The Need For Alternative Sources Of Power Generation
Following the prediction by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) that Nigerians should expect a reduction in rainfall in 2014, stakeholders in the power generation sector have been burdened with the prediction as it relates electricity generation from hydro power plants.
One would wonder why this prediction of reduced rainfall would affect power generation in the country considering the fact that we are the sixth largest producer of crude oil in the world and a strong member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Nigeria no doubt has all it takes to effectively provide un-interruptible power supply for her citizens. With a population in excess of 150 million people, Nigeria’s current power generation is estimated at less than 5,000 megawatt.
However, despite our huge potentials as a nation, the stark reality on ground shows that a reduced rainfall in 2014 would seriously affect power generation and distribution across the country despite promises of improved power supply. I hate sounding pessimistic but one of the benefits of doing the kind of job I do is the fact that I have to look at the “real” facts on ground and say it without feeling bitter towards it. The crux of the matter at hand is that we are in dire need of alternative sources of power generation if we must realize our true potentials as a nation and the best time to start the process isn’t in 2015 but now.
One might ask what the benefits of privatizing the sector were and what are the functions of the Distribution Companies (DISCOs)? The truth remains the Discos can only distribute what has been generated and our generation level is unbelievably too low to make any meaningful impact. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), revealed in its 2014 seasonal rainfall prediction (SRP) released recently, that there will be less than normal rainfall in many parts of the country this year. The agency said the low rainfall in the northern part of Nigeria will result in low flows, which will affect power production at the Kainji and Jebba hydro power plants, located within the region.
Apart from the low level of rainfalls as predicted by NiMet, early cessation of rainfall in the north will mean the dams in the northern part of the country might experience some difficulties getting enough flow of water for power generation. The less than-normal rainfall predicted in many parts of the country this year, according to the NiMet DG, might be aggravated by the prospects of early cessation of the rains, and the shorter length of the season expected in the North.
The fact that our nation is currently generating less than 5000 megawatt is unarguably a far cry from her projected power requirements that are expected to sustain both the domestic and industrial activities, especially given the country’s projection of becoming a truly industrialised nation. There is a major disconnect between the supply and consumption of power and as a result of this, there is always a shortfall in supply compared to the demand, which is the genesis of the perennial energy crisis in the country. This is probably why many energy experts firmly believe that there is need for the government to pursue other alternative sources of energy in the midst of the prevailing realities.
It is estimated that only about 10 percent of rural dwellers and about 40 percent of urban families have access to electricity. This extreme electricity shortage has been blamed a so many factors including but not limited to financial, structural and socio-political. Over the years successive governments have made efforts to address the energy crisis in which huge sums of tax payers’ money has been committed but all to no avail. Unfortunately, they have concentrated on only two sources of power generation which are hydro and gas. For instance, Nigeria has a total of three hydro plants located in Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro. She also has several thermal installed power plants comprising those of Egbin, Sapele, Okpai, Afam, Delta and Omoku. Others include the Ajaokuta, Geregu, Omotosho and Olorunsogo.
In terms of generating power using gas, the government has through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Joint Venture with some multinational oil companies undertaken several projects designed to utilise gas in power generation. Some of these projects include the Escravos Gas to Liquid Phase three, Trans-Sahara Gas. Pipeline Project, Mobil OSO Condensate Project phase Two, Brass -LNG Project, OK-LNG Project and the West African Gas Pipe Line Project, among others.
These projects have, however, not achieved the set objectives as the nation still grapples with lack of adequate supply of electricity both for domestic and industrial uses. Some African nations, which are not as rich as Nigeria have a long time ago celebrated one year of uninterruptible power supply, a development that had given rise to calls for the harnessing of other sources of energy, especially the solar power. Also, the 1973 oil crisis as well as the economic hiccups faced by the Western World on account of the embargo placed by the Arab World brought about the realisation across the globe for the need for renewable resources such as solar energy, as part of the strategies to meet the increasing demand for energy. It was probably in response to this realisation that the Federal Government put in place the Energy Commission to conduct researches on develop renewable energy technologies and also make its application popular in the country.
While analyzing the recent power challenges in the country, Dr. P.A. Ilenikhena of the department of Physics, University of Benin and Dr. L.I.N Ezemonye of the National Centre for Energy and Environment of the same university on the solar energy application in Nigeria, the duo observed that solar radiation, which is abundant in the country, is one area of focus among the renewable energy resources.
“Researches were carried out and technologies produced for direct harnessing of solar energy in six centres across the country. Some state governments in collaboration with some non-governmental agencies also sponsored solar energy projects in some rural communities that are yet to be connected to the national grid”, the paper noted. They however regretted that the technologies for solar energy application are not yet accepted as household commodities. It is therefore believed that as soon as this form of energy is given an appreciable level of acceptance, it will go a long way in augmenting the use of fossil fuel energy and by so doing improve the living standard of the people.
They also stated that the futile nature of fossil fuel energy as well as the increasing problem of greenhouse emission, which is believed to significantly contribute to global warning, more than ever before reinforces the need for the adoption of solar energy as an alternative power source. It was probably in realisation of these obvious facts that the Federal Government in 1979 established the Energy Commission of Nigeria, which now has a total of six centres spread across the country.
However, solar energy, which has several applications, can be converted into electricity, heat and biomass. They like other experts believe that Nigeria has all it takes to make the use of solar agency popular among the people. Director General of the ECN, Professor Abubakar Sambo, who spoke recently, said that one percent of Nigeria’s land mass could be utilised for the generation of over 600, 000 megawatts of electricity using solar energy. Nigeria currently generates less than 6, 000 megawatts using fuel products.
According to him, Nigeria could generate about 600, 000 megawatts of electricity by deploying solar photovoltaic panels of only five per cent efficiency from just one per cent of her land mass. But he however noted that the high efficiency in electricity power generation using solar energy, cost of the solar modules was very high. He also disclosed this system has another benefit in view of the fact that the lifespan of the solar panel could be as long as 25 years.
In terms of comparing solar energy with other forms of renewable power like wind, most experts believe that these are inexhaustible given that they exist in cyclical form unlike the conventional energy of oil, coal and gas. They have argued that since wind arises as a result of extra-terrestrial solar heating of the air masses in the extra-terrestrial space leading to pressure differences, manifesting in the flow of air, significant amount of energy could always be tapped from wind. This is also true of hydropower, which comes due to cyclic activities of the rainy reason.
In conclusion, experts are of the consensus that solar energy is best among all the classes of renewable energy and therefore should be tapped into. This according to them is because as long as there is life on earth, this form of energy will always be available on daily basis because when the sun rises, solar energy is released. The hydro power plants are the bedrock of clean energy production and sustainable electricity supply by virtue of their sizes and reliance on natural rainfall. Although, power production at the hydro power plants have been low, the change in rainfall patterns would further hamper government’s effort to meet the country‘s increasing demands for electricity.
Worried about the expected drop in power supply, NiMet has called for quick win-win solutions to the imminent challenge, by resorting to other viable sources of electricity generation, such as solar, wind and gas to complement for the expected loss from the hydro power plants and these are elements we can boast of in abundance. Globally, countries that boast stable electricity supply have achieved this feat by investing in various means available to generate electricity not by concentrating on the building of gas-powered plants and neglecting other options. Many developed countries around the world generate about 50% of their electricity from coal power plants. This viable option must now be harnessed because Nigeria has component states endowed with coal.
For a country bedeviled by the problems associated with supply of gas to power plants, looking away from an estimated 1.8 billion tons of coal lying fallow is choosing to deliberately grope in darkness. By utilizing the coal option alone, achieving stable electricity within a few years from now would not be a herculean task. Exploitation of renewable energy such as wind power, biomass and solar should also be a priority at this point. Nigeria must switch to alternative sources of power rather than just relying on gas and hydro plants for any hope towards meeting the target of 40,000MW by 2020. Without the augmentation of capacity through other alternatives, the economy may suffer more in the coming years from lack of power.