Promoting renewables in Nigeria for sustainable development

Wind power in Nigeria: Katsina Wind Farm 98 Per Cent Completed
Wind power in Nigeria: Katsina Wind Farm 98 Per Cent Completed

By Ugonma Cokey

Some Nigerian comedians discussing the country’s power situation in a radio programme had said that God would hate the power distribution and transmitting companies who do not know the value of light because according to them God knew the importance of light, the reason it was the first thing he created was light.

While this was meant to be a joke, it was to show how important electricity is to citizens rich and poor, young and old. The barber, fashion designer, cobbler, hair dresser, hospitals, schools, pepper and tomatoes grinder as well as big industry owners all need electricity for their business to grow and to stay alive, but this has not been the case because of the energy poverty caused by the country’s over dependence on Petroleum which has become a curse rather than a blessing.

Oil producing regions have become rife with civil conflict and environmental devastation which has been compounded by gas flares which has burnt for decades, and led to waste of valuable natural resources with Nigeria becoming the largest greenhouse gas emitter in Africa.

Nigeria is a strong member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporters and the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world which presupposes that it puts her in the vantage position to effectively provide uninterrupted power supply to her citizens. This is unfortunately not the case as out of its more than 160 million population only about 10% of rural dwellers and about 40% of urban dwellers have access to electricity which is irregular and erratic resulting is slow economic growth.

This of course is a far cry from Nigeria’s projected power requirements, a situation which affected the country’s achievement of its vision 20-20-20 and realization of the Millennium Development Goals and other developments in the country and blamed on so many reasons including financial, structural and socio-political.

The situation has put so many people out of business and taken away their means of livelihood. Some companies have closed up and relocated to neighbouring countries to do business, the lack of power and cost of diesel and fuel has impacted production by so many local companies and affected the manufacturing sector of the economy, making Nigeria a consumer nation.

In spite of the amount of money that has been injected into the power sector by successive governments since 1999, and over $10 Billion annual revenue in oil exports, Nigeria’s power sector is still in a deplorable state. A report says that approximately 60 % of the nation do not receive adequate amount of power supply, a far cry from projected power requirement and supply.

Every village in Nigeria has either petrol or diesel generator, kerosene lanterns and oil wicks resulting in pollutions this is apart from the increasing cost of fossil fuels and its negative environmental impact underscoring the need to pursue other sources of supply.

Recently, the nation experienced a drastic reduction in power supply with the generation standing at 2.243.20 mw. This culminated in systems collapse at the end of the month which led to ground Zero with all the Discos receiving zero allocation from the Transmitting Company of Nigeria, the system operator.

On the 9th and 10th of March, electricity generation plummeted to an all-time low of 1,500 megawatts, thus underscoring the volatility of the energy sector.

Also, at the opening ceremony of a two-day summit of the National Economic Council, NEC, in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 21, 2016, the President, Muhammadu Buhari identified low supply of gas to power plants due to vandalism, obsolete power distribution equipment, Power fluctuations and low voltage; as some of the problems needing urgent solution and pledged that his administration would add 2,000 megawatts before the end of this year.

At a town hall meeting in April, the Minister of Power, Babatunde Fashola admitted that 5000 MW for more than 170 million people was inadequate and explained that the government would complete some ongoing power projects and take steps to boost generation.

The futile nature of fossil fuel energy as well as the increasing problem of greenhouse emission, which is believed to significantly contribute to global warming more than ever before, reinforces the need for the adoption of renewable energy as an alternative power source. It was probably in realisation of these obvious facts that the Federal Government in 1979 established the Energy Commission of Nigeria.

Alternative energy sources

Since the power sector has been in a deplorable state for quite a while, there is therefore need for Nigeria to take advantage of scientific breakthroughs in alternative energy mix by encouraging renewable energy.

Renewable energy is generally defined as energy that is collected from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat, and fortunately Nigeria has a comparative advantage in raw materials for renewable energy.

Nigeria’s comparative advantage

Unlike the conventional energy of oil, coal and gas experts believe that renewable energy like solar, wind  etc are inexhaustible given that they exist in cyclical form. The Director General of the ECN, Professor Abubakar Sambo, who spoke recently, said that one percent of Nigeria’s land mass could be utilised for the generation of over 600, 000 megawatts of electricity using solar energy. Nigeria currently generates less than 6, 000 megawatts using fuel products.

According to him, Nigeria could generate about 600, 000 megawatts of electricity by deploying solar photovoltaic panels of only five per cent efficiency from just one per cent of her land mass. But he however noted that the high efficiency in electricity power generation using solar energy, cost of the solar modules was very high. He also disclosed this system has another benefit in view of the fact that the lifespan of the solar panel could be as long as 25 years.

It is based on these facts that the Nigerian government in 2003 approved renewable energy as part of its national energy policy and declared its goal to attain 7% renewable energy usage by 2025.

Following the energy policy, a renewable energy master plan was formulated in 2006, with an understanding for achieving sustainable development, and a gradual move from a monolithic fossil-fuel economy to one driven by an increasing share of renewable energy in the national energy mix.

The master plan also stressed the need for exploiting renewable energy in quantities and at prices that will promote the achievement of equitable and sustainable growth.

Nigeria has the capacity to lead the market in renewable energy in Africa. But to do this, it has to take its attention off dirty, costly and polluting energy -fossil fuel to clean cheap and inexhaustible natural energy.

Engr Bahijja Hadiza Abubakar, National Coordinator of the Renewable Energy programme of the Federal Ministry of Environment had said that “From a global point of view, Nigeria is a signatory to Kyoto, that’s number one. Nigeria was also a founding member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Nigeria is the most populous black nation. Nigeria is the biggest African country, and Nigeria has a beautiful flag that is green – white, and green – so we have a double responsibility to going green!”

Way forward
Nigeria needs to put its act together, to create a robust incentive such as a guaranteed market for renewable energy supplies for entrepreneurs to make it commercially viable, source for partners that see Nigeria as a good investment destination and a feed-in- tariff that is enough to allow for operators to recover costs over a period of time.

The Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission NERC and the Ministry of Environment will have to wake up to their responsibilities. Projects like the solar plant in Katsina should be seriously pursued and utilized to not only generate electricity but engender investments such as a guaranteed renewable energy supplies,

The Nigerian government should access the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) allocated to Nigeria to fund renewable projects, to ensure the promotion of private and public sector-led renewable energy and energy efficiency projects and mass-transit urban transport investments; Now is the best time for collaboration between Government, private, financial and the civil sector to bring about a clean, stable, and renewable energy sector with a view to ensuring profitably and sustainability.

And with the Climate Change bill which passed second reading during Tuesday’s plenary session hope is high for the development of renewable in Nigeria. Senator Isah Misau the sponsor of the bill had said while sponsoring the bill, that what Nigeria “’needs to take very seriously is the need to utilise the opportunity of renewable energy. No matter what we say here and what we do, the point is that we must take the issue of renewable energy very seriously.”

I am optimistic that with broad stakeholders input on this bill, government’s realisation that it can no longer depend on only oil, and electricity supply which is to date inadequate, and the Nigerian President’s promise to do things differently, emphasis on renewable energy will be considered a matter of urgency by this administration.

Moreso because taking renewable energy seriously would mean poverty reduction, reduction in hunger, better health, better job and economic growth, improved climate, improved production and consumption patterns, safe human settlements, better and new innovations, affordable and reliable and clean energy etc. Since energy is linked to all the sustainable goals a clean energy use would translate to a faster way to achieving sustainable development goals.

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