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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Empowering Nigerian schools with solar alternative


The recent deployment of solar energy alternatives by the Ekiti State government, should be commended and emulated by other states, especially in the south-eastern part of the country, writes REMMY NWEKE.

Generating set as democracy dividend?
IT was with mixed feelings that stakeholders greeted the news in the first quarter of this year that Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi’s administration decided to lighten up some schools and laboratory with 30 KVA generating sets numbering 108.
KVA, technically speaking means ‘Kilo Volt Amps’; a term used when talking sizing up equipment for power generation and distribution.

History has it that since 1984, no government in the state has given generating sets to schools, but with the empowerment provided by Gov. Obi’s administration, which saw over 108 out of 117 community-leaders’ through the president-generals of their community-based development organisations in the state gathered at the Women Development Center Awka to receive the 30 KVA each on behalf of their pupils.

Industry observers think otherwise, in the sense that maintaining of such generating sets could definitely be an uphill task for these communities, who may not even have a filling station, while the cost of refilling such a generating set could be enormous eventually.

Although, for others, this gesture by Gov. Obi could pass for democratic dividend, yet, industry observers, especially from the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) say there is an alternative with solar power technology.

Stakeholders opt for solar alternative:
One of such industry observers and Executive Director, Digital Sense Africa, Mrs. Nkemdilim Nweke, noted that with solar power, these communities stand to gain a lot, noting that solar power technology apart from reducing the green house emissions which is rampant in generating set and could be customized to meet individual or community needs.

According to her, a country like Nigeria is blessed tropically which could “translate into solar energy, which is free from the sun rays.”

Essentially, she said that the sun emits more energy in a single second than people have used since time immemorial and when put differently is called renewable energy system.

Experts at Solarpowerhouse.com said that solar power conversion is about converting the sun’s rays into electricity useable by man, recalling that this has been in practice even when the caveman was discovered; when they use makeshift magnifying glasses to produce fire, cook their food and stay warm.

How solar is created:
As said by Solarpowerhouse experts, solar power is created when the sun’s radiate energy known as speeding photons, and hits the surface of a semi-conducting material such as silicone, which is commonly used in solar cells.

They explained that as a result, electrons are knocked loose from their atoms, which permit the flow through the material in the solar cell to produce electricity. This, invariably, “is how solar energy works to create usable electricity by combining nature via the sun and manmade objects, that is, Photo-Voltaic (PV) cells.”

Stressing that the process whereby light ‘photo’ is converted into electricity ‘voltage’ is referred to as photovoltaic effect.

Therefore, the experts at Solarpowerhouse, pointed out that solar panels work by collecting solar energy from the sun, insisting that how well this work depends on how much light energy preserved through the solar cells.

“Solar cells are typically combined together to make solar panels, otherwise known as PV panels, solar modules or PV modules. One or more of these panels grouped together constitutes a PV array or solar array,” they explained.

Additionally, they said, solar panels are used to convert solar photovoltaic energy into Direct Current (DC) electricity, while a power inverter is then used to convert that DC electricity to Alternative Current (AC) electricity, normally use in homes.

Solar, as most preferred:
For the Managing Director, Communication Towers (CT), Mr. Philip Chukwueke, could telecommunications service providers in the country can technologically monitor diesel consumption to avert theft and unscrupulous acts by service delivery personnel, pointing out that if it is a location that must have power 24/7 that means that they would have electric generating set and in that case the generator is recommended, otherwise, it could be packaged through solar as an alternative power solution.

Solar, he however said, is the most preferred solution, mainly because it eliminates power surge and whole lot of things.

Solar to the rescue:
Lamenting the state of what he described as perpetual duplication of infrastructure, the Managing Director, Galaxy Backbone Plc, Mr. Gerald Ilukwe, advised individuals, government and corporate entities to be mindful of this by erecting infrastructure that could offer the populace many other options. He cited an instance with the deployment of solar energy in some parts of the world to push penetration of access and maximization of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

He pointed out that in some of the rural communities, it is important to have solar equipment to support that infrastructure, because “It is easier to pick that via a helicopter and drop it anywhere in Nigeria.”

Noteworthy also was the recent introduction of solar chargers by one of the leading Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operator, Starcomms, for those operating its telecentres nationwide.

For Starcomms’ chief executive, Mr. Maher Qubain, the solar battery charger is a portable device that is easy to use and environmental friendly, competing effectively with regular source of power and could be exposed to daylight.

He reiterated that the solar power battery charger enables the conversion of sun rays into low voltage DC electricity, providing power that could be stored or used, noting that it was provided due to complaints by some telecentre operators, and with this their experience concerning power cut in the country would change for good.

“I have always tried to empathize with these Telecenter operators each time there is a power cut in my office or home for hours. I always wondered how these low scale entrepreneurs cope. At Starcomms we always look for the best way to solve problems so that business can move forward for us and those working with us. So we came up with this solar charger solution for our associates,” he said.

Qubain observed that the problem of epileptic power supply, mostly in Nigeria has forced many businesses in the country to collapse and among the worst hit were the call centers that always need electricity to remain in business.

“This is due to the fact that as more calls were made from these call centre telephones, the shorter the life span of the telephone batteries,” he explained.

22 Ekiti schools on solar:
So, it was gladdening to note that as part of the nation’s 50th Independence anniversary celebration, Omatek Plc via one of its subsidiaries, announced the successful powering of 22 schools on solar alternative power in Ekiti State.

Omatek, a reputed Nigeria’s Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) said it has scored another first by effectively deploying 24-hour alternative solar-powered hybrid solution combined with Light-Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs in 22 schools across Ekiti.

Confirming this penultimate week, the Group Managing Director, Omatek Ventures Plc, Mrs. Florence Seriki, told ITRealms Online that the current deployment is a special gift to Nigeria on this auspicious occasion of its 50th anniversary celebrations.

Nigerians, she noted, could now heave a sigh of relief with the introduction of its kind of Omatek 24-hour alternative Solar-Powered hybrid Solution, which could be deployed in schools, homes, offices, industrial areas, critical mission areas and telecommunications sector.

Also, she said, solar-powered hybrid solution is available in smaller compact sizes for use by Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) in kiosks, stressing that this innovation powers the whole school and the dormitories with well lit for 24 hours.

Gone are the days of candle lights:
“Gone are the days when we were reading with lantern and candle lights,” she asserted, noting that Omatek 24-hour solar–powered hybrid solution assists in reducing power consumption by 85 per cent, which makes it cost efficient.

“The solution combines the benefits of the solar system and those of the LED technology to proffer solutions that reduce energy consumption while saving costs,” Seriki explained, pointing out that with the 24-hour solar hybrid solution, Omatek solar panel generates power for domestic and industrial use as the output passes through a solar charge controller, which facilitates the load directly during the day while also charging a bank of deep cell lead-acid batteries back-up system for use at night sunset, thus the energy is supplied via the Omatek brand of solar inverters.

The General Manager, Technical at Omatek, Mr. Musa Igbo, reiterated that with the LED technology, a typical 60 watts bulb will be converted to 3.8 watts. Just as he said, a typical 42 watts 4ft fluorescent bulb would be reduced to 13-17 watts, while this is the same for a 2ft 42 watts fluorescent bulb. LED bulbs are also eco-friendly as they generate less carbon emissions (co2) thus contributing towards the global warming solution.

He noted that Omatek was awarded these set of 21 schools after the successful completion and deployment of the first pilot school; Baptist High School Ijede Ekiti, adding that other schools and States are also taking advantage of this unique innovation as Omatek kick starts other projects like provision of 24 hour power solution to Police Stations and hospitals.

Conclusion:
What has been demonstrated here is the viability of solar power as an alternative energy, especially for public utility like schools and hospitals in the cities and rural areas.

Of course, there is no gain saying that Gov. Babatunde Fashola is optimizing this solar technology on street lights across Lagos.

Aside the sad fact that at this era in time, a government supposedly with a youthful governor like Mr. Obi could be investing billions of Naira to procure generating sets with a high-rate of maintenance cost either to the community or the state government.

Hence, we advocated that governments at all levels should emulate the Ekiti State in deploying solar in schools for lightening, Lagos for street lights, it is very crucial if the nation could have a solar policy to drive this innovative technology that is above all, eco-friendly and made light more affordable to Nigerians.

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