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Exploring coal for national benefit

With mounting threats to Nigeria’s quest in achieving its dream of becoming one of the greatest economies by the year 20:2020, following the non- improvement in its power generation, JOSEPH ERUNKE  writes that there are indications that the country can take advantage of its large coal deposit to achieve its dream in some areas.

ABUJA— Coal exploration in Nigeria started as far back as 1916.The leading role of coal in the Nigerian energy mix started to decline with the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Nigeria in the late 1950’s and was hastened by the Nigerian civil war which took place between 1967- 1970, during which period all the coal mines in the country were abandoned.

The rapid development of the oil industry in Nigeria resulted to undue Governments’ reliance on oil for the country’s revenue and energy needs since the 1960’s and a neglect of the solid fuel coal which is an alternative energy resource.

Therefore, having studied other coaled powered countries, such as South Africa and Canada, Nigeria, through Alhaji Sarafa Isola, its Minister of Mines and Steel Development in the late President Yar’Adua’s administration, declared its readiness on tapping into its coal resources as a way of satisfying its numerous power needs.

This idea came to Nigerians, who are consumers of their nation’s poor power generation as a relief. Shortly after the development, some foreign investors, especially from Australia and China stormed the country to express their interest in the nation’s mining industry, with particular attention to coal.

Most well-meaning Nigerians support efforts to improve the current power deficit Nigeria is experiencing. If Nigeria has coal, of which it apparently has 1.386 billion pounds worth of coal deposits, then it might just be time to use this resource to the nation’s benefit.

Recent power problems have revealed that the reliance on oil and hydro-electric dams for power have suffered due to interruptions in oil output/supply, severe dry seasons and of course, pure corruption. The use of coal in some parts of the country would therefore, be a beneficial use of natural resources for power generation.

Adequate power supply is an unavoidable pre-requisite to any nation’s development, and electricity generation, transmission and distribution are capital-intensive activities requiring huge resources of both funds and capacity. In the prevailing circumstances in Nigeria where funds availability is progressively dwindling, creative and innovative solutions are necessary.

Research has shown that Nigeria has an estimated 176 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, giving the country one of the top ten natural gas endowments in the world and the largest endowment in Africa.

Electricity generation, transmission and distribution account for less than one per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Products [GDP], but fifty-four per cent of the share of Utilities (electricity and water supply) in the GDP. They constitute a small economic activity in Nigeria in relation to her size and population.

PHCN supplies most of the electricity consumed in Nigeria, supplemented with power generated from privately-owned plants. In Nigeria, there is widespread private provision of electricity usually referred to as Captive power supply. In most cases, captive electric power supply has been a response to irregular public power generation and transmission. Before the advent of hydro-generated electricity from the Kainji Power Station, electricity supply in country was largely by the thermal system.

However, the hydro system ushered in by Kainji in the early 1970s, started giving way to the thermal dominated system again some years later. This was due to the perennial water-flow problem of the River Niger at Kainji, escalating costs of establishing hydro-plants and their long gestation lags. Electricity generation in Nigeria is characterized by excess capacity and inadequate supply.

It has been observed that peak demand is often about one-third of installed capacity, because of the non-availability of spare parts and poor maintenance. A poorly-motivated workforce, vandalisation and theft of cables and other vital equipment, accidental destruction of distribution lines, illegal connections and resultant over-loading of distribution lines, are additional major problems of the PHCN.


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