Assessing the Implications of Energy Access Deficit and Energy Poverty on Sustainable Development in Nigeria


Energy is unequivocally a mainstay of sustainable economic development, given its consequential role in industrialisation and production processes. Domestic and industrial use of energy directly impacts the quality of life and growth. Therefore, the stride of economic growth and development in Africa is proportional to its capacity to produce affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy. The quality and quantity of energy produced remain the major cause of intermittency in energy supply and energy access deficit. This article argues that increasing energy access, affordability and per capita energy consumption are sine qua non to the successful achievement of sustainable socio-economic development, which includes climate change mitigation, food security, sustainable health, education, poverty alleviation, and bridging inequalities.

Energy Access and Energy Poverty

The lack of energy access and energy poverty are major subversions to sustainable energy goals and the general standard of living. Non-affordability of energy is a key predicament confronting energy end-users, which mostly translates into energy poverty. Also, restricted coverage in utilising supply has been a major obstacle confronting Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa at large. These duo plights have aggravated the infrastructural decay and reduction in operational capacity in the electricity sector. This has strengthened the urge for the consumption of fossil fuels, with the emergence of private energy generation to manage the failure of an unstable energy grid. The decentralisation of energy generation through fossil fuel-powered generators or distributed renewable technologies has become a necessity for private individuals and corporate entities to meet their energy demands.

The governance of energy resources and the quest to improve energy supply in Nigeria has persistently become a major consideration since the return of the country’s democracy in 1999. However, the energy paradox in Sub-Saharan Africa (SA) has repeatedly shown the contrast between the availability of energy resources in the SA sub-region and the degree of energy access. The geographical location of the African continent attracts immense, depletable and renewable energy resources, such as hydro, solar, biomass and geothermal energy.

The Energy Paradox in Sub-Saharan Africa

Energy resources are unevenly distributed among the 54 African countries. Specifically, Nigeria, a country located in the West African sub-region, is endowed with colossal energy resources. For example, Nigeria has a high level of solar irradiation, which makes solar power a viable alternative energy source. In addition, the country remains the major producer of hydrocarbon products in Africa, with the highest natural gas reserve and being the sixth largest global exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which contributes enormously to its GDP. Despite the abundance of these energy resources, the energy demand in Africa exceeds the supply. This energy disequilibrium is clearly manifested in erratic power supply in more than half of the 54 African countries. Hence, the widespread lack of access to clean energy and the emission of greenhouse gases in Africa have been hinged on poor energy facilities and the lack of capacity to deploy renewable technologies. It is estimated that over 620 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, while 730 million people rely heavily on traditional biomass, such as firewood, for cooking. Therefore, the energy consumption per capita in the region is considerably low. The percentage of people with access to electricity in North Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Southern Africa and Central Africa stands at 98%, 47%, 23%, 43% and 25% respectively. In a related manner, the constellation of the population without access to clean energy in West Africa is predominantly in Nigeria, with about 100 million people living without electricity.

Fossil Fuels Dominance and Carbon Emissions

It is argued that the quantity of renewable and non-renewable energy resources available in the country is sufficient to meet domestic energy demand and engage in transnational energy transmission through the West African Power Pool (WAPP). However, fossil fuels and traditional biomass are the dominant sources of energy, both in the rural and urban centres. The use of combustion engines in the industries and transportation sectors is rising and this has constantly increased the CO2 emissions in Nigeria over the years. The post-COVID-19 pandemic epoch has witnessed an increase in global carbon emissions with the resumption of industrial activities and the global supply chain. Nigeria remains one of the largest CO2 emitters on the continent of Africa, with 127029.25 KT in 2021. Energy generation and utilisation, industrial activities, and agriculture productions contribute 32.6% of the country’s carbon emissions. However, Nigeria has produced one of the best responses to carbon reduction in Africa. Yet, the increase in carbon-intense energy consumption and lack of energy affordability among many households are hampering decarbonisation strategies.

Energy Crisis in Nigeria

The energy crisis in Nigeria has been deciphered through a multifarious lens, which includes the poor maintenance and deterioration of energy facilities, irregular supply of gas, and official corruption. Consequently, 425 local governments out of the country’s 774 council areas have access to the national grid, while some populations are struggling with monthly utility bills. This has empirically manifested in energy theft and energy poverty. These duo phenomena are not mutually exclusive but rather emanate from the lack of energy affordability. 

Energy theft is arguably engaged in by private individuals, government agencies, the military, and private establishments through non-compliance with payment schedules, in addition to unmetered and illegal connections. Energy theft, affordability, and poverty are not peculiar to Nigeria but are general phenomena in low-income countries with low purchasing capacities. Therefore, energy access remains the priority of Sub-Saharan African countries, while the transition to clean energy is a ‘complementary priority’ that emerged from the global climate mitigation strategy. Without adequate and reliable energy sources in the first place, the question remains: What exactly are we transitioning from? Conversely, energy transition is a sociotechnical phenomenon which conflates technological discontinuation with sociocultural shift. Hence, the adoption of eco-friendly and climate compliance practices in the face of limited access to renewable energy technology could be a prepossessing and effective strategy to enforce carbon reduction and climate change mitigation.

Energy and Climate Change Mitigation

The adverse effects and implications of the consumption of fossil fuels on climate change and their deleterious impacts on livelihoods are the extant arguments among climate activists and energy scholars. The global energy transition and the target to reduce carbon emissions have offered the opportunity to transition from fossil-fuel-based energies to clean energies. The adoption of renewable energy technologies in Nigeria is amplified through the National Electrification Project (NEP) with the deployment of the solar-powered mini-grid and home solar system to complement already installed hydropower stations. However, Nigeria’s energy transition plan has located natural gas as a clean burning alternative to industrialise the economy further and complement the offtake of power generated from renewable sources. Although there has been a lingering debate over whether natural gas is clean enough to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality, its contribution to power generation is indispensable. The adoption of renewable energy technology in Nigeria is undeniably evident. Investigating the reasons for the slow pace of its adoption and the unabated appetite for hydrocarbon products is worthwhile.

The increase in electricity tariffs presents a logical explanation for self-exclusion or compulsory disconnection, on account of debt, from the national grid, while the constant increase in the cost of petroleum products, such as kerosene, diesel, and petrol, has widened the gap of energy poverty. This has destructively affected the standard of living in an economy in which the majority of the population lives below $2 per day. The government intervention projects scheduled to contribute to capacity generation in the energy sector should be reviewed and improved upon to alleviate energy poverty and increase the energy per capita to 5000 kWh in 2030.

Similarly, per capita energy consumption is a useful metric for measuring energy poverty at the aggregate and disaggregate levels. An argument from Mr. Iwayemi, a professor of energy economics, holds that the sustainable solution to adequate, reliable and widely accessible electricity surpasses just the summation of megawatts and numerical values but rather engaging in domestic and regional energy partnerships and developing regional energy initiatives that allow transnational energy transmission and supply of gas within the ECOWAS region. In critically assessing the economic costs of modern electricity networks across Africa, it is established that building universal energy access within Africa would cost $547 billion to execute by 2030, which is highly cost-ineffective. Nonetheless, regional energy integration does not eliminate the domestic drivers of energy poverty and their effects on living conditions.

Energy Access and Energy Poverty: A Conceptual Distinction

The creation of a conceptual distinction between energy poverty and energy access is an onerous task, given the relativity in elements deployed in the deconstruction. Thus, affordability, reliability and the quality of energy available for consumption are widely engaged in the conceptualisation. Energy poverty has been conceived differently according to regional variations in the energy sector. Therefore, energy poverty in developing countries is differently defined from its expression in industrialised countries. The former deploys the degree of accessibility to measure energy poverty, while the latter considers the purchasing power of energy consumers as its critical metric. According to the European Union (EU), energy poverty occurs when energy consumption takes a significant percentage of the consumer’s income, or there is the inability to maximally utilise energy to meet optimal demand, which negatively affects the general well-being. Research on multidimensional energy poverty in Nigeria shows that the energy poverty index in the country is 0.38, which means that more than half of the households in Nigeria are energy poor. The major drivers of energy poverty in the country are the surge in energy demand, insufficient energy supply and low income.

The Nexus between Energy and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Energy poverty thus impedes the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals because traditional energy sources, such as firewood and charcoal, are environmentally unfriendly and inimical to human health while slowing down industrialisation, accelerating deforestation, and creating socioeconomic inequalities. Domestically, heating and cooking with traditional energy sources increase indoor air pollution and inflict other health injuries, such as eye problems and other life expectancy-threatening risks. For instance, the absence of electricity to power an electric oven in a small-scale business has persistently compelled the use of charcoal-powered ovens in grilling fish and making beef jerky (‘Suya’) across Nigerian towns and cities.

Energy and Sustainable Healthcare

Research has shown that smoke from biomass attracts severe respiratory problems, such as asthma, respiratory tract infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Comparative research on women exposed to biomass smoke in the fish processing industry (the making of smoked fish) and women who do not work in this industry in the Obaka community in Nigeria holds that the former are suffering from decrement in lung function and other respiratory symptoms.  In other words, many women using biomass and traditional stoves for cooking are susceptible to burns and skin irritation. Therefore, the interface between energy access and sustainable health is hinged on the lack of access to clean energy, which explicates the consequences that accompany the use of biomass.

The 2017 World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that air pollution in households is caused by biomass usage, which leads to 2.8 million premature deaths yearly. This report further maintains that women spend their productive time collecting firewood and other traditional energy sources. Therefore, the lack of energy access and energy poverty significantly affect women, and these create social and gender inequalities. It has been established that women are the major consumers of electricity, especially for domestic purposes such as cooking. Therefore, the availability of clean energy will improve women’s standard of living and ease their domestic chores through the use of new energy technologies, such as concentrated solar power (CSP) solar thermal systems for heating, and the electric stove for cooking.

Energy and Food Security

Energy poverty in Nigeria not only influences the quality and quantity of energy consumption but also endangers food security and sustainable agriculture. The expansion of the agricultural sector, driven by mechanised and sophisticated farm equipment, concomitantly espouses the need for increasing the energy-generating capacity because many farm technologies are powered by electricity. For instance, water pumps and the crux of artificial irrigation need electricity, either as a direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC), to power on and effectively function. The nexus between energy and food security lies in using fossil fuels and electricity to power irrigation technology and preserve perishable farm products under a certain temperature. Small-scale farmers who cannot procure solar panels to generate the required electricity or diesel-powered irrigation machines and storage facilities may record food wastage, and this has been the uncontested reality of many subsistence and commercial farmers in Nigeria.

The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) has distributed 1,300 solar-powered water pumps to rural farmers to improve irrigation systems and increase food production in farm settlements and rural communities. However, this is insignificant in a country with about 87 per cent of smallholder farmers residing in rural areas, and 24 per cent of her GDP is contributed by the agricultural sector. There is a need for more government intervention because smallholders’ self-provision of solar-powered pumps is unrealistic, given that 72 per cent of these farmers live below the poverty line of $1.9/per day. The effect of energy poverty in Nigeria is systemic, and it has materialised across social institutions such as education.

Energy and Education

The limited coverage of energy supply has consistently threatened the goal of quality and functional education in Nigeria. Energy and, most importantly, electricity plays a significant role in academic excellence and enhance digital literacy. Many students and pupils are still subjected to a moribund educational structure, with little or no access to electricity to power computers and other IT devices that aid learning. School electrification has become a global concern, with 188 million students attending schools unconnected to electricity supply.

In a related manner, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kalloon, has made it known that 75 per cent of the 74,280 public primary and secondary schools in Nigeria are unconnected to the electricity grid supply. Consequently, the pace of technology-enhanced education is somewhat tardy. The Nigerian government’s commitment to energising educational institutions has been demonstrated under the Energising Education Programme (EEP), which is targeted at illuminating educational institutions through clean and sustainable energy. However, the scope of this programme is limited to 37 federal universities and seven federal teaching hospitals, which divests the lower education cadre that is also in dire need of a sustainable electricity supply.


Ultimately, energy is a great enabler and the fulcrum of socioeconomic development. Energy poverty and restricted access to clean energy are the veritable crises that have manifested in the daily lives of Nigerians. Therefore, sustainable economic development, industrialisation, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nigeria are hinged on the improved capacity to utilise the available clean energy resources to meet energy demand. The major drawback of the energy crisis remains the adverse effect of present energy sources on climate change, food security, health, and education. The emergence of new energy technologies presents a great chance to attenuate these burdens. However, this requires appropriate policy instruments and a policy-driven transition informed by research and development-oriented interventions from multiple players, including state and non-state actors. The solar photovoltaic (PV) system has a profound potential to complement the present energy generation capacity and increase access to electricity through an economic-induced strategy to domestically mass produce this technology. Following the global best practices in energy transition, clean energy technologies must be aggressively deployed through central coordination by the government and the prioritisation of incentives for citizens to inculcate the idiosyncrasy of roof-top solar installations while dissuading them from the use of fossil fuel-powered generators. Hence, decentralisation and democratisation of the energy system could ameliorate the problems of national grid collapse and centrally controlled energy infrastructures, with citizens having a momentous stake in energy decisions and control over the production and consumption of energy.

This article was written by Afeez Adiatu