How Solarquick’s lithium battery solutions bring sustainability to solar projects in Nigeria

MARCH 2020 is an unforgettable period in history being the month when countries across the world went on lockdown.

Interestingly, it is also the period that Solarquick brought to Nigeria the ongoing battery revolution with the massive deployment of lithium batteries to power solar projects in industries and healthcare.

The intervention will also provide improved sustainability to solar electricity projects which hitherto has been observed to be fraught more failures than success.

“Adulteration of the off- grid devices especially the mini/home in the market led to poor performance of some installed solar system in Nigeria. Most of the off-grid equipment shipped to the country are of low quality and fake,” researchers, Elusakin Julius, Ajide Olufemi and Diji Chuks, observed in their journal titled, “Challenges of sustaining off-grid power generation in Nigeria rural communities.”

However, Solarquick, according to its CEO, Justin Tinsey, came into the country noting that in Nigeria “the opportunities are tremendous, particularly for distributed (power) generation.

“We are the first of our kind in Nigeria – the largest Lithium-ion battery distributor, exclusively for other businesses (not to end users), for our collective solar future!

“We officially launched in April just after lock-down. Despite the challenges we are advancing. We have managed to quickly develop a partnership network of over 180 dealers, categorized as EPCs, installers and re-sellers/agents, many of which are already familiar with the benefits our technologies and are grateful to have a long-term partner in the space.”

Speaking on investment in off-grid power generation Nigeria, Tinsey said, “More than eight times the grid capacity is generated off-grid through private generators and the market is prime to reap the benefits of: increased efficiency solar PV; and industry development of hybrid inverters which combine solar and battery charging at a low price.”

Tinsey also noted that there is a “battery revolution that is transforming the car industry and finally pushing down the price of lithium batteries.”

 

About lithium batteries

There are two broad types of batteries used in solar projects:  Lead-acid and Lithium.

Lead-acid batteries cost less upfront, but they have a shorter lifespan and require regular maintenance to function properly. Lithium batteries are more expensive upfront, but they are maintenance-free and have a longer lifespan.

Lithium is an interesting element that is used in batteries and also as a component for drugs for mental health. Compared to lead which is a heavy metal that is poisonous in all its forms, lithium can be said to be safer in its use.

Consider again its longer lifespan when used to make batteries and it is clear that lithium batteries are more environmentally friendly.

 

The cost question

One of the hindrances to solar uptake is the initial cost of setting it up. Practically all the components including the batteries are expensive. So why would one exchange less expensive lead-acid battery components for pricey lithium batteries?

Solarquick’sCheif Technical Officer, Mike Rosenberg, told Ecoscope that over time lithium batteries are not expensive. He said, “We understand the market is extremely price-sensitive, but Nigerians care about value-for-money and quality. Though the Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) is high for lithium solutions, but the Operational Expenditure (OPEX) makes it worth it.

“Lead-acid batteries would have to be replaced up to four to five times the lifespan of our Lithium-ion batteries, minimum (our warranty is 10 years).  Lead-acid batteries are only 50 per cent usable compared to 90-100 per cent for Lithium. So on a usable kWh basis they are starting to approach parity. “Moreover, their ability to rapidly charge makes them perfect for Nigerian homes and businesses with unstable grid as they can be cycled multiple times in a day, accelerating payback.

The costs are usually covered within the first three to four years when looking at a 10-year lifecycle — thus cost savings is inevitable.”

 

Fuelling the transition from diesel

The vision of the team at Solarquick is for solar and lithium ion storage to be demystified and understood at every household level.

According to the company’s CEO, “Businesses have been some of the first to adapt our solutions because they understand the long-term cost savings. As global costs of solar PV, storage and quality inverters continue to fall we hope this is better understood by the average household in the country, helping to further catalyze the transition from diesel.”

He adds that “As a master distributor, we believe this is the most effective way to spearhead diesel displacement.  True low-cost solar PV and lithium solutions have not yet been introduced to Nigeria at-scale and this has stunted its uptake in the market. Dealers and installers have the long-standing relationships with clients (businesses, households, local governments, etc.) and are the best avenue to ensure solar PV and its auxiliary solutions are understood and welcomed.”

 

A mission not without challenges

With COVID-19, there has been a slow-down of commercial and industrial projects everywhere.

Many end-users and financiers have simply delayed projects until they have a clearer picture of the market post-COVID.

However, “the silver lining, Tinsey said, “has been an uptake in residential projects and government/development institution-financed projects, especially for healthcare.”

So far, Solarquick has been able to successfully deploy its lithium batteries to projects including a large government-sponsored healthcare project in response to COVID-19; a large private healthcare project in one remote part of the country; and two residential installations sold to a reputable local installer whose customers demanded lithium due to the long-term cost savings.

Solarquick has also faced challenges with its supply chain due to the lockdown. “It has been a headache but we have managed strategically thanks to our many partners,”Tinsey concluded.

 

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