Driving desirable ‘change’ in power sector

powerELECTRICITY, globally, is to national development what blood is to the human body. It is a major stimulant and the bed-rock for enhanced productive capacity; indispensable to our daily living.

Unfortunately, challenges in this critical sector appear to have defied all logical solutions in the Nigerian context. The readily available excuse was the long neglect of the sector by successive military juntas in terms of developmental expenditure and maintenance in budgetary allocations. Today, one and half decades into democratic rule, the story remains the same. Government expenditure in the sector has not been encouraging, with just about 10 billion dollars, out of which eight billion dollars came from the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP).

That means direct government expenditure in the troubled power sector in all of these years is just two billion dollars despite the huge amount of money at the disposal of the Nigerian government. Nigeria has only earned herself less power availability, massive job loss and spiraling unemployment, loss in public collaterals to private entities and massive de-industrialisation.

Twenty-five years ago, Nigeria’s power generating capacity was about 6,000 megawatts. How we got to this sorry state? The answer is infrastructural decay, sheer negligence and corruption.

We need to borrow from the experience of countries that are similar in terms of population, level of development and natural resource endowment. India, for example, generates as much as 950,000 megawatts for a population of 1.2 billion people. That’s about 850 kilowatts per person. South Africa currently generates 40,000 megawatts, with additional 11,000 megawatts to come on stream for a population of about 50 million people. That comes to 900 kilowatts for each person. In Nigeria, we have 3,000 megawatts and sometimes less for the consumption of 180 million people.

Comparatively, this goes to one kilowatt for 45 people. What this implies is that the average power available to a single individual in other countries is what 45 Nigerians share. If this was food, the meal available to one person elsewhere is what 45 people will share in Nigeria. Obviously, these 45 people will become emaciated and probably die of hunger. This is exactly what is happening to our industries and which also impacts on our unemployment rate.

Nigeria is highly deficient in technology. The old hydro-power stations were constructed in the 70s by foreign engineers. Presently, the gas driven thermal IPPs are based on foreign technologies like those of China and Germany. Our transmission technology too is foreign. Only recently has the Nigerian government developed the necessary partnership for training power sector engineers and manpower.

The most reliable component of our power generation mix today is hydro due largely to the natural resources of the Niger River and other rivers. This has afforded us the development of backbone generating infrastructure such as Kanji and Shiroro Dams. Unfortunately, this model of power generation is not scalable and has long gestation period, unsuitable for the Nigerian situation, which has become urgent. The other model which is the Thermal generating type, infinitely scalable and of relatively low gestation would have been the ultimate solution, considering our comparative advantage in the sourcing of gas for such plants. Nigeria is endowed with expansive deposit of hydro-carbons such as natural gas and coal.

The challenges which have stunted the success rate are systemic in terms of corruption and the economics surrounding the procurement and stable delivery of input raw materials such as gas. Nigeria is one of the top 10 gas producers in the world. Yet, natural gas is not under the control of the power sector. There are three conflicting interests contesting for the use of Nigerian gas: the international market, the domestic market and the energy sector. Here lies the problem.

Because the Nigerian gas production sector is firmly under the control of the multi-national oil companies, their focus is to satisfy the international market. The Nigerian regulator, the NNPC, appears not to have been empowered with the right political will to assert its full influence in securing adequate supply of gas for the energy sector.

The supply chain of gas has been subjected to high levels of corruption by the cabals operating Nigeria’s oil sector. The choice facing us as a nation is to confront the corruption system head-on or procure our gas at open market rate and seek other less competitive fuel for our thermal stations such as coal. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and other local content bill will form useful tools in addressing the issue of corruption in the power sector as well. Government should also encourage companies to produce gas solely for domestic use in the energy sector. The other option is to explore modern renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines, solar energy and bio-fuel.

Rather than see the power sector challenges in a negative light, we should begin to unwrap the opportunities presented to this current and future generations. Nigeria has the largest power plants in Africa. If the potentials of the power plants are adequately harnessed, there will be a tremendous improvement in power generation. We must develop world class models for the transport and entire value chains for energy delivery, develop engineering technology and human resource locally as well as research into modern and futuristic energy storage and accumulator systems. Nigeria’s Ivory Towers, especially the universities of technology, should syndicate locally applicable solutions, especially in the field of renewable energy such as gas, wind and bio-fuel.

These measures, apart from resolving the age-long power sector challenges, will also boost employment and productivity as well as help in rejuvenating and diversifying the Nigerian economy.

• Aibangbe is a media and energy consultant.

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5 Comments
  • Tackling the Electricity Problem in
    Nigeria

    There
    is no doubt that one day, the stage will be reached (if not already so), when
    Nigeria will realise that the
    celebration of mediocrity is inconsistent with positive development in the
    electricity sector. At that time, the infernally avaricious cartels and demons who
    are holding the country back from seeing the “Light” will be joining
    the rest of us in solving this intractable problem. All hands will be on deck!
    Even then, it will take a few years of working in the right direction before
    the goal of uninterrupted power supplies can be reached. I speak now as a qualified
    professional in the field of Power Systems.

    So
    much has been said about plausible solutions to the avalanche of problems
    bedevilling the electricity sector that it will be incorrect to say that the
    government is short of ideas on what is required to tackle the problems. What
    is lacking is the will and resources to do so.

    I
    begin with a one sentence summary of the solution. “Gas must be made available
    to Gas fired Power Stations dotted around the country to generate electricity for
    evacuation via a network of strengthened Transmission and Distribution Assets
    by technically qualified personnel working in the envisioned Electricity Supply
    Industry (ESI)”. Straightaway one can see the dire need for the will to
    tackle the problems intertwined with the harnessing of the resources to do so.
    This means that strategists, economists, project managers and seasoned
    engineers who have verifiable power industry experience will be required to
    charter the course that will lead to a sustainable ESI. Therefore, it is safe
    to prophecy that the surest sign to identify the stage described in the opening
    paragraph will be the unprecedented availability of gas to power stations and
    the gathering of those with thorough knowledge of how electricity systems work
    from within the defunct PHCN and outside of it to lead the way. This will
    include courageous and determined Nigerians who currently work in the ESI in
    developed economies.

    When
    commentators unfamiliar with the requirements of a functional Power System say
    that the management of the Power Sector in developed economies is not
    necessarily by Engineers, caution is required because the truth is that such
    economies for upward of sixty to seventy years of the last century built,
    operated and managed their electrical networks using qualified Engineers. Hence,
    they already had a functional Electrical Power System in place and only in the
    wake of the privatisation of electrical utilities within the last twenty years have
    they made the mistake (my opinion) of employing Accountants, Economists and
    Administrators who by the very nature of their professions are better placed to
    implement the requirements of privatised businesses. What should have be done
    is to develop management capabilities within the industry to ensure Engineers
    in Management can be better placed to balance the economics of regulation with
    the dynamics of an Electrical Power System. This is an Achilles heel faced by
    industrialised nations today as far as the management of their electricity
    systems is concerned. Nigeria can avoid this error. To be sure, a functioning
    ESI is a vastly technical system that will not succeed apart from placing a
    high impetus on the views and contributions of qualified Power System
    Engineers. The so called administrators will forever employ technical consultants
    to explain the finer details of Power Systems to them before they can derive
    successful economic models to regulate or manage the business. This adds
    avoidable costs to the whole business of Electricity Supply and is especially germane
    as Nigeria, effectively, has to build her Power System “from scratch”
    in the daunting face of meagre finances.

    In
    itself, this presents a once in a life time opportunity to develop the Power System
    in a safe and coordinated manner that will meet the challenges of today and
    serve the needs of future generations by leveraging on the experiences from
    other ESIs world over who have surmounted the teething problems that may crop
    up in the development of a vibrant ESI.

    Congruent
    to the resolution of the problems is the availability of adequate technical
    capacity within the ESI. This is grossly inadequate today. Significant focus
    must be placed on the training of existing and would-be Engineers, artisans,
    technicians, craftsmen and other key personnel that will physically deliver the
    infrastructural development programme required by the ESI.

    There
    is no problem of national embarrassment that reflects the depth of decline in
    the Nigerian education system than the electricity quandary we have found
    ourselves.

    Idowu
    Oyebanjo is a Chartered Power System Engineer

    • Jacob Ajayi

      I am sure Mr. Idowu Oyebanjo knows that there are technical and business sides of power engineering. Engineers deal with the technical side of power systems while economics, accountants and statisticians deal with the business of managing a power engineering plant. Everything from supply and demand of power, routing of evacuation of power and optimization of power utilization are all what accountants and economists do. With my professional Accounting background as a chief executive of a hydropower consulting group, I find myself utilizing all the Management Sciences topics in my daily evaluation of what my power engineers design, build and operate and I am able to utilize my operations research topics in optimizing the economics of power generation and distribution. Engineers alone cannot do all that power engineering requires, they need Statisticians, Accountants and Economists. In today’s complex engineering systems all these fields of studies have become engineering in nature as they deal with the application of scientific knowledge be it natural or social sciences.

  • ch

    Can Buhari give me the opportunity, I will study, implement and build the world class power structure for Nigeria. The best in the world with a backup. I will sanitise the power sector that it will be one of the best jobs anyone will ever work. All the states in Nigeria will benefit with every house hold or streets with unseen cables that will run from the power point to homes.This will be half achieved before 4 years of Buhari’s tenure and he will be elected again so I will finish the task.

  • Jacob Ajayi

    I thought Dan Aibangbe did an excellent job in bringing the status of electric power problem down to the basics in this good write up. Showing how emaciated Nigerians are in terms of electric power per capita cannot be better described. Those hydropower plants that Dan described as “old” are really not that old as maintenance is the panacea of any power plant.
    In United States and other parts of the world, we have hydropower plants that were built in 1896 and 1897 which are still operating as I write. Mechanicsville hydropower plant which is one of the oldest continuously operating plant was completed in 1897 which is almost 120 years old! Normally, a hydropower plant can last forever if all the maintenance are done as and when due. This writing by Dan is a must-read for all Nigerians as I think it will help us understand the power problem we face!

  • Adetola Danmola

    Great write up but it took you till the end to state the fact. Nigeria’s main problem it lack of productivity in all sectors, especially at public sector. Encourage productivity everywhere and control vested interest groups. R&D should be promoted starting from MOD to be funneled into the private sector. Nigeria is still young but we need to put these minds into great use.

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