Nigeria's electricity problems are well-known. 40% of the country, primarily rural areas, do not have access to electricity. The 60% that do have access make do with an electricity service that is epileptic and prone to blackouts. This is surprising, especially when you consider several interventions by the CBN and how the generation and distribution arms of the sector got privatised almost seven years ago. It is also no wonder why Nigerians spend $14 billion on petrol and diesel generators each year.
Every residential and commercial building in Nigeria (those who can afford it) has one generator. Because electricity is essential, some people have two or more—a big (diesel) generator and a small (petrol) generator. That's how bad it is. But there's another alternative that's growing every day, and that's solar power.
From powering mini-grids in rural communities to solar panels in homes, solar power is helping to bridge the electricity gap in Nigeria. It's cheaper than the national grid per unit of electricity produced. It's noiseless and a bonus—it's the best thing for the environment. But, as much as there are benefits, there are also costs. Solar equipment has ridiculously high upfront costs. A few days ago, a Twitter user tweeted, "just got an $800,000 quote for a solar-powered system to run our irrigation pump. Alternatively, we can buy a $35,000 diesel engine and spend $15,000 per year on diesel & maintenance. It will take 51 years for the solar to 'pay for itself.' How is solar cost-effective?" she asked. In her experience, a solar-powered generator would cost 16 times more than a diesel engine. And this experience also applies to residential users.
These high costs can be attributed to importation levies, taxes and forex rates. For a renewable energy company, these are existential issues. Your product competing with alternatives that are much cheaper and arguably just as effective is not a walk in the park.
Yet, Blue Camel Energy, a Nigerian renewable energy solutions company with headquarters in Abuja, counts itself lucky to have entered the renewable energy space about 14 years ago when solar power was beginning to gain ground in Nigeria. The company started by providing UPS systems. But it took about seven years, much longer than they thought, to refine their product and secure clients willing to take a chance on them.
Today, we will dig into Blue Camel's