Thursday, July 30, 2015

Energy Efficiency and Nigeria's Power Puzzle

NIGERIA’s intractable electricity crisis is legendary and is quite indicative of our low performing economy. It is a well known fact that Africa’s biggest democracy runs an economy that has been on “life support” for the greater part of the last three decades even as smaller and poorer countries around the world refer to it as a “Diesel Generator Economy”. 

This Nigerian economy on life support is ironically being fed with millions of tones of the oxides of carbon daily with huge consequences for the health of the citizens. Our land has become a destination of choice for all manner of micro and macro electricity generators and the smart Chinese guys are all smiling to the bank while the average Nigerian bears the burden of running his own Independent Power Project (IPP).  The reality of Nigeria of today is that every individual, organization, institution, church, mosque etc maintains an IPP.  This is where renewable energy and energy efficiency come to the rescue for several reasons!  

First and foremost, renewable energy and energy efficiency represent important tools if we truly really want to expand access to electricity services nationwide which is consistent with the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) benchmarks aimed at stimulating rural economic empowerment, employment creation and poverty reduction.

The second reason is that rural electricity access in Nigeria oscillates between 10-15% which makes renewable energy a veritable alternative to plug the gap because by their nature, renewable electricity technologies are generally modular and are ideal options for improving rural electricity access in the country.  Grid power extensions over long distances to serve low load densities amount to monumental economic waste because of the financial implications involved in procuring and installing transmission/distribution equipment that cover thousands of kilometres.  

I make bold to ask this one question: who bears the costs of power losses incurred in getting people in Calabar to enjoy electricity generated at Kainji Dam in Niger State? Decentralized and localized grids are quite compatible with renewable electricity.     

Third reason is that renewable electricity provides the much needed flexibility and diversity for improving the reliability of electricity supply – potentially important in ensuring the stability of grid electricity supply, especially in times of localized disruption of sources of power supply as a result of vandalization or natural disasters. For renewable electricity to be part of the national power planning process, policy guidelines must provide a robust framework to integrate non-fossil fuel based electricity into the energy technology mix in meeting national electricity generation and supply needs.  

The Electric Sector Reform Master plan (ESRM) recently launched by President Goodluck Jonathan should provide veritable and unique opportunities to scale up access to electricity services nationwide if it is deepened and vigorously pursued in a way that would enable Nigeria and Nigerians to align and mainstream renewable energy development in the country with broader national development aspirations.

However, in the pursuit of these objectives, the implementation of the policy on renewable electricity should be in collaboration with other levels of government and the private sector in a way that encourages citizen and community ownership of the whole value chain. Reducing the amount of energy consumed by households in Nigeria is a key missing link in our effort to solve the power puzzle. 

Interestingly, the present administration seems to be catching on with the trend globally with the setting up of a national committee on Demand Side Energy Management headed by Engr. Chidi Ike, a dynamic, experienced and proactive professional who understands the terrain. Engr. Ike and members of his committee have so far demonstrated exceptional commitment and patriotism in pursuit of the task at hand. Credit must also be given to Prof. Barth Nnaji, Nze Akachukwu Nwankpo and other members of the Presidential Task Force on Power for their doggedness and determination to creatively tackle the hydra headed electricity problem with some out-of-the-box measures – the DSM is one of such.

For a population of over 150 million people in Nigeria, the Power Holding Company of Nigerian (PHCN) like other utility companies in Africa is facing difficulties to match the ever increasing quantum of electricity demand. While PHCN expects to augment its productive capacity by more than 1,000 MW per year, this increase is expected to barely keep up with the growth in demand from households and businesses. Within this context, the promotion of large scale, concrete, national energy efficiency programme through a critical demand side management initiative to reduce the energy consumption of selected major end-use appliances especially lighting.

With Nigeria accounting for about 25% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, the proposed Demand Side Management and Energy Conservation initiative will have a significant impact on addressing the inevitable growth of electricity consumption in the region while contributing to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction. Electricity Stakeholders believe that the expected energy efficiency policy and legislation framework will set in motion a target specific process of strong public-private partnership among local manufacturers, importers and consumers of end-use equipment by creating the appropriate market mechanism with the right incentives to improve energy efficiency at the national, regional and local levels. It is critical that the government does not lose sight of the bigger picture of citizen participation and ownership of this all important DSM initiative.

Quick-win initiatives are good as long as they create opportunities for more meaningful citizens’ engagement with the issue in order to avoid the danger of people unwittingly cranking up the energy in other areas of their lives. Previously well-intended initiatives had failed due to the simple reason of not carrying the citizens along by way of massive education and enlightenment of the citizens. People can be nudged into making a specific change, but to adopt a low-carbon, low energy lifestyle, they need to think about it for themselves if they know what they are to benefit from the scheme in Naira and Kobo terms, hence the need to engage extraordinary and multi-disciplinary platforms to educate and enlighten the Nigerian citizens on the imperatives of Demand Side Management, Energy Efficiency and Conservation. 

The success of innovative initiatives like the DSM rests to a large extent on citizen education and enlightenment especially in making a business case for corporations, companies and individuals to adopt and embrace such.  People appreciate novel initiatives like the DSM if they are able to see real economic gains derivable from such programmes of government. Opportunities for reducing energy demand are numerous in all sectors and many are low-cost habits that most corporate entities and individuals could adopt in the short term while measures would be introduced to influence behavioural changes in favour of energy efficiency in the long term.  

 The experience of the University of Zambia is quite instructive. Faced with over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills owed the Zambian Electric Service Corporation (ZESCO), the University recently decided to undertake an energy audit aimed at reducing their use of energy while opening up cost saving channels. $1 million is a colossal sum of money, which the financial status of the university cannot sustain such high consumption of electricity.

The advantages of energy efficiency to the university were indeed very significant as the financial savings could be channeled to more needy sections in the university. Also, at the turn of the millennium in the United States, 459 large electricity utilities implemented DSM programmes that saved them about 50.6 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy generation.  According to the best conservative estimates, the city of New York alone has the potential to reduce demand by 1,300 MW (2002) through DSM.

Indeed, most African countries that have succeeded with the DSM had adopted strategies to educate their citizens to see real economic gains in monetary terms at the individual, corporate and national levels. Several African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Libya, Ghana and South Africa who have used the DSEM had tapped into the huge resource base of the private sector in their countries as a vehicle to reach out to their citizens in a bid to cover all aspects of the problem and come out with solutions that are holistic, participatory and demand-driven in approach; bestowing on the communities direct control of their lives and environment by largely driving the initiative along with  in-built incentivized mechanism that guarantees its success. 

A good example is South Africa that saved 31.09 MW in 2004 by implementing two separate lighting projects using energy efficient lighting technologies.

From the foregoing, it is clear that DSM has a major role to play in deferring high investments in generation, transmission and distribution networks thereby providing significant economic, social and environmental benefits. This represents triumph of the triple bottom lines for all stakeholders by “generating” electricity from the consumer (demand side) instead of PHCN (supply side)!

Stanley Igwebuike Ijeoma is Africa’s foremost Enviropreneur and freelance climate change communicator. This article was first published by the Guardian Newspapers Nigeria in June 2011.

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