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The Nigerian Power System: Renewable is the new Reliable

What Nigeria needs is ‘reliable power supply’, not ‘uninterruptible power supply’…

It is now the usual fashion for developing and under-developed countries to trail directly behind developments already observed in developed countries. This is clearly because the contemporary world leaders are well ahead in the age of information technology. However, we need to be aware that invention (innovative technology) is not always the mother of necessity, in fact, at this point in life, my opinion on this common debate leans towards the idea of addressing needs before implementing technology.

Nigeria is the largest country in Africa in terms of GDP, Population and possibly population density as well, and with the Global Community yearning for “Climate Change” and announcing “Let’s start by fixing Africa through massive investment”, these translate to a need to start from the most sensitive area of this continent. There is a globally perceived need for change everywhere. The interesting thing is that Nigeria has recently demonstrated its willingness to accept change also, and it’s apparent from the outcome of its last presidential election.

Since I’m a strong advocate for “root cause analysis” let me take your imagination back to historical times. According to my primary school (western) education, Fire is one of the earliest inventions of man and looking at this from the perspective of the western world, it seems very plausible (yet probably ostensible) simply because of the cold climate exhibited by its immediate environment; it must have been really freezing that man’s inherent survival instinct translated to a need for a sustainable form of heat. However, humans in the tropical regions had it fairly easier; nature provided the desired temperature most of the time and Fire was ironically that cool “software app” that could increase the intensity of ambient temperature. In the economic sense however, there was no need for an artificial uninterruptible heat supply. Indeed, Fire must have been introduced as a luxury in ancient tropics.

Now back to present date and relating the analogy described in the previous paragraph to existing situations in our contemporary world, we would find that the concept is still the same and if we are wise enough, we can take the lessons learnt and apply it to current needs. Speaking more on needs, let’s now call it demand and for simplicity, let’s term electricity as a commodity. There is a general phenomenon that implies that human beings desire this commodity (energy in electrical form), whether directly or indirectly, because of its high efficiency in doing work (compared to other traditional forms of energy). Just like any other commodity, there are different methods of producing electricity and these methods come at distinct costs. Nigeria survives on less than 5GW of grid electricity, but overall electricity consumption is a lot more than that when considering off-grid generation methods which were initially introduced as back-up options but now predominant in residential and business use. The problem with this widespread practice of burning fossil fuel with inefficient combustion engines seemed like a great idea at first because the nation is oil rich, however, these days, several socio-economic related issues discourage the consideration of these technologies. Nigeria needs to divest and diversify as soon as possible.

And the focus should be on reliability and efficiency…

There are inherent losses associated with grid electricity and in my educated opinion, only industries with 24-hour operations currently need this sort of service (grid electricity) because of its incessant supply feature and the matching perpetual demand from industrial machines. It’s also in my opinion that grid infrastructure should only be expanded if its development is in parallel with that of potential industrial consumer with matching requirements. Smaller entities with somewhat discrete demands for electricity can still rely on off-grid options with sustainable advantages. And this time, I’m talking about solar + storage technologies. This method of providing domestic electricity for low-end consumers (households and SMEs) through the harvesting of free sunlight, is growing really fast and its benefits are overwhelming.

Nigeria has a huge demand for clean energy and rather than invest largely in inefficient technologies that involve grid integration, the nation needs to strategically prioritise a divestment into locally applicable and renewable energy technology.

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