As soon as Bridget Mosanya went to get a book from her bag to study, it started to rain. The power immediately went out, as it virtually always does in Nigeria, even if it is barely drizzling.
“Nepa has taken light,” the 17-year-old said in her now-dark room. She was referring to the national electric power authority, a long-defunct public utility whose abbreviation is still the commonly used name for the intermittent power supply from Nigeria’s fragile electric grid.
Her father, Tunde Mosanya, turned on the family’s small solar system, lighting up the living room, master bedroom and his daughter’s room. It was enough for Bridget to finishing studying that night.
But a street away, on the east side of Nigeria’s capital of Abuja, 13-year-old Bamkinaan Panshak would have to wait to do his homework until the power was restored or make do with his parent’s half-charged cellphone flashlight.
His family used to start up their gasoline-powered backup generator during blackouts because they do not have a solar system. But since new president Bola Tinubu removed a subsidy that helped reduce the price of gas, they can’t afford the cost of fuel.
“It is just beyond means for now,” said Bamkinaan’s father, Guleng Panshak, who is a teacher.
The end of the long-running fuel subsidy last month has increased interest in solar, operators say, which could accelerate progress toward mitigating climate change in Africa’s largest economy. But experts say the government needs a clear plan to make the most of this new opportunity to advance Nigeria’s climate goals, which include eliminating fossil fuel-run generators widely used to keep the lights on in homes and businesses.
Reducing fuel costs was a popular but environmentally and economically costly system.
The state petroleum company, NNPC, says Nigeria spent 4.39 trillion naira ($9.7 billion) on the subsidy last year, leaving the government struggling to finance infrastructure projects, including rail systems that could help reduce emissions from vehicles.
Gas-powered generators also contribute significantly to emissions, having proliferated under the subsidy in a country where only half the population of more than 200 million have access to grid electricity. Those who do often endure blackouts.
Solar adoption, on the other hand, has largely been hampered by relatively high upfront costs, with only 1.25% of Nigerian households installing those systems, according to a 2022 study conducted by Boston Consulting Group and all on.
If 30% of Nigerian households turned to solar by 2030, 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide would be avoided, reducing emissions from households by 30%, the study added.
The new president has acknowledged that removing the fuel subsidy “will impose an additional burden on the masses of our people,” who have seen gasoline prices triple while struggling with high inflation and unemployment.