop computer, mini printer, laminating machine, television, bulbs and fans.

Ike, as he is fondly called by his customers and neighbours, said though it cost some amount of money to acquire the solar energy  system but that he had been getting steady power supply from it.

He testified: “The cost of getting everything we spent from the solar panels to the batteries and the bulbs was N950,000.I was told that the more the panels, the more stronger the battery or light. That’s why the price is high. We have been using this for four months now. So, I believe it’s worth the money we spent because it’s really good.” 

On the durability of the batteries, the small business owner pointed out that he was assured by the solar energy vendor that the solar system will “serve us for ten years. After ten years, we can renew it or repair it if it’s faulty. I believe this is still okay than relying on the electricity which is not stable. Also, buying fuel has become too expensive for any business now.

“My advice to any business owner will be that if you can afford it, try to get solar Energy once and for all This is better than buying fuel which is expensive. Also, electricity from PHCN is epileptic. Though electricity is good just that it is not stable and we need power to run our businesses all the time” Ike added.

Also recounting his experience since he opted for solar energy to run his enterprise, another business owner, Chidebere Agu, a barber in Kubwa, enthused: “This solar power is helping us a lot especially now that we cannot buy petrol again due to the removal of subsidy by government. The solar power gives us what we want at the right time. We don’t stay without light anymore.” 

He said before then, he was spending so much on fuel and not making profit, recalling that “when I was using generator, it’s so difficult for me. Then, when I buy four litres of fuel, in the next one hour it’s finished and sometimes I had not recovered the money spent I spent on fuel .

Agu further clarified: “But with the solar power, when we resume work in the morning, we will be here till 10 pm before we close. The solar battery can power our clippers, fans , tv and electric bulb for the whole day.”

He told our correspondent that when the batteries were properly charged they normally serve longer. 

The young entrepreneur said: “If there is sunlight, there is no need to panic, the battery will be fully charged, but when there is rain, then we need electricity to charge the battery. But,once the rain stops, you are good to go with solar power. Since, I started using it, I don’t bother about Power Holding Company light again.Solar has been very beneficial for my business and I will encourage business owners to use it. We got ours from AfriPower.” 

Rashida Bello who has a food shop in Abuja, said her boss switched off from the national grid two years ago.

She recounted the boss’ experience thus: “We decided to go for solar power two years ago. We bought the package that powers two bulbs, fan and has two charging ports for 45,000.This has been very helpful to us. In the night, we put on the light bulbs and in the day, the fan works and we charge our phones.”

Similarly, the Head Teacher of Cradle to Castle Academy, Kubwa who simply identified herself as Miss Chisom highlighted the benefits of using solar energy in the school.

“We got solar energy last term and it is being used to power the fans, laptops and everything in the school. It works better when its fully charged with the sun or electricity.For instance, since morning, there has been no light from Power Holding Company so thats what we have been using.And it’s better now, during the dry season but during raining season,the battery may be down. But, generally solar is cost effective”, the educationist said.

Despite the benefits many small business owners and others said they derived from solar energy in running their enterprises and organisations, some others say they cannot depend on solar energy as it cannot serve them efficiently. 

Speaking during a chat with her, Happy Agbonghae, who has a salon at Kubwa, told our correspondent: “I cannot use Solar Energy to power my dryers effectively.If I use solar energy for my dryers,the battery will be going down fast because of the amount of energy the dryers will take. I wanted to try the solar energy  but I will need to be changing the batteries consistently for it to serve me well. So even though petrol is expensive,I still buy that for my generator.” 

It would be recalled that in 2020,the Rural Electrification Agency(REA) secured funding from the World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB) under the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP) to increase access to electricity services for households, public educational and health institutions and Micro,Small and Medium Enterprises in the unserved and underserved communities within Nigeria.

The Managing Director/ CEO of Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Engr. Ahmad Salihijo, during the Output-Based Fund grant ceremony with six successful solar energy companies said the companies would provide off-grid solutions and clean, safe, reliable and affordable electricity for households and businesses.

The beneficiary companies are Messrs, Solar Sisters Inc. and Associates, Fenchurch Off-grid Energy Systems Limited,Beebeejump Intl.Limited, Azuri Nigeria and Creeds Energy.

The industry expert said: “Under the Standalone Solar Home System,2nd component of Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP), we have set our targets to electrify over 600,000 households and 70,000 Micro,S mall and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) with reliable and affordable electricity.”

The CEO of Creeds Energy Hannah Kabir, in a chat with120edgenews.com said the impact of Solar Home Systems (SHS) on small businesses had been a positive one. 

Kabir whose company got the above World Bank-assisted grant said the company had empowered many small businesses through government support.

Specifically, she hinted that the company “had been able to power over 1,000 businesses within the last two years. Majority of those numbers have stopped using generator. Businesses like barbing shop, provision stores, phone charging and viewing centers as well as large businesses which includes fuel stations and hotels.”

Kabir noted that support from government and other donors like World Bank subsidised the cost and allow more beneficiaries.

She expantiated: “We have had support from NEP through Ministry of Power/ Rural Electrification Agency.We are currently deploying under UEF and the target is for 1200 customers in the next 3 months. We have started well and have energised an additional 300 customers on the ongoing project.” 

The industry chief noted that in general, SMEs were able to run their businesses efficiently on clean energy, reduce expenditure and save money through Solar Home Systems.

 On the cost of acquiring solar systems, Kabir disclosed that “a small solar system costs an average of N400,000 for basic lights and entertainment gadgets while a medium-sized system for barbers, provision stores,schools and computer centers sells at  N800,000 and that a large solar system such as those being used in viewing centres, hospitals and other facilities with crowd costs N1,800,000, depending on the market.

Sharing her experiences in the solar energy market, the Chief Sales Officer of Beebeejump Int’l Limited, Timmy Shi, whose company also got the REA/ World Bank grant said currently in Nigeria, the company had deployed 300,000 Solar Systems in rural communities. 

According to the industry expert, this has also helped to expand the company’s business operations and distribution, including by penetrating “the hinterlands where there is no light.”

Recently, the Chief Executive Officer of Ikeja Electric, Folake Soetan, disclosed that Nigeria’s solar energy potential was estimated at around 6,500 Terawatt hours, (TWh) per year, and now currently higher than the country’s current electricity output at an average of 3,570 megawatts per day.

According to the report of the International Energy Agency (2017), the use of solar energy has increased rapidly and the growth of solar energy continues to surpass those of all other fuels. 

Based on the above highlights, indications are that the day is getting closer when all climate-smart productive proponents and stakeholders can synergise their efforts for the purposes of exploring solar energy benefits to the fullest with the attendant positive implications for safer environment and cost- efficient safer environment and cost- efficient business operations and socio-economic development of Nigeria and other economies globally.

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