By Ebele ORAKPO
Dr. Patrick Owelle, a solar photovoltaic researcher and chief executive officer of PSC Industries Limited has called on the Federal Government to integrate renewable energy into the national energy mix if the power problem in Nigeria must be overcome. He stated this in a chat with Vanguard in Lagos recently.
Owelle said rather than governmet hiding under the guise that the country is not yet ripe for renewable energy, should devote more resources to renewables as over-dependence on gas and water has not done much for the country even after investing billions of dollars for over 50 years, “we only have about 2000MW of electricity generated per year for a country of about 140 million people which translates to about 14 watts of electricity per person per year or less than one 40W light bulb for 1hour per person per year.”
This situation, he described as “not only scandalous but should be unacceptable to the most wretched of societies on earth.” He called for a “complete rethink on our dependence on the same old traditional fossil fuels for energy generation and demands immediate exploring of alternative sources. Traditional fossil fuels and conventional power generation methods have failed us in Africa or Africa has failed the methods, it is now time to do something else; deploying and integrating power from renewable sources like solar, wind and biomass into the national grids.â€
Blaming government and policy short-sightedness/lack of political will (which he described as not only short-sighted, but superficial and highly misleading as they ignore the fundamentally different economic prospects of conventional energies on the one hand and renewables on the other,) for the power crisis in the country, the PSC Industries boss stated that the time for renewables is certainly now. “When speaking about renewables, the argument always arises like a Pavlovian reflex – the issue of high costs. The basic but not critically analysed assumption still predominates that renewables are not affordable in comparison with conventional energy sources.”
This, according to him, is far from the truth as he said that conventional energies will become more expensive over time, whereas the costs for renewables will steadily decrease. â€œ10-15 years ago, the cost of crude oil was between $18-25 per barrel and today, it is nearly $90 and increasing daily whereas the cost of solar power was $180/wp, and today, it is $5/Wp and decreasing daily,” noting that “with deregulation and removal of subsidies by government, fuel cost will quadruple in a few years and will be out of reach of the average Nigerian worker.
â€ Continuing, he said â€œrising fuel costs from depleting conventional sources (oil, natural gas, coal, uranium etc) will inevitably result in increasing costs for conventional energy supply; extraction costs for conventional energy sources will rise as the remaining resources become more difficult to extract necessitating more complex and advanced technical efforts aâ€™la the tar sands of Canada.
Also due to the depletion of conventional energy resources, fuel supply is coming from fewer sources which will then lead to monopolisation of resources. This will give the suppliers more opportunities to raise prices. At present, we are in a downward trend compared to the year 2008, but this is resulting from the critical global economic situation triggered by the global financial meltdown. These comparatively low fuel prices are only short-lived, as the mid-term trend of conventional fuel prices is undoubtedly pointing upwards.â€
He noted that the cost of erecting new power plants is very high and on the issue of distribution, he said unlike the conventional energy sources, for renewables, “a widespread transmission/evacuation infrastructure will be superfluous since installations producing renewable energy (in particular solar and wind) can be directly set up in the areas/locales that need it,” adding that “renewable energy prices are decreasing because only the costs for technology are relevant.
These declines are due to mass production of renewable energy installations that come about by mobilised market introduction and continued technological improvements,â€ he said. There is also the issue of climate change and the need for nations to cut down on carbon emission and renewable energy comes to the rescue.Â On the way forward, Owelle said the government needs to do the following urgently:
* A comprehensive policy mandating PHCN to purchase at least 10% of the countryâ€™s electricity from renewable energy providers (solar, wind, biomass etc);
*Feed-in tariff to encourage individual customers to receive payment for tying their individual renewable power plants into the national grid; *Government policy mandating 10% – 20% of electricity for all new buildings to be generated from renewable sources;
*Tax reduction policies for renewables and 0% tax and Custom duty for renewable imports or 0% interest for renewable manufacturing plants;
*Appointment of a renewable energy minister in the Ministry of Power or creation of separate ministry to be member of the National Executive Council to drive development of renewables as well as the integration of renewables into the national energy mix;
*Reduction of dependency on conventional energy source and reducing the burden on the national grid by using independent/automatic and autonomous highly luminous solar highway/street lights, saying that Nigeria is blessed with over abundance of resources especially but not limited to sun and it is imperative that we begin to use this resource to the benefit of our 140 million citizens.â€
He reiterated that investments in renewable energy today are the only chance to reach a cost-effective energy supply for everyone, everywhere, adding that the first solar-powered airplane was tested in March 2010 and the first Bio fuel-powered airplane was tested in Australia in 2009.