By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
The days of relying solely on electricity from the erratic national grid by Nigerians appeared numbered with the recent commissioning of a $325,860,690 Solar Cells Production Plant in Gora, Nasarawa State.
The foundation laying ceremony of the ambitious project, which is the first solar cell production factory in West Africa, was done on Friday, March 24, 2023, by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the sleepy North Central state to the delight of Nigerians who are banking on the project.
Apart from the Federal Government/Siemens 25,000 megawatts electricity project signed by the two parties in 2019, the solar power project is another venture that is being closely watched, with many Nigerians agreeing that it could be the game changer that would lift millions of out of perpetual darkness with the provision of cheaper and affordable power.
Electricity supply in Nigeria, Business Hallmark checks revealed, had at its peak, stalled at a little over 5,000 megawatts for a population of over 200 million energy-sapped citizens, according to the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), the umbrella body of Electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos), as against the minimum 30,000 megawatts required.
Owing to the erratic and unreliable electricity supplied by the national grid, many businesses and well to do individual had switched to alternative sources of energy, such as petrol and diesel powered generators, as well as gas-powered turbines.
The situation had resulted in the high cost of living and doing business as many business concerns and manufacturing companies spend huge fortunes on purchasing, fueling and maintaining their supposedly standby generators which had over time become their major source of power supply.
Meanwhile, millions of Nigerian power users who are largely poor and could not afford the huge fortune needed to set up their own grid are left with no other option than to wait on the unreliable national grid.
However, with the flag-off of construction work on the $325 million Solar Cells Production Plant initiated by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Nigerian power users will in the not too distant future, have the opportunity of acquiring, installing and managing their own mini solar power plants.
According to data obtained from NASENI, the manufacturing plant, which is designed to produce 7.5 megawatts Solar PV Modules annually, is divided into three sections: production and research; the Electric Power Transformer Production and the High Voltage Testing Laboratory.
The major unit, which is the production and research plant is built on15.8 hectares of land, and has four main production sections namely: the Polysilicon, Ingot, Wafers and Solar cells units.
While the polysilicon section will be producing 1,000 tons per annum, the ingot section has the capacity to manufacture 50MW ingots per annum.
Likewise, the wafers section will be producing 50 megawatts per annum and the solar cells unit will be producing cells that can generate 50 megawatts per annum.
According to NASENI, the construction of the polysilicon, wafers and solar cells plants will cost a total of $171,970,000, with 85% of it ($146,174,500) coming from the China Africa Development (CAD) through the Bank of China. The remaining 15% ($25,795,500) counterpart funding will be provided by Nigeria.
In the same vein, the second plant, the Electric Power Transformer Production Plant will be producing electric transformers for stepping down power from the national grid through the unstable 11kva and 33kva transmission substations, while the High Voltage Testing Laboratory will be saddled with the task of stabilising erratic power generated from power plants.
Apart from producing solar cells, NSEL will also be mass producing its light weight plug ‘n’ play solar solutions for rural applications, especially its 1.5KVA Plug ‘n’ Play Solar Home System (patented); NSEL Solar Mini generator (patented as Solar Power Controlled System) and NSEL Solar Event Generator (undergoing patenting process).
The Electric Power Transformer Production Plant comes at a whooping sum of $123,990,000 USD, while the High Voltage Testing Laboratory is expected to be set up at the cost of $29,900,690 only USD.
The total approved cost for the three projects is $325,860,690, with 85% ($276,981,586.5) to be supplied by China and the remaining 15% counterpart funding of $48,879,103.5 to be sourced locally.
Already, NASENI, it was learnt, had.
paid $22,921,505.40 (46.89%) of its 15 percent ($48,879,103.5) share, leaving behind 51.12%.
Apart from serving the local market, the plant, at completion is expected to earn the nation the much needed foreign exchange, as excess polysilicon, wafers and solar cells produced are expected to be exported in exchange for foreign exchange earnings.
Speaking on the project, the immediate past Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NASENI, Prof. Mohammad Sani Haruna, said the agency’s ultimate goal was to use science, technology and engineering to advance developments in the power sector.
He also assured Nigerians, especially the less privileged, that the project will be cheaper and affordable to acquire.
“The cost of solar energy is still beyond the affordability of an average Nigerian hence the necessity of this project.
“When fully commissioned, the price per watt of solar power supply will be cheap enough to be affordable to everyone and it is a game changer in the energy and power supply industry as well as the industrial development of Nigeria”, Haruna had stated just before he was relieved of his appointment by the president last week.
It would be recalled that the plant was established initially as Karshi Solar Panel Plant (KSPP), FCT, Abuja in 2011 and later registered in March, 2013 as NASENI Solar Energy Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Federal Government, represented by NASENI, and the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC).
At inception in 2011, the manufacturing plant was established to evolve in three phases; namely: production of solar panels from 100% imported raw materials; production of solar panels from some locally sourced raw materials and phase 3, production of solar panels from 100% locally sourced raw materials (including locally produced solar cells.
Information obtained by BH showed that the plant produced the first made in Nigeria solar panel as far back as September 2011 from 100% materials imported from abroad
However, the plant, it was learnt, is now sourcing over 70% of its raw materials locally and is expected to raise it to 100% by 2025, thereby making the produced solar power components to be cheaper than imported ones.
It is presently producing various sizes and very high quality solar panels (80W, 175W, 190W, 200W, 250W and 270W) at the Karshi, FCT, Abuja plant.
Some stakeholders who spoke on the development described the new project as a game-changer.
“With the establishment of the plant, solar power supply will be affordable because the most expensive components are the cells.
“Meanwhile, since the primary ingredient in making solar panels, silicon, which is nothing other than common sand, is presently being sourced locally in Nigeria, as well as cheap labour costs, prices of manufactured solar cells and other products that will be coming out of the Gowa plant will no doubt, hit the markets at a much lower rate than imported ones.
“Note also that the added cost of shipping and high premium paid to insurance firms as a result of frequent attacks on ships by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, as well as the cost of clearing the products will no longer be factored into their market price.
“Apart from the cost of power, which must be adequately addressed if the government wants the new venture to succeed, I don’t see any other problem. To me, it is a win-win situation for all”, declared Chief Tomisin Atorise, an industrialist based in Sagamu, Ogun State.