Value for money in solar energy projects

Solar Energy

Sir: Solar energy technologies have been around globally for over three decades and operate by converting energy from the sun to electrical energy using solar photovoltaic modules. Solar is one of the cleanest, cost-effective and sustainable form of energy compared to other clean energy alternatives and conventional energy solutions. Recent years have seen an increased adoption of solar technologies in urban and rural communities both in developed and developing countries. In developing countries such as Nigeria, public funded solar solutions have being dominated by solar street lights and solar water boreholes. However, the past few years have seen the growth of public solar solutions in the country to include solar electrification projects and small scale plug and play devices for basic lighting and mobile phone charging. Various residential and commercial solutions have also being deployed in the private sector and the growth has slowly but steadily been on the increase especially as it solves a pressing basic need ofprovision of steady electricity.

The benefits of solar technologies cannot be overemphasized in terms of its environmental, social, economic and intangible benefits including improvements in the standard of living of a community and other indirect benefits. Increased global awareness and significant decrease in cost have led to massive deployment of solar energy technologies and increased public solar projects in the country particularly solar street lighting solutions and solar water boreholes. However, there still exists a huge lack in skills development, maintenance, measurement and evaluation of the impacts of these projects overtime as well as the non-availability of data on the functionality (or not) of installed solar solutions in the country. In recent years, the Federal Government has increasingly engaged in carrying out social solar projects. These are usually carried out under various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government especially the Federal Ministries of Power, Works and Housing;Water Resources; Science and Technology. Several billions of naira has been invested in these projects.

Various reasons can be cited for the huge investment of the government in solar street lighting projects. They are designed as a cost-effective alternative in comparison with conventional solutions, lead to improved socio-economic activities in localities where they are deployed, improves security and transportation services. Similarly, solar powered water borehole solutions also serves as a cost-effective measure, allow for vital water resources to be accessed in remote rural locations both for domestic and commercial use, water for cattle, livestock and irrigation. Some solar water borehole applications do not use batteries; the water is simply pumped when there is enough daylight into a storage tank, enabling access to water whenever needed while some others require battery to continue pumping even during hours when there is no sunlight.

Furthermore, these solar solutions also tend to serve as pilot schemes to draw attention to new possibilities in energy provision.However, while the focus has primarily been with installing these public solar solutions, increased attention should be paid to developing the proper support structure, maintenance culture and trained personnel to run these projects. Installed solar projects comprise of components that would need to be replaced after certain periods of time. This make solar projects look unsustainable because after some time, they fall into disrepair and disuse if not maintained.

Over the years, the Federal Government has spent billions of naira in executing solar projects across the Federation. A close analysis of solar projects in the federal budget would show disparities in budgeted costs even for projects of the same capacity within the same budget year. While it can be argued that these solar solutions vary with the components used for such solutions, by location, contractors and other factors, the difference in costs are very significant. This suggests that contrary to the demands of the Public Procurement Act 2007, there is no standard database or price list which regulates costs across MDAs on solar projects.

This foregoing raises the central question of value for money with its three cardinal parametres of economy, efficiency and effectiveness.Economy entails ensuring that input costs are minimized, efficiency entails ensuring that maximum output is achieved at the minimum level of input, while effectiveness entails ensuring that output from any given activity is achieving the desired results. This raises four fundamental questions: Is the government implementing these projects at the least possible price? Are the beneficiaries getting the maximum outputs and benefits from the concluded projects? Are the project beneficiaries getting the services the projects promised to deliver? Are the projects fulfilling governmentsenergy and developmental objectives?

Eke, Centre for Social Justice, Abuja

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