Chineme Okafor writes that the sabotage of critical oil and gas infrastructure by militants is compelling reason for the federal government to accelerate policies to diversify Nigeria’s electricity generation sources to ensure energy security
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola recently declared that the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta was taking a great toll on the country’s electricity system, and that Nigeria’s economy was being made to pay for this acts.
Describing it as an unwholesome act, the minister in a disappointing voice, which sounded quite overwhelmed by the development, stated that the government was being forced to think fast on expanding the country’s sources of electricity.
“Repeated acts of vandalism have rendered us vulnerable and we have to proactively move to overcome that one single source of supply,” he said.
He explained that developing new and existing sources other than gas could take time but would eventually pay off and guarantee security of energy for her.
“We have seen from events that started around February 14 this year, repeated acts of vandalism of our gas pipelines that render us clearly vulnerable to one source of fuel for our energy development.
“That has challenged us to develop options and alternatives like solar in particular, and of course, hydro power plants in more quantitative response. So, we will be accelerating work on projects like Gurara Hydro Power Plant – phases 1 and 2, work has started on Zungeru Hydro Power Plant.
“We will also be accelerating work on Mambila Power Plant, which will give us the biggest single electrification source over a period of seven years that it is estimated to have it concluded.
“So, for us, this is a journey of diversification, a journey of electricity security for Nigeria and it is a journey that will ensure that in future it will be impossible to hold this country to ransom by controlling any particular source of fuel for electricity” he stated.
He noted when he launched the Building Energy Efficiency Guideline (BEEG) for Nigeria, that sustained sabotage of the country’s petroleum pipeline in the Niger Delta by militant groups has rendered the country’s public electricity supply system extremely vulnerable.
“I have always asked myself, why should I damage an asset that serves me because I am angry? It is a matter of public ownership and collective trust that anyone who tampers with it tampers with all of us and so no matter how angry you are, you must find another way to ventilate your anger, otherwise, it just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said in reference to the breaks.
According to the minister, because of such frequency in breakage of pipelines that feed gas to thermal power stations that produce more than 70 per cent of the country’s electricity, the federal government would be stepping up works on alternative supply sources like hydro, biomass, solar and wind.
He noted this effort would be more on accelerating works on several hydro power projects that have been on the drawing board, as well as other energy sources with the potential to minimise the impact that such cuts in gas supply exert on the country’s electricity sector.
He however did not rule out the fact that gas was about the most efficient energy source for Nigeria, but reiterated that unless new energy sources are brought to the grid, militants and other criminal elements could continue to hold the country at ransom with frequent pipeline breaks.
The minister stated that in line with such plans to ensure energy security, Nigeria would soon concession about eight small hydro power plants to private operators to build and operate.
Expectedly, power generated from these SHPs may have to be domiciled in cluster zones around them, thus sidestepping high transmission and distribution losses, which are prevalent in the country’s electricity system.
He equally disclosed that works on other bigger hydro plants like the Zungeru, Kashimbila and Mambila would be accelerated.
For Zungeru, he said work had resumed on it after issues related to its unplanned interruption was settled.
Mambila, he said could take up to seven years to come on stream if work begins on it soon, it however stands to give the country up to 3050 megawatts (MW) of electricity.
As at today, Nigeria has an installed electricity capacity of 13,308MW but only about 3,000MW to 4,500MW of power is generated and transmitted to its homes and industries which suffer the impacts of the shortage.
Due more to unavailability of gas to power turbines; pipeline breakdowns as it is today; water shortages in hydro dams up north; as well as systemic grid constraints from poor funding of transmission projects, the recent decision by the government to privatise the power sector has been questioned by its citizens.
A 2015 report by the Nigeria Energy Support Programme (NESP) indicated that altogether, up to 2700MW of power generation capabilities are regularly lost to gas constraints, as well as another 500MW to poor water management.
The NESP report also stated that several hundred megawatts of electricity are regularly lost due to line constraints.
As a support programme for the sector and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and funded by the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the NESP noted that there are opportunities the government should explore in on-grid renewable energy, energy efficiency and off-grid rural electrification to upgrade the country’s capacity.
Less talk, more action needed
Already, Fashola has admitted that the government’s talk about expanding Nigeria’s electricity sources would need more work than talk. This in essence suggests he understands what it would require to achieve the goal.
As it stands, experts who spoke with THISDAY on this subject stated that the government’s plan can only be taken serious when it matches it with tenable acts.
They said for example that the Renewable Energy Master Plan (REMP) which was in 2005 drafted by the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and reviewed in 2012 has not been articulated by the government as a potential tool for upgrading the immense contribution of the renewables to the country’s energy mix.
Although, the REMP was in May 2015 thought to have been replaced by the National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy (NREEEP) which was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
According to them the REMP document spells out in clear terms, Nigeria’s vision and strategies for increasing the role of renewable energy in the mix.
Specifically, the NESP report stated that the REMP does not precisely differentiate between on-grid and off-grid generation, but refers to integrating renewable energy into buildings, electricity grids and other distribution systems.
Industry experts state that government can begin by adopting the REMP which targets higher electrification rates, from 42 per cent in 2005 to 60 per cent in 2015 and 75 per cent by 2025.
The NESP report noted for example that the REMP has still not been signed off by the government or formulated into a law to govern renewable energy development in the country.
It added that once that happens, investors will have a clear path for drawing on the various financial incentives envisaged for renewable energy to grow its contribution to Nigeria’s power.
Because Fashola has also harped on the quantity of power that could come from solar if effectively deployed, experts think that he should take a deeper look at the REMP which laid out in details what the country can get from solar at every periods of the year.
They posited that for the government’s electricity diversification plan to work out well, it has to devise a structured support mechanism, which on one hand, creates an attractive investment climate for independent power producers, and on the other hand, ensures a prudent use of government funds in renewable energy projects.
The NESP report indicated in this regard that a competitive procurement system for utility-scale and a feed-in tariff for small-scale renewable energy seem to be the best approach in line with the current market order.
It also explained that the rural electrification sector was still awaiting government’s approval of the Rural Electrification Strategy and Plan.
The report further added that the operationalisation of the Rural Electrification Fund was as important as a coherent planning and regulatory framework needed to promote investments and streamline the actions of federal, state and private actors towards a mass roll-out of electrification projects to guarantee the country the kind of energy security it desires.