A fully inclusive SDG7 for Nigeria

#SDG7 requests that we ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. It is time we ensure that the ‘all’ part does not exclude those that do not fit the traditional definition of impact, especially in Nigeria. Our narrative is much broader and we need to ensure we also define that narrative. We should redefine Impact Investing in Nigeria’s (and perhaps Africa’s) energy space to include underserved middle-income consumers as well as unserved rural consumers requiring essential energy infrastructure to thrive. Rural and urban consumers are not mutually exclusive in their terrible energy experience. Regarding energy access, rural populations are unserved while urban are underserved. On pollution, urban Prosumers (Producing Consumers) pollute a lot more than rural Prosumers do. SDG7 thankfully is supposed to cater to all.

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Rural Electrification is extremely critical. We need to double down on our efforts to extend modern electrification to all unserved rural communities. I am proud of the work being done by Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency, and the support provided so far by AFDB, the WorldBank and other agencies. But sustainable energy access for middle income or rising populations is also important. We also need to step up to the challenge of ensuring underserved, aspiring middle-income consumers have smart, sustainable, and trusted power to help catalyze economic development and strengthen the link between rural and urbanized communities. It is the aspiring middle-income consumers and their businesses using the bulk of distributed diesel generation in Nigeria’s weak grid market. These people want the same life that every aspiring person has globally, and they prioritize this energy experience over the need to protect the environment. Look no further than the embedded picture as a real example witnessed at a client’s home in Lagos. Energy Efficiency, Solar Hybrid, and Energy Storage solutions present a better alternative. But we still need to create financial and other incentives that can help make the transition feasible for more middle-income families and SMEs if we are to realize SDG7.

To be sure, diesel generators have played, and continue to play, a vital role in plugging the electrification gap in Nigeria’s energy industry. But, there should be standards for generators. Diesel generators should be digitalized, tracked, and pass emissions tests and all old ones, such as the one in the picture, should be removed immediately. These ones ruin the environment and contribute to air quality related deaths. When generators are used for backup or primary power, it should be at a community or district level – not the one generator, one building approach that is widespread today. Nigeria is the world’s largest diesel generator market and many of those generators are simply too old to be in operation. But they fire away, one pollutant at a time. A more sustainable Nigeria can only be achieved by implementing SDG7 for both the underserved middle-income groups that are forced to use such generators ‘and’ the unserved rural population living without access. SDG7 is about full inclusivity.

Fully inclusive SDG7 implementation in Nigeria can never be achieved until international and local agencies that have climate and impact funding mandates, recognize that SDG7 also applies to this missing middle-income group. With few programs designed for middle-income Prosumers, this group continues to disproportionately contribute to electricity related carbon emissions and deteriorating air quality in Nigeria. The outcome is predictable…. Over the coming days, I’ll share some ideas on how we can work together to create incentives that promote SDG7 among middle-income Prosumers and dissuade the use of the oldest, most polluting generators that remain stubbornly pervasive among this often forgotten but potentially instrumental group in the fight against global warming and air quality related deaths.

Rotimi Thomas

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