The Minister of Science
and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, recently reinstated the need for Nigeria to diversify its source of energy needs before meaningful industrialization can be realised. Onu, who said this while opening a two-day national technical validation workshop on “Sustainable Energy for All Action Plan” in Abuja, stated that it had become urgent for the nation to diversify its sources of energy so that if one source had a problem, the other could make up for it.
He explained why the nation could neither rely on gas nor hydro-energy, pointing out that “the geographical location of Nigeria in the tropics gives us great advantage in utilizing solar energy and also wind energy. We will also look at other renewable sources of energy.”
While noting that virtually all the developed and emerging countries, including the United States of America, China, Germany and Russia, rely heavily on coal for electricity generation, Onu charged the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN) and other research institutes within the ministry to conduct research to see how coal fire plant can be made more friendly to the environment.
Indeed, there is the need for a paradigm shift in technology in tackling the challenges affecting all sectors of Nigeria’s economy, especially the power or energy sector. The shift has become more compelling with the dwindling resources and increasing need for social amenities and provision of infrastructure for sustainable development.
The country since its existence decades ago, has not lived up to its appellation as the giant of Africa and one of the world’s acclaimed largest economies. A new approach will help the country to meet the needs of the people. The challenge of governance is basically meeting the needs of the people, which is dynamic. The challenges of today are different from those that were faced decades ago. Today, Nigeria with a population of over 160 million, no doubt, comes with peculiar challenges that affect all sectors of the country’s economy. The tradition of excellence in governance means evolving new ideas and the application of new strategies to solve new and evolving challenges for efficiency.
The present administration must gear efforts towards meeting the energy demands and expectations of the people. This can be done by re-examining the existing technology to suit the economy and think ahead on what should be considered when planning. There is the urgent need to proffer solutions to resolve the challenges affecting the attainment of excellent power supply. The main objective of the Federal Ministries of Science and Technology, Power and Energy and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), including the DISCOs, should be to deliberate on issues and challenges bothering on the implications of energy and power gridlock.
The problem of low generation of power supply and sometimes disconnection from the national grid across the country has adversely affected economic activities, including collapse of many industries. In fact, the worsening state of the countries’ power sector calls for urgent diversification of energy source. Several efforts have been made by Federal and State governments, including oil producing states to improve electricity supply in this country, but nothing tangible has come out.
Besides corruption, lack of power supply has plunged the country into further hardship. Nigerians had thought that with the Power Reform Act and the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), they would begin to see a relief with regard to power supply but unfortunately it is not so. It is high time the Federal Government took a critical look at the activities of the DISCOS and what is preventing Nigerians from benefiting from the unbundling of the PHCN.
It would be recalled that the Senate late last year set up an ad hoc committee headed by Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC Borno North) to take a look at irregularities in the power sector. The committee was mandated to carry out a holistic investigation into the management of funds appropriated to the power sector since 1999 and the unbundling of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN). The committee was given four weeks within which to conclude and submit its report. The TCN has for a long time proved its inability to provide continuous and uninterrupted power supply to every part of the country, just as the private DISCOs are a bundle of disappointment to Nigerians.
Based on this backdrop, it is pertinent that a new approach should be adopted as prescribed by the science and technology minister. The suggestion is apt in view of the hardship which lack of power supply has caused Nigerians. The problem of power in Nigeria was on before 1999 and it is surprising that up till today, the power sector is still grappling with insufficient supply.
Throughout the seventies, industrialized countries lived with a dual threat hanging on them. There was reduction of raw materials and energy dependence on the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel. In 1973 in particular, it was reckoned that world oil reserves were to start running out in a little over twenty years. Consequently, and in view of the sharp increase forecast in the relative oil prices, a substantial boost was declared in that decade to the development of energy sources which were alternative to hydrocarbons, preferably renewable and indigenous, and which could help to reduce dependence on other sources. Now it seems certain that there are plenty of hydrocarbons available and industrialized countries have access to cheap energy resources, so much so that many believe that energy availability is no longer a problem, apart from critical situations that may arise due to financial difficulties and market mechanisms.
However, there is fear of shortage of energy sources which is giving way to concern about the growing environmental impact of human activities, in which the production and the use of energy play a major part. This shortage is a result of emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly Co2.
In 1991, Nigeria was signatory to the Rio Conference which agreed to a convention on climate change (effective from March 1994), which obliges each signatory to stabilize its greenhouse gas emissions by 2000 and reduce them in the years that follow. Since then, as a result, action has been concentrated on the energy sector which produces 60-70 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions, especially on improving efficiency and substituting fossil fuels. The need to promote renewable energy sources, therefore, has become very topical now.
So, Nigeria needs to take advantage of the trend since its industrial development has suffered a setback due to low power density, particularly now that the price of oil has become competitive in the extreme. It is recommended that the country shifts to photovoltaics (PV), an energy with zero pollution that enables solar radiation to be converted directly into electricity. The energy has no form of pollution, not even noise and there are no moving parts. This is a unique situation as far as renewable energy sources are concerned. The extremely flexible modular nature of Photovoltaic systems enables the energy to be exploited on a wide-scale, producing locally all the energy required and thus making it possible, at least in principle, to ease the economic, logistic and environmental problems connected both with the transport of fuels and with the transmission and distribution of the energy produced. The use of PV implies the direct involvement of the final users, encouraging local control of the resources and their environmental impact.
Although PV technology is not competitive in economic terms, the cost per Kwh is higher than that of conventional sources, in the case of power plants connected to the general network. Photovoltaics carries the most prestige in terms of renewable energy sources with technology on a par with the best information technology. Since 1977, the cost of PV modules has gone down and the efficiency of individual cells has also increased substantially with improved overall performance. The costs of using photovoltaics are competitive for specific applications in isolated places, including for example, telecommunications, cathodic protection, professional signaling systems, data receiving and transmission stations and, in more general terms, supplies to individual users in remote areas for electricity supply, water pumping, refrigeration, and so on.
Moving into this system will greatly support or help the electricity networks of the country and enhance power supply and industrial growth. The application of the PV in Europe has provided a wide-scale power generation and it is also used by Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy etc. The advantages of renewable energy sources are numerous and they help in meeting the people’s total energy demand and reduce Co2 emissions. The demographic growth of Nigeria calls for an adequate response in terms of energy in order to meet the development requirements, especially now that the country is in need of increased social and economic progress to quell the growing state of unrest. So, as far as the energy problem is concerned, the solution lies in the possibility for Nigeria to have access to wide range of modern energy sources, as well as to the relevant management technologies, so that it can exploit locally, independently and correctly the available resources which are available.