Families in one of Nigeria’s most deprived states will profit from solar power for the first time due to a Climate and Clean Air Coalition project providing a local institution, Standard Microfinance Bank (MFB), with technical assistance. By bridging on the bank’s long-term relationships with its customers, the project engaged with a community in Adamawa, a state in northeast Nigeria whose residents still depend on biomass and fossil fuels to meet their energy needs. As a result, many households obtained access to solar power for the first time.
“The project has changed the lives of so many people for the better. It has helped businesses flourish, created jobs selling solar lanterns, reduced hardship and improved health quality,” says Asmau Jibril, Assistant Chief Scientific Officer at the Department of Climate Change in the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Environment.
The pilot, which is just beginning to roll out the solar equipment, cuts the use of kerosene lighting in the community. This fuel is more expensive than solar, and a source of black carbon – a short-lived climate pollutant with harmful effects on humans and a warming impact on the climate 460-1,500 times stronger than CO2. The project introduces solar lamps to homes in Adamawa while raising awareness of clean cookstoves. By giving the microfinance bank technical training on clean technology, the Coalition provides a stepping stone towards the purchase of solar lighting and clean cookstoves – products households in the Adamawa community have never accessed before.
Conditions are challenging in Adamawa, a state selected because of its remoteness, poverty and low energy access levels. With a population of 4.5 million, it is still recovering from the Boko Haram religious persecutions of 2009-2015. Funded by the Coalition’s finance initiative, researchers surveyed 350 households to assess typical energy needs, inform microloan designs, and evaluate whether people are open to acquiring solar powered flashlights and clean cooking technology.
The investigation revealed serious levels of energy poverty. Major findings are outlined below.
Energy for lighting
- Around 45% have no electricity access
- Just over 1/4 are connected to a grid
- Around 88% of households use a wood torch, battery lamp or electric lamp
- 1/4 use kerosene for some lighting needs
Energy for cooking
- Around 87% use traditional three-stone stoves
- Nearly 90% use wood as their primary fuel for cooking
Labour and costs
- Just over 1/2 the households pay for some of their lighting and cooking fuel
- About /23 spend up to six hours per week collecting firewood
- Around 1/2 say that securing fuel obstructs income-generating activities
According to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution is linked to chronic lung disease, lung cancer, asthma and other illnesses. This therefore provides another urgent reason for promoting the switch to renewable fuels in poorer households.
But for families involved in the pilot, many of these troubles are now behind them. For one thing, they have slashed their lighting costs: instead of saving for repeated purchases of kerosene, they have made a one-off purchase of substitute lighting equipment, which works out cheaper. “Kerosene is more expensive and sometimes hard to obtain,” notes Asmau Jibril. But the solar lamps offer another advantage – they are brighter and last longer.
That feature injects more cash into the client’s wallet for a simple reason: the solar lights can be recharged in the sun for free, saving refuelling costs. They also operate at night time, allowing people to keep trading stalls open for longer and therefore earn more. Phones used for sales purposes can be charged through a USB port on the lights, creating a tool for additional income.
With a warranty of two years, the lighting is likely to be reliable. At the same time, fumes from kerosene lamps in the home are eliminated. Meanwhile, financial experts are assessing models for reducing the use of toxic cookstoves or three-stone fires, which are still cost-effective options in most communities because the fuel is cheap. “Firewood is often free and always available,” points out Asmau Jibril.
To invest in the clean energy, many in the Adamawa communities need financial support from the bank. Some people do not have bank accounts or are unable to borrow the money that might allow them to raise their standard of living and improve their health. Many are farmers living in remote locations with low literacy levels.
“Financial education is very low. Communities need assistance in understanding financial terms and procedures, how finance can benefit them and what it means to take out a loan. For many of them, entering a bank is an intimidating experience,” observes Yekbun Gurgoz, Coordinator of the Finance Initiative at the Coalition.
That, of course, is one of the major factors behind the Coalition’s cooperation with Standard MFB. Though the bank had less knowledge of the cooking and lighting needs of the community before the project, it regularly gathers information about its customers’ financial concerns through local forums.
This established relationship and familiarity means customers are receptive to innovation. “These communities trust us. We have client associations in each of the almost 300 villages where we operate. These are called community centres and have monthly meetings with our outreach teams,” explains Francis Vazheparambil, chief executive of Standard MFB.
Extending that dialogue to include renewable energy access is one of the achievements of the Coalition’s initiative. Through the bank’s existing market channels, the Coalition was in a good position to probe typical energy access and evaluate the potential for energy equipment purchase. That intelligence in turn also informed appraisals financed by the Coalition on microloan designs and technology requirements. This underpinned the Coalition’s technical assistance that improved the bank’s understanding of clean cooking and lighting technology.
Energy customers are more likely to give feedback due to the project’s cooperation with a local bank with strong emphasis on customer service and regular communications. That continuity promotes long-term technology adoption and effective financial incentives and helps spread the word about solar lighting in local communities.
In numerous cases elsewhere, larger and more distant funding organisations have pulled out for a number of reasons, leading to project breakdown. As Yekbun Gurgoz points out, the bank’s local character is thus a significant lever to change. “The microfinance institution has been set up by leaders in the community; it’s not foreign capital but a local business. That means that, unlike international banks operating in Nigeria, it is less likely to shut its doors during a political crisis, for example.”
At the same time, closer communication yields nuanced financial models adapted to the customer. Some are in a position to pay the N 7,500 (USD 22) for solar lanterns outright in cash. Others require financial solutions to benefit from the solar products.
Using technical support from the Coalition accompanied by financial expertise from the bank, the scheme can thus be adjusted according to financial means. Customers in a position to borrow using a step-by-step payback route can do so employing a specific loan model created with assistance from the Coalition.
As more experience is acquired, factors determining effective solar microfinance in Adamawa communities can be configured into microloan development. That in turn should help generate an expansion in solar product use. “As we go along, probably more loans will be introduced,” says Francis Vazheparambil. That evaluation is, of course, part of the purpose of the Coalition’s research.
Commenting on the pilot, Asmau Jibril emphasised the Nigerian government’s support for the pilot’s approach. “Working through a local microfinance bank to reach out to each village is an excellent way to get across the advantages of solar to local communities and distribute the solar lighting”, she stated.
Given this encouraging start, more households in Adamawa can expect to increase savings and income through the solar equipment – a source of lower-cost, clean, reliable and improved lighting they have never previously owned. Meanwhile, the project helps inform national government policy development to distribute solar lighting and clean cookstoves across the entire country.
South-south knowledge exchange
Similar initiatives are proposed further afield. In Senegal, the Coalition held a “south-south” learning exchange in partnership with the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) to share the findings from its work in Nigeria. Participants attended from across West Africa. By potentially spinning out the Nigerian initiative model into other regions, the Coalition aims to support scalable and affordable financing mechanisms for clean, off-grid energy. This will help accelerate the development of solar energy in places similar to Adamawa.
So far, the scheme has made only a modest imprint on the development of solar energy in these Nigerian homes. However, by working with local organisations such as Standard MSB, the Coalition has improved chances of continuity and replication. Indeed, the bank is already looking ahead. “In the long term, we also want to introduce other green products such as solar irrigation pumps. The current project will also create an interest for these future interventions”, states Francis Vazheparambil.