No one is ever in doubt that the level of power supply in Nigeria is far below the country’s needs. Available figures show that Nigeria produces less than 5,000mw of electricity for a population of 170 million people. In contrast, South Africa produces 48,000mw of electricity for a population of 50 million. Such comparison becomes more apt because while Nigeria claims to be the largest economy in Africa, South Africa remains the most advanced. Reason for this yawning disparity is well known. Even of the 170 million Nigerians, only 25 percent have access to electricity, while 75 percent make do with little or no electricity.
For example, while South Africa produces electricity from such disparate sources as coal, nuclear power, recycled wastes, hydropower and solar energy, Nigeria still relies mostly on oil for generating more than 90 percent for her energy needs. This should no be. We believe the country has abundance of alternative energy sources such as coal, lignite, geothermal heat and sun to generate enough power to meet its industrial and domestic needs.
Before discovery of oil in commercial quantity, Nigeria relied mostly on coal and thermal sources for generating much of her electricity. Sadly, the past 40 years have seen a sharp decrease in the use of coal for power generation, even as the existing hydro power stations are becoming obsolete due to lack of maintenance and spare parts. That is why we are calling for a return to coal and renewed interest in solar power as major sources of electricity supply in the country.
Ironically, the shift to oil for power generation has had dire consequences for the coal industry for reasons not connected to its viability. From both quality and availability perspectives, Nigerian coal was as well placed as any other coal-producing country in the world, even as its low sulphur and ash content makes it very attractive for power generation. Moreover, the country has about 22 coalfields found in Enugu, Adamawa, Anambra, Bauchi, and Benue, Cross-River, Edo, Gombe, Imo, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Ondo and Plateau states. Happily, information suggests that proven coal reserves, are about 639 million tonnes.
In addition, we are calling on the government to also explore the opportunities offered by abundance of sunshine for solar power. Nigeria enjoys more than a fair share of sunlight, given the fact that it is along the Equator.
This energy source could be exploited for more than a fifth of the country’s electricity needs. Solar electricity can be cost effectively harnessed anywhere in Nigeria. It is probably the only renewable energy solution that can be sited anywhere to address local and regional needs. Incidentally, recent advances in technical performance of solar panels and cost reductions in utility scale storage technologies make this feasible.
There is no denying the fact that countries such as China, Australia, India and some major Asian countries rely on solar power for substantial part of their energy mix. Finally, solar power generation has the potential to ultimately achieve grid parity within two decades primarily from economies of scale, research and improvement in technology. At the moment, the dire state of Nigeria’s generation capacity calls for a serious rethink in this direction.