The Federal Government commissioned a 2.8MW solar hybrid power plant at Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (FUNAI), Ebonyi State, on August 2, signalling a resolve to provide uninterrupted electricity to university campuses through off grid power sources. It was the first to be commissioned at the 37 universities and seven affiliated teaching hospitals under the government’s Energising Education Programme (EEP).
Implemented by Rural Electrification Agency (REA), the project was commissioned by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with other dignitaries.
EEP is a Federal Government intervention focused on developing off-grid, dedicated and independent power plants, as well as rehabilitating existing distribution infrastructure to supply clean, reliable power and renewable energy. FUNAI’s over 7,700 students and 1,819 faculty staff would be benefitting from the solar-powered debut under the intervention programme. The programme will help to improve the quality of education, research and health care services at the federal universities and teaching hospitals across the country.
The commissioning ceremony at FUNAI also featured the graduation of 20 all-female STEM participants, who received certificates of completion for renewable energy training, and launch of 7.5 kilometres of solar-powered street lights as well as a world-class training centre for renewable energy.
The solar power plant is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, such as 8mwh capacity battery bank, inverters and power panel, world-class training centre, and transformers. The project is the product of a collaboration between the REA, Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing; Federal Ministry of Environment; and the National Universities Commission (NUC). It is executed by Sterling & Wilson, a solutions and services provider providing business solutions for solar, wind energy, transmission and distribution, hybrid energy storage and turnkey data centres to organisations across the world.
The FUNAI power is one of the EEP Phase One university projects meant to deliver clean and sustainable energy to nine federal universities and one University Teaching Hospital using solar hybrid and/or gas-fired captive power plants.
Among the dignitaries at the unveiling ceremony were representatives of Chancellor of the institution and Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo , former governor of Ebonyi of State, Chief Martins Elechi, politicians, law enforcement agencies, and traditional rulers.
Speakers at the event emphasised the vital role of human capital development in nation-building and acknowledged that the youth were the most important resource for socio-economic development. They were agreed on the fact that with an enabling environment, Nigerian students would not only stand tall, but they will equally be calling the shots in the global markets.
Reiterating the federal government’s commitment to bringing positive change to the educational system through its Next Level agenda, Osinbajo, who was the guest of honour, said the project would provide sustainable decentralised energy to the entire FUNAI campus, improve education and create a better university experience for both students and staff.
He said, “Gone are the days when students read at night with candles, lanterns and torches. Our young people are willing to learn and they have great aspirations. It is our duty to aid them to accomplish their goals by providing a conducive learning environment for them.
“I am glad to be a part of this great feat. As additional components of this remarkable project, we are also commissioning a renewables workshop/training centre to promote renewable energy training and have installed over 7.5KM of street lighting to enhance security and safety within FUNAI campus. Our students will not only reap the benefits of clean, reliable and affordable electricity, they will also receive hands-on training on renewable energy, which can be applied beyond the walls of this university.”
Commending the federal government’s effort to promote and encourage women, Osinbajo gave kudos to the Damilola Ogunbiyi-led administration at REA for initiating the female STEM internship under the EEP.
“We hope that this experience will inspire them to undertake STEM related careers, including careers as engineers and project managers. I want to use this opportunity to congratulate all of them for this great achievement,” the vice president regarding the initiative run by the young, innovative and dynamic woman.
Emphasising that the government will not rest on its oars until electricity became accessible to every Nigerian student, Osinbajo stressed that the solar project would last for the next four years as the train of progress moves to Bayero University, Kano (BUK), and Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun (FUPRE), Delta State, where other projects would be inaugurated over the next few months.
In her remarks, Ogunbiyi reiterated the significance of the pioneer project under the EEP. She said it was in pursuit of the President Muhammadu Buhari government’s Next Level Roadmap that the EEP was conceptualised in 2016 by the immediate past Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola.
Enumerating her responsibilities as CEO of REA, Ogunbiyi said they included provision of reliable, affordable and sustainable power to 37 federal universities and seven teaching hospitals through solar hybrid and gas-fired power plant solutions; rehabilitation of existing distribution infrastructure; installation of street lights for illumination and improved security within the benefitting university campuses; and construction of training centres to train students on renewable energy technology.
According to her, “The first phase comprising nine federal universities and one teaching hospital, which cut across the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, is fully funded by the Federal Government. This project here in FUNAI is the first to be commissioned today. EEP projects in Bayero University, Kano State, and Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, in Delta State, will follow with commissioning scheduled within the next couple of months.
“This project is a testament to this administration’s commitment to increase energy access, promote the use of renewable energy solutions, improve the quality of education within secure and safe learning environments, empower female students and create jobs.
“The solar hybrid power plant being commissioned today, has a total installed capacity of 2.8MW, which will result in 8,139,208Ibs of annual carbon dioxide savings. This is sustainable, clean and efficient energy at its finest; ultimately improving Nigeria’s ecological footprint. Furthermore, the installation of 7.5 KM of street lighting has already made the university environment harmonious, comfortable and ultimately safe. It is important to note that there is an innovative educational component to this project, which is the construction of an onsite world-class workshop and training centre, aimed at providing training in renewables technology to students of FUNAI.
“As we step into a future filled with smarter and cleaner technologies, we look forward to continuing to energise education and creating jobs through the remaining phases, for which the REA has secured funds for Phase 2 and Phase 3 from the World Bank and African Development Bank, respectively, under the Nigeria Electrification Project.”
Ogunbiyi appreciated those who supported the dream, including the UK Department for International Development through its Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility and Policy Development Facility programmes, for providing technical assistance in the development and implementation of the EEP, Sterling and Wilson, and sub-contractors for their dedication and commitment to successfully implementing the project in partnership with the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Thanking the federal government for the laudable project brought to his state, the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, said, “Ebonyi State is committed to ensuring that high quality education is accessible to all – an education that produces driven, skilled and talented professionals that will be the engine for our growth and development as a nation. What better way to do this than having access to educational facilities powered by reliable clean energy?
“I want to assure you that we, the people of Ebonyi State, will do our best to support this project to ensure greater success and sustainability. Its impact goes beyond improving quality of education; it has also provided a total of 108 jobs for Ebonyi indigenes and will create more during the operation and maintenance of this project. We look forward to witnessing the Federal Government replicate similar projects that will improve the quality of education, the economy and lives of Nigerians.”
FUNAI Vice Chancellor, Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba, said it was a privilege that FUNAI was one of the first learning institutions benefitting from the programme. Nwajiuba stated, “You may be unaware, but Ebonyi State used to be one of the educationally disadvantaged states. But over the last eight years since the establishment of this university, we have grown by leaps and bounds. We have developed a learning and research centre that offers students the latest in computing technology, new library facilities and a sports village.
“We are now, also proud to add, the first solar hybrid power plant to be commissioned at a federal university in Nigeria in addition to a renewable energy workshop/training centre and streetlights across the entire university that will provide a secure and safe learning environment. We are, indeed, privileged to be the first set of beneficiaries of the Energising Education Programme under implementation by the Rural Electrification Agency. It is already transforming the way we teach, learn and live.”
In his own address, Permanent Secretary, Federal Minstry of Education, Arc. Sonny Echono, said, “It is no secret that a good education has the power to change a life. Education empowers minds that will be able to conceive good thoughts and ideas. Combined with technologies that continue to develop at breakneck speed, the result is a world that has the want, and the means, to learn at scale.
“The challenge, therefore, is not just about providing access to education, but also ensuring progress in improving the quality thereof. This is why the Ministry of Education is so enthused by the success of this commendable project. Not only does the project mean that students can now enjoy reliable and clean power, they are also afforded the opportunity to further their professional development by partaking in real-life type work activities in the workshop/training centre. This project evidences the stellar progress that the Federal Government continues to make towards improving the education sector.”
On the impact of the FUNAI solar hybrid installations thus far, the EPC contractor and CEO Sterling & Wilson, Deepak Thakur said “the installed 2.8 MW solar hybrid power plant will decommission petrol and diesel generators with a capacity of 1.54MW, creating a cleaner and environmentally friendly atmosphere for the university community.”
In her votes of thanks, Head of Special Projects, REA, Anita Otubu, thanked Buhari and Osinbajo for their zeal and commitment to increasing electricity access and improving the quality of university education in the country.
“We are, indeed, grateful for the invaluable support from the immediate former Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, on policy directives and the Federal Ministry of Environment and Green Bond Secretariat for the significant support in facilitating the issuance of the first ever Federal Government of Nigeria’s Sovereign Green Bond funding, for the EEP solar projects, which have made the commissioning of this project possible today.”
Students of FUNAI, who are the biggest beneficiaries of the solar project, also spoke. For Kalu Oluchi, a 200 year level Agriculture undergraduate, and Ogah Affiong, a 300 level Mechatronics student, both among the 20 all-female STEM graduates, it was a wonderful experience. According to Ogah, “As an agriculturist, my participation in the programme has opened my eyes and broadened my horizon. I think I have ventured into another area. I see my future in energy sector.”
Kalu spoke in a similar vein. “This programme is first of its kind in any university in Nigeria. It has been a wonderful experience. I got some knowledge about how solar energy operates. I see myself tilting my career towards the energy sector,” she stated