How democratic are the decision-making processes in decentralized electricity markets? Our Nigerian project team decided to investigate these processes in Yebu, a community in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, close to Abuja.
Yebu is a community of roughly 80,000 inhabitants, with a predominantly primary industry focused economy, with sand mining, logging and agriculture being major economic drivers in the area. Four major stakeholders contributed to the installation of a 40 kWp solar mini-grid in Yebu in 2017: the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Havenhill Synergy Ltd (who installed and manage the project) and members of the community themselves. The installation of the mini-grid brought several benefits to the community, including improved access to lighting services, improved educational access for young people in the community, greater productivity for agricultural enterprises in the area, and opportunities for new businesses in the community, such as refrigeration services and mobile phone and battery charging.
Yebu solar mini-grid plant. Photo: N. Edomah, 2022.
The community solar mini-grid in Yebu, however, is performing significantly less well than in adjoining areas serviced by solar mini-grids. Lighting services in particular are highlighted by residents who were interviewed as being lacking, predominantly due to issues with battery storage for the mini-grid. In addition, the current 40 kWp installation is no longer sufficient to meet the growing demand for electricity services in the area since 2017. Several issues were identified by project researchers with the implementation of the project, including the lack of a sustainability plan for the life-cycle of the project, and a lack of ground-up community involvement in the project, leading to dissatisfaction down the line when promised services did not materialise. These issues need to be examined when designing future projects in the mould of the Yebu community mini-grid.