THE DARKNESS CONUNDRUM!
Electricity providers in Nigeria have changed name several times with phenomenal advancement in the order of darkness! From the state owned Electricity Commission of Nigeria, ECN to the National Electric Power Authority, NEPA and the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, it is always, “UP NEPA”. The state owned company has been unbundled and privatized with interrupted darkness and fraudulent billing unchecked! A National Electricity Regulation Commission, NERC was created to regulate the activities of these companies and act as an interface between them and the consumers, regulation is yet to relieve Nigerians. The immediate past power minister recently stated that consumers get only 50% of generated power. The present government, according to the Vice-President, is making inroads into nuclear and renewable power supply. Electricity generated currently stands at 4,884MW. The problem is big business to some and fighting it attracts reprisals. The way forward, an abridged paper originally delivered by Professor Abubakar Sambo who is the Chairman of the Nigerian National Committee of the World Energy Council on Oct 20, 2015 is here, served.
At the time of the inauguration of Nigeria’s current President, the available electrical power in Nigeria was about 2,500MW but in less than six months, it almost doubled. The Ministry of Power attributed this to enhanced supply of gas to the nation’s newly constructed gas power plants. Electricity supply of 5,000MW is grossly inadequate for over 170 million Nigerians. Even though access to electricity is available to about 55% of the people, load-shedding or rationing of electricity is widely practiced all over the country. Much more than 5,000MW of electricity is required for the socio-economic growth of the nation. Energy planning experts using modern energy modeling tools estimate that, for the Nigerian economy to grow at a rate of 10%, the country’s electricity requirement by 2020 will be of the order of 30,000MW.
The energy mix for electricity supply will need to be broadened from the current two of Hydro and Gas sources to seven of Hydro, Gas, Solar, Wind, Biomass/Biofuel, Coal and Nuclear. Additionally, there will be a requirement for the strengthening and expansion of the national grid along with improvement of distribution systems as well as promoting the development of fuels for gas, coal and nuclear power plants. There is also the need to update both the National Energy Policy and the National Energy Masterplan and pass them into law. The new power plants can be built on the basis of public-private partnerships. The government will then divest its involvement after some years in line with the current policy of getting the private sector to generate and distribute. Many advanced countries along with the International Renewable Energy Agency and the Energy Commission of Nigeria will guide the development of the large scale renewable energy-based power plants. The Ministry of Mines and Steel development would guide the development of clean coal power plants while the International Atomic Energy Agency would guide the development of the nuclear power plants. Projects of the embedded generator types should be vigorously promoted at distribution networks to close the gap in local demand and supply by inviting investors, state governments inclusive, to be part of pre-packaged pilot projects in all the distribution companies.
The national grid is weak and cannot manage more than 7,000MW, on completion of the ongoing National Independent Power Projects (NIPP) for distribution to consumers. There is urgent need for the grid to be regionalized and privatized to enable the new owners strengthen and expand the grids in line with the dictates of their respective zones. A large part of the existing transmission system is old, unstable and unreliable which results in frequent customer outages at the transmission level. Government should facilitate and encourage the private sector to significantly improve the transmission capacity to deliver power to end users. On distribution, the Federal Government, in line with the electricity power sector reform act 2005, should maximize access to electricity by consumers. The target should be to ensure that there is a distribution mains supply within a distance of 1Km to any consumer cluster in Nigeria. Expansion of the energy mix for new power plants will require new gas fields as well as the development of both open cast and underground coal mines. The sustainable way of doing this is to entice the organized private sector through pragmatic policies and legislations. This will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs as well as promote inter-ministerial cooperation between the ministers of Agriculture, Petroleum Resources, Power and Steel Development.
It is possible to simultaneously achieve the generation and transmission of a minimum of 8,000MW within 18 months from the date of constituting the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of Ministers because the combined capacity of the old and new power plants is 8,000MW if sustained. This is apart from other energy sources that could deliver another 8,000MW within 36 months of take-off of the FEC. This, is however dependent on understanding the internal workings of the power sector as well as working to ensure that the existing infrastructure of the power plants operate at optimal level. Ensuring regular supply of gas from oil companies, securing the pipelines, construction of new gas pipelines, cost effective tariff, provision of meters, upgrading single circuit transmitters to double as well as rehabilitation and expansion of distribution networks are all realistic measures of putting the conundrum under light!