Solar power

There is no constant power in many cities and towns in Nigeria. Why?

Well, Nigeria built no power infrastructure for years. From 1990 to 2001, no new power plant was built, even as the population increased. Then from 2001, only one type of power plant, i.e. gas fed power plants, was built. From 2005 to 2014, Nigeria built 10 gas plants to deliver 4,771 megawatts at a cost of $8.47 billion. Nigeria thus gets 86% of her power from gas — a huge imbalance. Russia, with the highest gas reserves in the world, produces less than 25% of its power from gas.

As regards the gas plants, some have no gas, and the ones that have are subjected to pipeline vandalism. There is a gas pipe from Escravos to Lagos State, which if shut, 7 power plants in the SW with a capacity of 3500mw will shut down (Egbin, Geregu I and II, Olorunshogo I & II, and Omotosho I & II). That’s the classic definition of putting all our eggs in one basket.

Nigeria’s transmission infrastructure is weak. If there was no vandalism of gas pipes, Nigeria can only distribute about 4522/5500mw of power. Generation capacity is about 13,700MW from 25 power plants. Nigeria built large gas power plants and then transmitted that power across vast distances to where it would be consumed, this meant huge investment in transmission infrastructure. In the Northern part of the country, there exist long radial lines that result in a cascading voltage instability.

[READ MORE: FG sets target for revamping of ailing refineries]

So Nigeria has a low power generation base, weak transmission infrastructure, and is prone to having its gas pipelines vandalized. What’s the solution?

Decentralize power generation and distribution. Allow states and the individuals generate, retain and trade power. Solar is preferred, and the reasons will be discussed here.

First, Nigeria is situated in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region described by the International Council for Science as having the “world’s best solar resources.” Nigeria has 485.1 million MWh/day of solar energy in natural units and she enjoys an average of 6.2 hours of daily sunshine. Aliyu Musa Kofa in an article states, “if solar collectors or modules were used to cover 1% of Nigeria’s land area of 923,773km2, it is possible to generate 1850x103GWh of solar electricity per year, which is over one hundred times the current grid electricity consumption level in the country.”

Solar cost is dropping.

Deutsche Bank says solar is currently competitive without subsidies in at least 19 markets globally and it expects more markets to reach grid parity as solar system prices decline further.

[READ ALSO: Nigerian Businesses spend N5 trillion yearly on power generation]

It’s faster to build a solar infrastructure than gas or hydro.

Compared to the construction of gas and coal-fired power plants, which can take up to three years, solar power facilities can reach completion within 12 months. Rwanda’s Agahozo solar park has more than 28,000 solar panels and was built at a cost of $23.7 million in 7 months.

Lastly, solar can power industrial buildings.

India’s fourth-largest airport, the Cochin International airport, is power by a 12mw solar farm, built for $10 million in 6 months.

Yes, there is no sun at night, but technology now exists to store solar power in lithium-ion power-storage batteries. Tesla has designed home storage batteries for both electric utilities (the “Power pack”) and home-scale setups (the “Powerwall”). These batteries can hold 10-kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. The average U.S. household uses about 900kWh of electricity per month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Solar City has already begun installing Tesla solar-powered batteries, mostly on industrial buildings like Walmart stores. Tesla’s batteries let them store up solar power when they don’t need it, then use it when they do. Morocco is also storing power generated from solar in molten salt, which can be retrieved at night and distributed.

With batteries that store power, Nigeria does not have to build expensive, long-distance transmission infrastructure. What this means is that Sokoto can, with $25m, build a solar farm, pipe energy to Sokoto town, and store that energy in homes and offices using batteries which can be used at night, eliminating generators.

How would this work in practice?

  • Change current laws, allow states to generate and retain any power they generate; no megawatt caps.
  • Take funds from the fines on gas flaring and part sale of Nigeria’s share in JV with IOCs and gas and create a renewable power fund. This fund should seek equity investment from development finance agencies like the US International Development Finance Corporation, a new $60b institution created by the US Government to compete in developing markets with the Chinese. The fund will act as a source of cheap funding to states and the private sector at 2% interest rates over 15 years. States and Private sector can access these long-term funds based on counterpart funding and Environmental ROI scoring.
  • Subsidize solar panels for citizens. Solar is not cheap; use the power fund to also subsidize solar panel for Nigerian homes. German solar power is primarily from rooftop solar power on residents’ homes. Green Peace says that the “power company” in Germany is increasingly the German citizenry.
  • Pass Feed-In Tariff laws to encourage states to build their own smart distribution grids and power generation infrastructure. The states can build their own smart grids using solar farms. Federal and States can pass Feed in tariffs laws to guarantee cash payments to households that produce their own electricity at home using renewable technologies like solar. The excess power generated can be sold back to the smart grid. On a day in June 2015, solar panels generated 6.8% of the power used in Germany. Individual German homes feed as much as 24.2 gigawatts of electricity into the German grid, about the same power as twenty nuclear reactors.

To use a case study of the North East of Nigeria, take the statement by Mr Onyekachi Nkemneme of the Yola Electricity Distribution Company YEDC. He said that the total amount of megawatts being transmitted for distribution to states under YEDC was below 1000mw. The YEDC has Taraba, Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States. It does not transmit or generate power, only distributes. In the entire North East region there is no power generation plant of note. Can these states wait for hydro dams or gas?

[READ FURTHER: EU provides N4 bn solar energy funding to Adamawa]

Mr Nkemneme also noted that the distance between Kainji Dam and North East in particular, was a militating factor in the efficient distribution of power in the NE region. According to him, “transmission from the dam passes through Gombe before reaching Yola, and if there is any obstruction, it will definitely affect supply in Yola. Also, some of the weakest system nodes are located in this region due to long electrical distances from generating station. Power transfer capacity to the region is reduced to less than 30% of the line capacity because of voltage regulation problem. The entire North-Eastern region transmission capacity is limited because of voltage regulation problem.”

However, if the NE has its own grid, fed in by solar panels, it eliminates the need to draw power from Kainji to the NE. Another point? Our hydro assets are now under threat. 16% of Nigeria’s power comes from hydro mainly from the Kainji and Jebba power stations, which have a combined installed capacity of 1,330 megawatts. Both dams draw water from the River Niger to generate electricity, with Kainji having the capacity to generate 760MW, while Jebba’s capacity is 570MW. Upriver, Niger Republic is building a dam, the Kandadji Dam and it will pose a significant risk to our power plants. Thus, Nigeria’s gas and hydropower generation assets are vulnerable. Should the unthinkable happen (Escravos gas pipe fails and Niger build their dam) Nigeria could be short of about 4300mw.

The Renewable Energy Master Plan (REMP), seeks to increase the supply of renewable electricity from 13% of total electricity generation in 2015 to 23% in 2025. With a focus on solar, Nigeria can achieve 50% of power generation from renewables by 2023…that is feasible. Smart grids, powered by solar can be set up quickly, they can create millions of jobs, and reduce the pressure on the existing grid.

Let’s get doing!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.