By Martins Eke
The Federal Government of Nigeria through its Ministries of Power, Science and Technology, Water Resources as well as some other Agencies have over the years embarked on numerous solar powered boreholes and streetlights projects, some of which are in rural areas.
This has led some people to criticize the projects arguing that most solar energy projects in rural areas are non-economical and therefore have no value for money. Also, the present state of most of these projects have made people to believe that solar projects in rural areas are a waste of resources. They argue that the projects are for social, political or educational benefits rather than financial considerations.
These conclusions were based on the lack of relevant data showing whether the investments in solar energy solutions have actually helped in alleviating any local challenges or provided any financial benefit. Some others based their argument on the opportunity cost of such projects, arguing that funds spent on such projects could have been used for other more pressing needs.
However, in the context of the benefits, there is a need to view these projects not just on the basis of solar solutions for providing electricity but on the basis of facilitating the provision of socio-economic benefits and improvement in the overall standard of living. Comparing this with the costs of providing these amenities in terms of using conventional alternatives such as diesel/gasoline generators and constant provision of fuel, the economic benefits can clearly be seen. There are those who are of the opinion that solar street lighting projects in rural areas are not necessary as local communities have no real need for such projects as compared to the cities which are even still struggling to get adequate street lighting. They argue that this is the creation of a solution for an imaginary problem.
However, while recognizing the fact that most likely, there would not have been any street lighting solution in rural communities based on conventional electricity sources, it is important to recognize that solar solutions have opened the path to providing basic social amenities to these rural communities that would hitherto not have been provided.
There is need to address some of the reasons why solar energy installations are failing at an alarming rate. Technicians who do installations need to take note of the fact that the orientation of a solar panel goes a long way to determine the efficiency of the installation in terms of harnessing energy from the sun. The optimum solar panel angle is one that is oriented true south and tilted at the latitude of its location. For instance, Abuja’s latitude is 9° North of the equator, so a solar panel oriented true south and tilted at 9° from the horizontal would be desirable to achieve maximum annual harnessing of solar energy.
However, solar panels must not be optimally oriented to gain adequate outputs. Compromises with the pole of the solar streetlights, super structure of the water borehole tanks and surrounding trees and buildings will be taken into consideration. Shading which is the prevention of maximum sunlight from falling on the panel must be addressed. Good solar panel performance requires access to adequate direct sunlight. Some solar energy technologies can cope more effectively with shading of sunlight than others.
However, commonsense suggests that locations of solar powered boreholes and streetlights should avoid unnecessary obstructions like trees and buildings that reduce exposure to sunlight. It is also important to consider the potential for shading from trees that will grow over time, new buildings that will be erected and general infrastructure that will be provided over time around the vicinity of the solar panels. Partial shading of just a small portion of the surface of the solar panel can have a disruptive effect on its total energy output, especially if the solar energy modules are wired in series to increase the system voltage.
A single shaded portion of the panel will limit the current produced by the unshaded portions. Soiling of the solar panels can also threaten energy output.
The contamination of the panels from bird faeces and dirt from construction dust and natural dust storms can pose challenges to the output of the system. Certain products such as ‘Panel guards’ can be used to prevent birds from sitting on the panels. If relevant stakeholders can do their best to improve the quality of solar energy installations in rural areas, arguments on whether such projects are necessary will be rendered invalid.
Image credit: Travelers.com
Martins Eke is the Programmes Officer at the Centre for Social Justice, Abuja.