WHY NIGERIA DOES NOT NEED RENEWABLE ENERGY FOR MAIN POWER GENERATION
BY IDOWU OYEBANJO
Recently, there has been an increase in the agitation for the deployment of alternative sources of energy for the generation of electricity in Nigeria especially when the problem of providing stable electricity seems to be intractable. But to be frank, this is not how to solve the problem. The inclusion of alternative energy sources as part of the total mix of generation portfolio is recommended but this must remain as “back up” to electricity generation from conventional sources of energy.
There is a general tendency to follow the crowd by copying the trend in developed economies and most times this yields positive results. However, this will only be the case after a careful consideration of local circumstances. The Western world is persuading Nigeria to embrace their much needed market for Renewable Energy System not because they want to help, but because of the trade and economic benefits it will bring them in terms of the gains from the delivery of goods and services that this will bring, huge financial gains from the cost of expatriates they will export to us just like in the oil industry now taken over by their own mostly less educated professionals compared to locals, economy of raw materials in the industry they really need in their own environment, making Nigeria a dumping ground for their products among other reasons. If any country is serious about assisting Nigeria, they should provide funds and expertise to build, operate, maintain and transfer ownership of thermal plants (OCGT and CCGTs) in Nigeria within the shortest time frame possible.
There is no doubt that the capacity credit (I use a technical term here) of most of the renewable electricity systems is low compared to that of conventional generation which in simple terms means they cannot be relied upon for grid operations exactly as electricity generated from conventional energy sources such as oil, gas, coal etc. Power System is difficult to explain to non-power engineers especially those who hear about what takes place in other countries and believe Nigeria should copy them hook line and sinker without looking at local circumstances. In this regard, the 24.5 million Euros (N5.3 billion) fund provided to Nigeria under the Nigerian Energy Support Programme (NESP) by the European Union (EU) and German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (DMZ) should be used to focus on training and development of human capacity for the power sector, strengthen thermal plants as well as the associated gas gathering facilities (pipelines and gas-to-power plants) for the power stations, and develop Hydro power generation schemes in country. No one is ruling out the fact that a general mix of energy sources will add value, but proper power engineers know that to get Nigeria out of the meagre generation capacity levels she has today, aggressive pursuit of significant generation from conventional energy sources such as hydro, oil, gas, and or coal is urgent!
Another fact to consider is the economics of scale. Those who preach the deployment of renewable energy sources do not consider the economics. To get Nigeria out of the parlous state of generation capacity levels today, spending on renewable energy amounts to being penny wise but pound foolish! This is all down to the cost benefit analysis of renewable generation. Why will you spend trillions of dollars to generate a few megawatts of renewable energy from solar or wind, when you can adequately generate thousands of megawatts with the same amount or even less? For example, the raw-material for gas thermal plants is vastly abundant in-country and is sufficient to get Nigeria out of the electricity quagmire before she can “join” the western world to deceive the rest of the unwary nations on the need for renewable generation!
If to be considered at all, the deployment of Biogas for distributed generation may be a plausible step in the right direction. But take for example, solar panels (Array of Photo Voltaic cells) used for renewable power generation from the sun. These require significant amount of land to generate a few tens of megawatts. Such land in the circumstance of Nigeria should be made available for building Housing estates to bail Nigeria out of the Housing crisis already present with us. Arable amount of land should be better put to use in Agriculture to provide food rather than as an opportunity cost in the sense of foregone alternative to generating power. What about the security of the investment? In Nigeria, a mere child will throw stones at these solar panels and break them in one day. Vandalisation of solar sites will become the order of the day. Whereas, developed economies who use renewable energy sources have less problems of housing, food and vandalisation of such facilities even when left in the open. A lot needs to be considered before jumping to copy technologies from overseas. What needs to be done like we do in our different spheres of life is to assess the suitability and practicality of deploying a method from overseas in country. If possible, the adaptation of ideas to local circumstances is in order but this has to be handled by Professionals. Quota System syndrome will not work in this regard!
Let us now consider the reasons why developed economies who acquired their present status from the availability of uninterrupted power supply from thermal and hydro generating stations would want other developing or under-developed nations to seek their renewable alternatives. A major reason is to slow down the rate at which poor but aspiring nations develop. Once India and China’s rapid development in recent times started to make them forces to reckon with in the global economy, significant effort has been launched to prevent any other nation from the third world to develop as fast. This is the origin of the climate change conundrum. The primary public policy argument they put forward in their own countries for promoting electricity generation from renewable energy sources is the requirement to reduce pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels. Some advocate renewable generation to improve energy security, price stability, job creation, and political jingoism. The truth however is that most of the developed countries have run out of their own oil reserves. The nations where they can get imports from are usually in crisis and generally unstable politically and socially. This level of insecurity of supply is what they have decided to tackle by switching to energy sources out of the control of humans which makes perfect sense for them. But that is not what Nigeria needs.
We can refer to the percentage of electricity generation in civilised country from renewable energy sources expressed as a percentage of their total electricity generation to come to grasp with the economy of scale and what may be required of Nigeria. Germany currently generates 30% of her electricity from renewable energy sources, USA 10% and the UK about 15%. Judging from the statistics, the countries we intend to copy generate the bulk of their electricity from conventional energy sources such as Gas, Oil and Coal. So, why should we do less?