Constant Electricity in Nigeria, a Mirage for Now

Muhammadu Buhari

Christopher Ikadeh

It is worrisome that in 2019, Nigeria, a country of about two hundred million people, generates a measly 3000 MW despite enormous resources that have been committed to the power sector. What makes it more hideously abominable is the downward trend in the generating capacity despite increased government spending over the last forty years.

Nigeria’s energy capacity is inadequate. As a result, cost of business is cosmically high. Unplanned downtime costs businesses significant losses that affect their bottom line. Added to that is the overhead cost of diesel to run generators. While impact of electricity shortage on big businesses might be quantified monetarily, it’s effect on small and medium scale business is that of survival. The overall effect of low energy production impacts standard of living, a parameter for estimating Human Development Index (HDI). Little wonders why Nigeria right now positions 159 out of 189 nations in HDI.

According to CIA estimates, Nigeria’s average power per capita, which is the energy per person, stands at 14. This value is a far cry from South Africa’s 445, Morocco’s 495, and Egypt’s 171.

In comparison, Brazil, with a population of 209 million generates 150,000MW, Indonesia’s installed capacity as of 2018 stood at 62,589MW. South Africa, a sub-Saharan African country with a population of 52million produces 32,000MW with an anticipated increase of 9,600MW after Kusile and Medupi Power Stations are commissioned.

As dreadfully miserable as the indicators look, the elephant in the room is the refusal of successive regimes to give the problem the attention it deserves; instead, we have witnessed more of buck-passing than responsibility, rhetoric than action, political grandstanding than a commitment to solving the perennial darkness which lamentably has become the bane of our development.

In 1999, following the collapse of the military regime and the handover to a democratically elected government, Chief Bola Ige was appointed as the Minister of Power and Steel. Hopes were rekindled. Bola Ige, who had come from the political bloodline of the sage, Obafemi Awolowo had an outstanding career as a lawyer and a governor of the old Oyo state. In his maiden speech as the Minister of Power and Steel, Bola Ige affirmed that steady power would be accomplished in a half year and his name would be written in gold. Though assessing his performance on the state of the power sector as at the time he was moved to Justice Ministry would be unfair to his public life, he, unfortunately, has joined the ever-growing list of failed ministers of power and steel.

Barth Nnaji, the Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering who founded the Automation and Robotic Laboratory in Massachusetts Institute of Technology took over the mantle at the power ministry. Leading to his appointment, pundits believed the ideal man would be one who combined technical expertise and administrative acuity, so when it was time for President Goodluck Jonathan to shop for a Minister of Power and Steel, little wonder the lot fell on Prof. Nnaji. However, what followed was another 2 years of promises, brandishing of numbers, and shenanigans that culminated in the resignation of Prof Barth Nnaji. Another dashed hope.

With the change mantra rending the air following the 2015 general elections, Babatunde Fashola, a former governor of Nigeria’s wealthiest state, was appointed to man the power ministry.

Before the government of President Buhari came on board, Fashola had taken a swipe at the incumbent administration of President Goodluck Jonathan with the now infamous proclamation that a serious government would fix the power problem in six months. Unknown to himself and the public, he was Inadvertently setting a yardstick that would come to hunt his performance; for it is now four years, not six months since he assumed responsibilities at the power ministry, power supply is still more epileptic and the industry still comatose with the delivery of paltry 3000MW.

From power generation to retailing, Nigeria’s power industry is in crisis. Existing infrastructure is degenerating, and there is no overarching energy policy to tackle the problem headlong.

What aggravates the situation is the fact that the big Megawatt stations are nearing the end of their economic lives. Theoretically, the shelf life of a power station is about forty years. What does that portend? Aging power stations are plagued with high cost of maintenance due to frequent outage management, reduced output performance, unreliability, and sometimes the risk of safety.

What then is the solution? An approach that focuses on increasing the capacity on the grid, not through the palliative measures of optimizing existing stations but by the addition of more megawatt. Does it sound commonplace? Well, unfortunately, that is the only solution. A government that promises 200 million people a constant power supply with an installed power of 14,000MW and operating capacity of 3000MW is dealing in mischievous deceit. Their efforts, even if genuine, would be one in futility that would further drain taxpayers’ resources.

At the very minimum, Nigeria needs two power stations that would output 10, 000MW on completion. What energy source would balance the tripod variables of standard safety, high generating capacity, and low emission rates? Nuclear power stations are off the table due to the unavailability of Uranium and the non-existent safety culture in Nigeria. Fossil fuel power plants might not get the approval of environmentalists and financiers because of high C02 emission rates. Hydro-electricity appears to be the most viable of the renewal pack because it is cheap, requires low maintenance, and can generate a massive megawatt.
Nigeria has the potential to generate 10,000MW on the river Niger. The approach must be from the construction of power stations must be from the perspective of her size, a realization many nations, even sub-Saharan ones are waking up to. For example, Ethiopia, Renaissance Hydro Dam, will on completion generate 6000MW and Brazil currently produces 14,000MW solely from hydroelectricity. The current piecemeal, two-digit energy production by the Nigerian government will not solve the problem of energy shortage.

Why Nigeria fails to harness and build sustainable wind energy despite having an average wind speed of 6m/s, will continue to leave many experts in the industry a state of wonderment. Brazil and Mexico with an average wind speed of 6.21 m/s and 6.61 m/s generate 14,707MW and 4,935 MW respectively from wind energy. Nigeria can generate an estimated 5,000MW in the short term from the northern states of Borno, Jigawa, Kano where the wind speed is as high as 9m/s.

Analysts argue it is unrealistic for the government to underwrite such multi-billion-dollar capital projects in the face of the global economic crisis and a downward trend in crude oil prices. How then did South African state-owned Eskom finance the twin power stations of Medupi and Kusile which on completion will add 9600MW to the country’s grid? How, amidst global outcry of environmental concerns of high emissions from coal-powered station did the South African government secure the world bank loan that kick-started the projects in 2007?

The United States and other superpowers, which are the major donors to the World Bank had balked at the ideas of funding coal-fired power stations due to its high emission. Despite the disapproval, South Africa was able to convince the Bank solely on the reasons that continued power shortage would have a debilitating effect on the ailing economy. Obi Ezekwesili, the then World Bank President for Africa threw her weight behind this argument. She said, “Without an increased energy supply, South Africans will face hardship for the poor and limited economic growth.”

There are two takeaways in the preceding argument. First, increased energy production is central to any country’s development and a key economic growth driver. The procurement should be top on any government’s agenda. It is not new to approach the world bank for funding of energy projects. The Bank has bankrolled projects in Germany, Indonesia, Poland, Bulgaria, and China. Second, Nigeria can secure the loan if there is a justification that the investment would be on the production of clean energy such as biomass, solar PV, hydro and even gas-fired power plant.

Is Nigeria’s deteriorating economy not enough bargaining chip to advance justification for the loan approval? If in the past, Nigeria had secured loans to build infrastructures whose value did not directly impact the economy, why would it be difficult now that the consideration is on a project that underpins economic growth? Additionally, Nigeria has an abundant gas deposit in the Niger-Delta, high wind speed of more than 7 m/s in northern Nigeria, abundant refuse-derived fuel (solid waste) scattered all over the country especially Lagos, year-round sunny weather that guarantees a reliable and constant solar energy.

A project of this size and complexity needs expertise which may not be available in Nigeria. The government should engage a global leader with a track record in engineering, procurement, construction, and management delivering power stations project on schedule and budget.

Experience shows North American and European-based EPCM companies have the competency, knowledge, and resources to deliver projects of that size, though at a higher cost.
In conclusion, it is a waste of time on the part of the ministry to continue the quick fix approach to energy management, hoping a magic wand would keep the light on. If at the moment, there are no power stations under construction that would add at least 10,000MW to the grid in the next five years, then we are as far from the solution as we were in 2015. Without an overarching plan to drastically increase the power on the grid, Nigerians would continue to experience darkness as they have been for the past 40 years.

There must be a clear-cut blueprint on how to achieve it, and this must be backed up by a concerted effort to consistently ramp up power production. Otherwise, the hope of ever living in a country where power is stable will continue to be a mirage for many Nigerians.

Constant electricity is achievable. It requires vision, accountability, a hefty dose of mental fortitude, and political will to disrupt the energy space. Whoever will get the credit of supplying Nigeria a constant electricity, for him, it will not be business as usual.

To be continued.

Ikadeh, a Project Planner and power stations expert wrote in from Melbourne, Australia