Sustainable Energy Development Can Revive Nigerian Economy


Problem Definition: The need for electricity

The Nigerian economy is one of the most complex systems in the world. The myriad of age-old challenges it has faced for decades has become quite a herculean task for public officers to deal with. Taking on these challenges require competence and commitment. Unfortunately, only a few bright minds are capable and willing to find solutions to these problems.

Many economists suggest that provision of electricity to the public, as an infrastructural service, can be used to drive economies towards positive growth. Today, access to reliable electricity is a fundamental requirement for development in every economic aspect. Electricity is used incessantly to power businesses, entertainment, technology, home appliances, and even our personal devices. It is quite clear that there is very little that can be achieved without electric power. As reliance on electricity deepens, the way we use and consume this form of energy is changing, especially with the advent of information technology. For example, nowadays, mobile devices are designed to integrate with modern battery technologies that can store enough energy to keep them operative while unplugged, for hours. Likewise, homes and automobiles are following this trend as industry players develop new energy storage solutions to integrate with renewable energy technologies for subsistent use.

In Africa, Nigeria is the biggest consumer of mobile technologies as well as the biggest Internet user. It is also the most populous nation in the continent. However, its grid installed capacity makes up just about 7GW with a capacity factor of up to 50% to supply power to a population of about 170 million. This means that even if the grid were to run at maximum potential, its per-capita consumption will barely suffice to light up a 35-watt energy-saving bulb.

One major operational constraint limiting electricity production to half of its installed grid capacity can be traced to frequent unavailability of generating equipment due to gas-supply shortages. (Especially, since the grid system is heavily dependent on fossil fuel technology, with at least two-thirds of generating plants connected to the grid system are gas-fired thermal plants).

Due to this inadequacy and in a bid to reduce grid dependence, majority of the population have resorted to literally ‘take power into their hands’ by installing off-grid solutions that can generate power for their domestic needs. While these alternatives are costly and environmentally unfriendly, it has become a norm to find at least one gasoline (or diesel) generator in every home.

Conventional Grid Operations

Traditionally, electricity supply is achieved via grid connections as energy utilities aim to provide uninterrupted service. In a conventional grid design, electricity, once generated, is consumed immediately – since it can’t be stored in its electrical form, anywhere in the system. Owing to the increase in size and complexity of energy consumption, achieving equilibrium between supply and demand becomes more challenging. Developed countries have, over the years, managed this difficulty by upgrading their grid systems to be very sensitive and responsive to changes in demand. The case is very different for a developing economy like Nigeria. With the way energy is consumed globally today, meeting demand with grid supply takes a high level of smart and innovative technology – one that comes at a high cost.

This increasing cost of operating and maintaining grid infrastructure is experienced around the world and these occurrences can be linked to a number of things, all of which point to a global adjustment towards sustainable energy practices. This worldwide paradigm-shift towards sustainability stems from environmental observations on climate change, which compels an imperative divestment into cleaner technologies for global energy practices.

Sustainability: Insights and Recommendations

The World Energy Council (WEC) defines energy sustainability based on three core aspects – energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability – which constitute an energy trilemma interconnecting various important disciplines in the society. This calls for systematic approaches and measures to inform policy making.

Given the current situation in the Nigerian power system – its heavy reliance on grid operations and fossil technology for provision of electricity to the public – and the recent global shakedown in the oil sector, it appears that the several years of neglect in the consideration of the trilemma, reflects on the economic situation in the following ways:

  1. Energy Security: Fossil fuels are not naturally replenishing like renewable energy resources such as sunlight, wind and water. This means that reliance on fossil technology is not sustainable for future generations since most oil reservoirs explored are projected to meet demands for only a few more decades.
  2. Energy Equity: Limited by the technical know-how and managerial skills for expanding capacity, the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) is neither effectively nor efficiently distributed to provide electricity as an infrastructure to remote parts of the country.
  3. Environmental Sustainability: Although there isn’t enough data available to ascertain the size of Nigeria’s carbon footprint, we may observe the environmental impact of CO2 emissions and air pollutants from health statistics; public health experts and scientists agree that there is a correlation between air quality and life expectancy. According to Wikipedia, life expectancy in Nigeria is 52 years. This is just one out of several environmental impacts.

Nigeria is often referred to as the giant of Africa – one that other African countries look up to. Providing a sustainable solution to Nigeria’s power sector challenges will encourage development across Sub-Saharan Africa. Given its geographical location, the endowed nation is positioned to receive sunlight in substantial and sustainable amounts. Hence, deploying cost-effective off-grid solar harnessing technologies can go great lengths at alleviating the power sector’s inadequacy. This could also create employment for youth as through activities such as sales, installations, maintenance, and other business functions related to the solar industry.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to Nigeria’s energy management crises and if there was, it probably can’t be contained in a single write-up. However, taking these strategic steps towards sustainability can positively influence growth in the Nigerian economy, and in Africa as a continent.

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