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Nigeria: Outlook bright as solar energy keeps homeworkers powered up

In a hallway in Lagos, Gbemisola Olowokere taps contentedly on her laptop. The 23-year-old says the corner, underneath a sliver of a window, has functioned well as a makeshift office since the start of the coronavirus pandemic forced her to work from home.

But things didn’t start in such a simple and easy way.

Gbemisola Olowokere, 23, plugs her phone charger to an extension box unit powered by solar energy from Lumos in her home, amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus in Lagos, Nigeria. Image credit Reuters, Libby George

“I had major problems,” Olowokere said. “I have deadlines and things I need to submit...and I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have power.”

Nigeria’s notoriously sclerotic power infrastructure means fuel-powered generators provide at least four times as much electricity as the grid. Most locals have generators, but few run them through the day due to the high costs, noise and - a growing health risk since the respiratory disease started spreading - choking smoke.

Yet, Olowokere found her solution in a yellow box bought by her employer from solar company Lumos. Connected to a panel on her roof, it keeps her phone, laptop and Wi-Fi running through her workday, as well as a music speaker.

Lumos is one of at least a dozen solar energy companies that have been competing to help fill Nigeria’s power gap, and the virus has made the need for their services more and more severe.

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Since Lagos’s lockdown began on March 30, Lumos has sold around 150 power units for home-based office workers for 100,000 nairas ($280) each, half what it charges for its newest batteries.

Rival Rensource’s Keepwork unit retails for 180,000 nairas. The way it works is simple: it runs on a solar panel small enough to be propped on a balcony and can charge off the grid. Company founder Ademola Adesina said 600 have been sold since the start of April.

Meanwhile, Arnergy Solar Limited has installed solar panels at five medical facilities around Lagos state, and healthcare clients in other states have also purchased panels since the pandemic began helping workers and boosting the national economy, Vice President Azeez Onasoga said.

An employee of Salpha Energy unboxes a solar panel for home installation in Sagbo-Kodji community, amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus disease in Lagos, Nigeria. Image credit Reuters, Temilade Adelaja

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