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Investment in renewable energy is inevitable

Nigeria in 2016 Special Edition

Professor Oluwole Adegbenro, former Director of Center for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Studies and head of Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering from University of Lagos. He is of the opinion that Nigerians should start investment in renewable  energy in order to address the issues of power supply in the country.  He spoke with Simon Ugwu.

The Outlook of 2015

2015 has been hard energy wise, in all areas of energy, we have not done well, especially towards the end of 2015.

Adegbenro
Adegbenro

Electricity has been epileptic, other forms of energy have not fared well either for one reason or the other. It is not unlikely that they are political issues. These are not technical issues. They are political issues to be resolved for people to enjoy what is available.

In terms of electricity, it has been up and down. We have the report that power supply has improved; people are enjoying better hours of electricity in some areas but at same time a lot of people are complaining that they are not getting enough power supply regularly.

Lack of Identification of the Problem

We don’t know who is telling the truth; whether energy is available or it is just being rationed. Some people are said to be enjoying it at the expense of other people.

Independent Body

We should set up an independent body that will look into energy situation in the country and come up with recommendations. They will do independent assessment of the quality of electricity supplied. Some people claim they are enjoying electricity, that it is becoming steadier while some people say they do not enjoy power supply for weeks and months. All these are happening within the same country. Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, is a regulatory body; we can’t saddle it with the job of independent body. But it can be independent if it really wants to. It can give report of good impact of electricity at any given time or we are playing around, filing figures that will suit the government or the public. So NERC can come up with a realistic figure. 2015 was not rosy in terms of power supply.

During the President Jonathan’s early administration, people believed that the electricity situation would change due to all the things put in place such as unbundling of Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, as well as privatization  and building of power plants. People thought they would have a sigh of relief but that has not materialised.

In some cases, distribution companies have been accused of high handedness, not caring so much for their consumers and insensitive to the needs of the people.

It is not understandable why the distribution companies that are supposed to have the interest of their consumers at heart are always at loggerheads with them. I think that distribution companies are private companies and they should be able to satisfy their customers.  They should be able to go round and find out the needs of their customers and satisfy them. They should  also do whatever is necessary to make sure consumers have confidence in them.  This led to the case of neighbours blocking their facilities because they are dissatisfied.

We believe that the distribution companies need to change their attitude, carry customers along, even if they have problems, find out how problems can be resolved. In a place where a transformer got burnt, you will find that after customers have contributed money for weeks, it would not fixed. Whereas by now, it is expected that they should have the technical knowhow to be able to replace bad transformers. Usually, we found out that in most cases, transformer is the problem. We have suggested in the past just as they have unbundled PHCN issue, they should unbundle transformers issues, localities, and group of houses should have transformers. If it is possible, people should team up together and buy a transformer which should be dedicated to their service. If they do that all these problem of transformer damage will be resolved.

Forecast for 2016

I don’t expect a very big change in 2016. We are in the dry season now, the water levels and dams have gone down. So the amount of energy generated through the dams will be reduced. The crises of diesel will also affect power generation. Now people are feeling the pinch of scarcity of petrol. They could not run their generating sets because they were not allowed to buy in Jeri cans.  If we can’t get regular power supply, and people are not allowed to use the ones they have, it brings us to intensifying alternative energy, particularly solar during this time of the year when we have abundant sunshine.

There should be investment in solar energy to solve some minor needs. If you put it in the sun, in the night, it will supply electricity, you can charge your mobile phones without turning on your generator because we have portable solar devices that you will just need to put in the sun and it conserves energy. Inverters are becoming smaller. We have inverters that can be plugged in vehicle and it will charge phones and other things. I think that is what should be encouraged. In your house, you can have solar systems that can power your devices. All you need is solar panel, charge controller and a set of batteries. In the blazing sun, you charge them and it gives you electricity in the night. You don’t need to turn on your generator for security light. You can use the solar energy throughout the night. In the morning you charge it again for the night.   I think the more we invest in that, the more we stop feeling the pinch of lack of electricity.

If we encourage people to invest in renewable energy, it is going to allay pressure on electricity demand. Television set is becoming smarter, smaller and consumption of electricity is becoming low. So you can actually buy a solar panel, a small inverter and set of batteries to run your TV set. Technology has made lots of things possible because things are becoming more efficient. Wastage of power is one of the leading causes of lack of electricity. When you have energy and you waste it, it is not going to be available. So store it and use it efficiently. Throw away all these big fridges that consume lots of power. Buy more efficient television that consumes less energy compared to the old big ones.

Way Forward

We have to solve the political problems in the country. I know that a lot of things are tied around politics. If people are disgruntled, they will find a way of getting even and they will want to paint the government black.  I think the present situation in the country does not mean that we don’t have the technical know-how, of distribution, generating and transmission. Generating energy is not a big deal, the machines are available. The technical know-how   to run it is available.   The only problem I tend to foresee is that population of Nigeria is so big and this will increase the demand for electricity as we try to meet the demand.

Lack of Planning

We practice half-hazard planning that does not allow the planners to take into account the development that is going on. When we open up an area, we don’t plan how all the houses will get power supply. It is much easier to build a house but equipping it is a problem. One of the essential needs in the house is electricity. So if we plan to build houses, we should know the energy requirement.  The planning authority should know that in the next three years, a particular area will need a specified amount of megawatts for their electricity demand. We need to do proper planning in order to open up our country.  We can find the rate of growth of the population to know the rate of increase in the demand of energy.

Another problem in a city like Lagos is that houses are so chocked up that there is no space for solar energy. Some of the rooms don’t face where the sunlight is. We need a lot of space to deploy solar energy because it is a space effect device, the larger the space you have the bigger the energy you can harness.

What will happen to a place like Lagos is that we are going to turn the lagoons to solar farms. You can hang solar panel there and start harnessing energy, then, transfer it to where they are needed.  Land is a very expensive commodity in Lagos. A small space of land cost so much. But if you mount solar panel in that space, you will make more money from harnessing energy there to sell. People have not thought about the possibility. Building is not the only thing that generates income. Energy is also important in income generation.

In some climes, instead of building on a space, they put solar panel on it and it generates more money than building. This is the energy you are going to get without making noise, without consuming fuel. It is a cheaper way to generate energy but the initial cost is there. But thank goodness, the technology of making solar panel is becoming more amenable. We have the ones that are more efficient and more affordable.

Solving Political Issues

We must put the need of the country first, because the way forward is for us to see that government don’t mean any harm to anybody, it is just a way of resolving issues. We need to do a rethink that it is in our own best interest to come together and resolve issues. Energy is going to cause a lot of contention just as desertification is causing contention in the northern part of the country. If energy is not available, it is going to cause a lot of conflict. There is a need for people to have energy for their daily use. There is no way out, people must get energy. If the government is not providing energy, there is going to be a lot of crying. So people should corporate to resolve energy issues in Nigeria.

Published in the Business Eye’s print version, Jan 2016 edition.

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