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@MBuhari Preach On Green Options 2

Nigeria, April 23rd 2015 -  The first sector that President-elect Muhammadu Buhari should dive in with alacrity is the power sector. That Nigeria is currently facing an energy crisis is an understatement. With the current generated capacity of about 4,000MW for a population of about 170 million, with energy per capita of 30 Watts, the country is in deep waters regarding energy sufficiency with the attendant consequences on all developmental indicators of employment, growth, production, security, and general well-being.
“If we do not kill corruption in this country, corruption will kill Nigerians. I assure you, we will plough back the funds for good infrastructure
—President-elect Muhammadu Buhari
Up till this moment, the government has not shown the will to conquer this challenge. When it promises to take action, it ends up giving us broken promises. For instance, in 2010, we were promised 13,000MW by December 2013; but two years beyond the deadline, the government is still struggling to convince us that it is giving us 4,000MW and not 3,000MW as some experts insist.

What about generating from renewable energy? Here, the government is at its best in promises and mirage agenda too. Recently, it asserted that by 2020, it would give Nigeria 7,200MW from renewable energy alone. When I saw those figures, I had to consciously restrain myself from freaking out, because I know this is another broken promise waiting to happen. Neither its body language nor its evolving regulatory policies portray any serious resolve to take us there.

For instance, at the dawn of 2014, the Jonathan government launched “Operation Light Up Rural Nigeria” and promised to deliver electricity via renewables to hundreds of rural communities. During the launch, the Minister of Power, Chinedu Nebo, said that before January 2015, 111 Nigerian villages would have been given solar power. We are now in April 2015, but the contractors have yet to complete the three pilot villages situated in Abuja where the project was launched. I visited the sites, and what I discovered about the project would make anyone pity Nigeria.

Buhari has his job already cut out for him. He simply has to kill corruption in the sector, provide incentives for the private sector to drive the process, and Nigeria is good to go. With the rent-seeking (another fancy word for institutional corruption) in Nigeria, there is no way green industry could prosper. It is a system that can only be operated when patriotism is the first motive and not flagrant lust for material enrichment. The margins are comparatively small, so people who are in to “just share the money” will turn back because there will not be much to share. And if you insist on squeezing out margins, then you sabotage standards, and the green initiative dies a natural death.

The reality today is that when contracts in renewable energy are given, government functionaries – if they have not already used their own proxy companies of questionable competence – demand kickbacks, and in order for the contractors to meet up with enough “share of the contract loot” for everybody, they use the worst quality of materials. The government regulators look the other way, and Nigerians are short-changed. Before you say “Solar!” the projects are dead. Just take a walk down our roads and see the number of the so-called solar streetlight projects that are dead, and looking for people to bury them.
All over the world, the renewable energy industry is nothing without stringent adherence to standards. And if Buhari could only ensure that Nigeria keeps to these industry standards and international best practices, I bet you, his government will be remembered as the midwife of a New Nigeria.

To address energy poverty in Nigeria, the incoming government must resolve to streamline its policies to practicable modal structures. For instance, why not totally separate the rural areas from the national grid? After all, our national grid has an installed capacity of just 6,000 MW? Today, monies are wasted trying to take power to far-flung interior rural communities. The type of power rural areas need is low compared to urban areas which are the centers of enterprise and industrialization. So, give these communities micro power via solar systems and make sure they are metered by allowing the private sector to lead the way. Technologies are now available to achieve this fast. Re-evaluate the country’s Feed-in-Tariff, which will attract even foreign investors overnight. Once the net metering regulations are in place, the growth will be in quantum leaps.

Furthermore, Buhari must create a way to enable transparency in project implementation. He must stop government officials from fronting inefficient companies and subverting the process. If these companies played by the rules it would have been fine, but the situation is that they operate with total disregard for the rules and an outrageous sense of impunity. The reason it is getting worse by the day is that it is only in Nigeria that the green industry is driven and sustained by government contracts, instead of the private sector. This is not supposed to be so, because it is not sustainable.

The other viable option is energy efficiency, which the current government is not even talking about because obviously politicians and their allies have little money to make from such national initiatives. Nigeria can gain energy and save a lot of money from replacing energy-guzzling equipment, appliances and lights in homes, industries and public buildings.

Let me illustrate. If you use 100 million Compact Fluorescent Lamps, or energy saver bulbs as we call them, to replace incandescent bulbs (those popular tungsten or yellow bulbs that get very hot when lighted), you would conserve power to the tune of more than 7,000MW (which is equivalent to generating 7,000MW of electricity); save money (N1.35tn over 10 years); avoid Carbon Dioxide emissions (101,760,000 IB) – corresponding to taking 430,000 cars off the roads, and planting 17,354,000 trees. And this will cost Nigeria about N50bn. The same amount will give us less than 250 MW if we decide to use it to build a power plant!

This was why I was outraged two weeks ago when I read in the media a report that the Federal Government is currently in discussion with a Russian company towards the construction of four new nuclear power plants in the country. According to the report, estimates showed the power plants, when completed, would cost the Nigerian government about N3.98tn ($20bn), while generating electricity of about 4,800MW.
To be candid, it is criminal to contemplate building a nuclear plant in Nigeria at this stage in our national development when we lack the sophistication to ensure perfect functioning of a simple system as traffic lights. Every Tomiwa, Dike and Haruna knows that nuclear plants are disasters waiting to happen. Ask the people of Chernobyl in Ukraine, and those of Fukushima in Japan. That technology is dirty, expensive, hazardous, and can be used by insurgents to wreak havoc in the land. One cannot even imagine the potential trauma. Please, our dear President-elect Buhari should not allow these nuclear talks to continue.

Anyway, there are many other things that can make one weep for this country. What about the N9.2bn wasted by the Federal Government to import energy efficient cooking stoves which it said would be shared out to rural women? Sadly, that same amount is more than enough to construct a modern eco-cooking stoves making factory which would have employed hundreds of our citizens, and injected a new life into the green industry. But no, the politicians wanted to share out that money via a contract that is as shadowy as the purported distribution of the cook stoves to phantom rural dwellers!

To be concluded next week
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@MBuhari Preach On Green Options 2 Reviewed by Olumide Idowu on Thursday, April 23, 2015 Rating: 5
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