By Ifeoma Malo* and Yeside Dipo-Salami*
It goes without saying that one of the biggest, if not the biggest, infrastructural challenge in Nigeria is the lack of reliable electricity supply. With about 90 million people on a 5,000MW grid (only about 50% of Nigerians are connected to it and have electricity access), power is insufficient for most consumers in the country, leaving them to self-generate their energy needs. Today, the amount of power generated privately by manufacturers alone is about 13,000MW – more than twice the capacity of the National power grid. This does not include the large proportion of homes and commercial enterprises that depend on expensive, polluting generators.
Electricity consumers in Nigeria unanimously agree that their most primary concern from power distribution companies (DISCOs) is reliable, dependable supply of electricity. Not only will this significantly reduce how much they spend on alternative power supply using generators, it will also enable them to be more efficient in their activities. The absence of this has subjected consumers to regular blackouts, brownouts and irregular power supply which could stretch from few hours to a few years, forcing them to rely on generators.
Wicked Problems – Persist:
At a recent NEXTIER event in August of 2018 – The question was posed on what consumers want. Several issues raised at the forum by speakers and panelists highlighted the issue of estimated billing by DISCOs, particularly the wide disparity between power they consume and bills they pay at the end of the month. After the unbundling of the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) into the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and the subsequent privatization of the constituent units; it was expected that all electricity consumers will be on prepaid meters to give greater transparency and insight on electricity consumption and spending by consumers. The goal was also to increase the collections – and ultimately the customer base of the DISCOs.
Unfortunately, numerous metering schemes such as the Credited Advanced Payment for Metering Initiative (CAPMI) & the licensing of Meter Asset Providers (MAP) have failed to achieve the desired impact, leaving the percentage of consumers that are metered at 48%; therefore leaving 52% of consumers at the mercy of estimated billing.
As though these were not enough, electricity consumers routinely complain of poor customer service from DISCOs who do not respond promptly to service problems. This ranged from inaccurate billing to faulty equipment and connections to customers who despite being on the grid, go for long periods without any power supply. Despite it’s best efforts; the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) through the creation of Consumer Forums for resolution of complaints, the problems persist.
A New Category of Electricity Consumers
However, there are electricity consumers in Nigeria that do not experience these problems: this group of consumers enjoys constant electricity, pay for exactly what they consume and receive prompt resolution of their complaints.They are able to enjoy these because they are served by decentralized renewable energy solutions which range from pico-solar solutions to solar home systems and mini-grids.
These solutions provide the consumers with the constant power that they need, enabling them to live better lives, enjoy higher productivity and cut down on their spending on fossil-fuel generators. Although some DRE solutions such as solar home systems have a high initial cost compared to generators, they end up being cheaper in the long-run.
Also, consumers of DRE solutions enjoy the benefit of only paying exactly for the power they consume – whether it is through a one-off purchase, a lease or as metered customers on a mini-grid. Where consumers buy their products outright, they are assured of the fact that there are no added bills from the installers.
Solutions abound with Decentralized Renewable Energy (DRE)
With the evolution of business models such as lease-to-own or permanent leases which allow more people to enjoy constant power supply from DRE solutions, it is very important to ensure that consumers enjoy the power they paid for through the prepayment for the services or pay for the power they enjoy through their periodic lease payments.
Not only that, many consumers of DRE solutions such as solar home systems are able to visualize their power consumption and even control their systems remotely through energy management software and mobile applications, allowing them to be more efficient in their energy usage.
Furthermore, consumers enjoy excellent customer service from DRE solution providers who offer prompt resolution of complaints through various channels. Even in the absence of consumer forums and complaint resolution mechanisms through NERC, consumers of DRE solutions have not had recourse to complain to the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) which is empowered by law to provide speedy redress to consumer complaints through negotiations, mediation and conciliation.
DRE solutions have made it possible for those in need of constant power supply where they pay exactly for what they consume together with excellent customer service to have their expectations met.
*Ifeoma Malo –Nigerian Country Director at Power For All
*Yeside Dipo-Salami – Nigerian Lead – Human Capital Development at Power For All