On Tuesday, 4th of June, 2013, a certain advert on page 4 of Vanguard Newspaper uncharacteristically caught my attention. It was an advert about an impending car race, well, am not a car freak not to talk of picking interest in car racing. Till this moment, I still find it difficult to memorize the models of any of my immediate family members’ car, i am not just always interested in such luxury. I’m always of the opinion that, once the car can conveniently take me from one destination to the other, the model or maker can please excuse me. But this particular advert about a car race got me thinking; it was to be a Solar Car Race! Solar car race in Nigeria? You may like to ask.

The concept is not only alien to this part of the world, our attempt at even a solar energy generation has been a near disaster. Respective government; Local, State and Federal, that embraced the green energy campaign and invested in Solar paneled street lights can tell the story better. The idea just seems to fail everywhere and betrays comparatively, what we see, read and hear about Solar Energy Farms. Now bringing same solar panels( that either by design or default has never performed effectively in the Nigeria environment, supposedly rich in solar strength, considering the sun blaze that characterizes sub-Saharan Africa ), to make car run or race?  Is sure a daring adventure!

But this, Nigeria Solar Car Race, has got me thinking, and unknowingly to the organizers, it’s getting me so embittered about the Nigerian society that berates development of human capacity in our respective ivory towers for pseudo art and pretentive creativity in the entertainment industry. Am not against talent hunts or support for the entertainment sub-sector, but not at the detriment of scientific, innovative and technological endeavors.

A major bulwark to the nation’s collective advancement over the years have been the misplacement of priorities. Both individual and corporate entities are in a myopic rat race to get the attention of the youth through over bloated adventures and reality TV game shows; Ultimate Search, Family and Street dances, Idols, X-Factor, Mega Jamz, Big Brother amongst others. These projects though applaudeable in their own respective rights won’t get us anywhere. The only sustainable means of empowerment, is an empowerment channeled at liberating the nation itself – Help the youth by investing in their future or areas that would ensure for them a sustainable future.

All around the globe, there are continuous interrelations, interaction and interloping of ideas bothering on science and technology. Governments are creating enabling environments essential to the well-being of researchers and curbing the brain drain in their countries. The interactions are private sector driven, individuals and multinational companies are striving to bridge the North and South disequilibrium in technological advancement thus investing heavily in 21st century scientific research. These companies are doing so because they understand the magnanimity of practicable research to economic development. For these countries, green energy remains a strong point for research, development and funding –  it is an undeniable wonder of this century.

Amidst world’s turmoil, climate change and environmental degradation outcry, solar/clean energy remains the palpable solution. The Director, Solar Energy Research Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Prof. Thomas Meyer, in September 2009, presented the idea that “the sun’s energy could be used to make fuels from water and carbon dioxide for heating, transportation and energy storage”. But where do Africa and particularly, the Giant – Nigeria, fall in all of this? An article I read sometimes ago, establishes that one hardly see high placed implements that are Made-in-Nigeria. And the few you see are expensive, of low quality and lower quantity!  We are a consumption country, we don’t produce amidst our resources.
Personally, I feel this Nigeria Solar Car Challenge is an opportunity to awake, annexed and accelerate our producing capacity and make effort towards been independent technologically with regards to power generation. We need to look beyond the sport, but the depth of research and innovation that would be involved. According to the organizers, the Nigeria solar  car initiative is a challenge designed to champion integration, support and encourage technical and scientific endeavour in the field of engineering. It is an adaptation from the World Solar Challenge and America Solar Challenge with the objective of promoting research in solar-powered cars. The competition has a 20-year history spanning nine races, with the inaugural event taking place in 1987.

The Nigerian version is to involve strictly tertiary institutions in the country, this I feel is the real challenge. Which of our Engineering Departments can develop a home-made petrol/diesel car not to mention solar powered cars? A  solar car that uses  sunshine as fuel. According to experts in the area, it is the photovoltaic cells of the car that would collect and convert  energy from the sun directly into electricity. Thus making the vehicle completely self sufficient. We need to take a more cursory look at our industrial ability as a nation. On two different occasions, Nigeria lost the opportunity to harness the potential of starting home-made cars. In the 70’s, late Professor Ayodele Awojobi of University of Lagos, converted a  regular motor vehicle engine to one that can run in both the forward and backward directions, he called it  Autonov 1 (automobile novelty). Also in 1997, Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu, an Electrical/Electronics engineer, and a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic, Owerri, made a prototypes of his first ever all-African car which he named Z-600. These efforts just like many other innovative ones where throw to the wind by the inconsiderate actions of government. This Solar Challenge, might just be avenue to right many wrongs!

The government of Nigeria needs take a step beyond rhetorics and make achievable the Vision 2020 and truly Transform the country. While the world is researching alternative to crude oil energy, we need measure up through projects like the Nigeria Solar Car Challenge which possibly can help us break the jinx of epileptic black outs. The relevant authorities; the Ministry of Power and Steel, Ministry of Science and Information Technology, National Automotive Council(NAC), Power Holding Company, amongst others must see this as an opportunity to develop the right calibre of minds from our tertiary institutions who can further be trained to liberate us all.

For NAC particularly, it saddens that, almost 20years after its creation, it’s motive of creation by  Act 84 of 25 August 1993,” to ensure the survival, growth and development of the Nigerian automotive industry using local human and material”, has remain elusive. With 123 private and public universities, over 48 polytechnics, it would be a shame if a sizable number are nit sponsored to participate in the competition and develop their research arsenal.  With the technical partnership that would be offered to participating schools by the parent body of the competition – America Solar Challenge, this project might just be missing link to reach the geniuses in our ivory towers.

In a conference in 2004 tagged, ” Science, Technology and Innovation for the 21st Century” , Mr. Peter McGauran, Minister for Science of Australia, chairing the meeting of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy at Ministerial Level, said this and I concur. ” A well-functioning interface between the innovation and science systems is more necessary than ever to reap the economic and social benefits from public and private investments in research, ensure the vitality and quality of the science system, and improve public understanding and acceptance of science and technology and the importance of innovation”. Also in 2011, the International Energy Agency said that “the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating climate change, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise”.

In Spain, there is a 19.9 MW Gemasolar solar plant that features 15 hours of storage and can supply power 24 hours a day. Who says Nigeria can’t do better? The America Solar Challenge is sponsored by CAT, The MathWorks, Concurent Design Inc(Solar Engineering Company), Cockrell School of Engineering(University of Texas), Circuit of The Americas! Can Somebody/ companies( particularly telecommunications), sponsor the Nigeria Solar Car Challenge please?

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