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With coal, Nigeria can generate 17,500MW in 5 years – Audu

Nigeria is on its knees.  The current recession has been identified to have resulted from many decades of dependence on oil revenue at the detriment of other sectors of the economy. 

The manufacturing sector has continued to dwindle in fortunes, mainly because of the unfavourable business environment occasioned by epileptic power supply.  Retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Managing Director/Chief Executive, Favour Oil & Gas Limited, Chief Robert Usman Audu argues that this situation can be reversed if Nigeria embraces coal as source of energy.

In this interview, he averred that Nigeria’s dream of industrialisation lies in return to coal-fired electricity plants from where Nigerian can generate 17,500 MW in three to five years, with minimum investment. Excerpts:

By Gabriel Ewepu

THIS nation’s dream of industrialisation has remained a mirage largely due to epileptic power supply.  How can this be resolved?

Chief Robert Usman Audu
Chief Robert Usman Audu

Nigeria has failed to develop because we abandoned the cheapest electricity power source.  The cheapest electricity source of is coal.  Nigeria’s Energy Mix is currently dominated by hydro (Water) and thermal (gas) but the country is yet to stabilise  on 5000 Mega Watts, (MW) . It is strange that coal which we have in abundance is yet to find accommodation in our electricity generation.

If we are to industrialise, we must do what other industrialised nations of the world have done to ensure adequate electricity supply.  Coal is the main source of power generation in countries like U S A , Germany, China, Japan, India and South Africa.   China generates over 70 per cent of its electricity from coal.  In South Africa, available data showed that the country which is Africa’s most-industralised,

in 2013 generated 90 percent of its massive electricity from coal.  Even the US depends on coal for more than 30 per cent of its electricity generation. In the UK , coal accounts for about 47 per cent of its electricity generation, as at 2013.  For India, the dominance of coal in the Energy Mix yielding 73 percent in 2013, this may be attributable to factors of affordability and access. Coal is expected to remain India’s most affordable option to the year 2035, because of the cheaper domestic coal prices and limited gas availability

The question is why has our own coal been neglected for so long, while we suffer from inadequate power supply?

Do we have enough coal deposits in Nigeria that we can tap into?

Much more than you would imagine.  We have coal deposits in 18 states of the federation.  It has been estimated by experts that the coal we have in Nigeria can last for 200 years.  We have been oscillating around 5,000 MW of power in this country for a long time. While South Africa has gone beyond 88,000 MW.  What is the population of South Africa, compared to Nigeria’s over 170 million?  You can see why our economy is dragging.  Nigeria can attain 17, 500 MW from coal fire-power plants in the next three to five years.

Coal-fired electricity is cheap

Electricity from coal is very cheap compared to  hydro, gas or solar.  Therefore, if we build coal-fired power plants, electricity would become cheaper for all categories of consumers.  The problem of epileptic power supply would be permanently addressed because issues of low water levels or vandalism of gas pipelines won’t be there.

It is tragic that we abandoned coal as electricity generation source in the first place.  But I am convinced that if we return there, the industrial revolution we crave for would sooner than most people can imagine be achieved. Nigerians are very industrious people.  What has been holding them down has been lack of electricity.  Where are the Michelins, Dunlops, textile companies?

Many multinational companies relocated from Nigeria to neighbouring countries, simply because there was no power.  We all know this.  I can assure you that if we return to coal-fired electricity generation, those companies that ran away will return to Nigeria.  The textile industries that closed due to inadequate power supply will re-open. After all it is taken that the market is here in Nigeria.  The agric sector will witness a boom because it will be easier to process and preserve agricultural products.

I recommend that the Government starts with four projects beginning with Kogi with 5000 MW, Benue 5000 MW, Enugu 5000 MW and Gombe 2500 MW. The plants take between three to five years to complete and should be able to contribute 17,500MW from the pilot scheme. Our coal deposits are largely amenable to surface mine and easier to provide safety measures as you dig down to forestall mining hazards.

In doing this, we need to seek American Government’s assistance and partnership to enable Nigeria benefit from USA fund to support Energy improvement in Africa. The USA Government can also help identify leading coal-to-power companies to build the plants. Similarly, the Chinese and Indians have advanced in this sector and can be worthy partners.

In 2010, one such company in America built a 6700 MW industrial capacity Coal fired power plant at a cost of $2 billion.

Can Nigeria readily find investors to invest in this sector?

 In fact, investors are waiting.  They will come because they will be sure to have their return on investment in good time.  Dangote Cement is already utilising coal as electricity generation source at its Obajana Plant in Kogi state.  Which means that Dangote  has found the wisdom of using coal to generate electricity power.  With coal, he is generating more than his company in Obajana needs and giving the excess to the national grid. Their own is small scale based, a little bit more than their need.

Where do you think this plants should be sited if we decide to go that way?

Well, from the interviews I had with experts in America, they advised that the power plants should be built close to the coal mine. That it is cheaper to transfer power generated to the consumers’ location than to transfer solid coal to a plant near the consumers. But I also understand that coal-fired plants depend heavily on water.  So wherever the plant is located a steady water supply must be guaranteed.

 How do you think that the coal plant will impact on the local community and Nigerians generally?

All Artisans and craftsmen, underline the word “all” will find employment. In fact, information I collected from the US indicates that the coal power plant makes use of many Artisans and craftsmen, you know filters and machines, welders, electricians you know that occupational group  and many of them that have been to technical schools,  have basic knowledge and they arrange adaptation programmes for them to fit into the needs of the plants.  A mega coal power plant should be able to generate 2,000 to 3,000 direct jobs and you can imagine the indirect jobs in those localities.

Will you say then that our abandoning coal as a source of electricity generation has been an error, after all?

It is a very tragic mistake. It is one of the fall outs of our embracing oil. When we discovered oil we thought oil was a magic wind to solve all problems including food.  Even our groundnut, cocoa  and coffee we turned our backs on them.  Cotton production, everything.  They all died as we discovered oil. So coal will come to now help us to have power that we will use in various processes in every industry.

In every industry we have to assure them of power.  In fact, investors will just come to the country.  All they need is electricity.  They follow developments in every country on the internet and know the power rating of each country.  The moment your power rating improves remarkably, investors will come.

After all, Americans go to China to set up factories because of cheap labour which we have in Nigeria. We have the market, thousands of unemployed have basic training and by the time they recruit them and send them for specialised training to fit  into the  required processes they will do well.

Even companies that relocated to other countries will return.  I understand that Michelin relocated to Ghana.  By the year 2000, I was in a conference in Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Commonwealth Youth Minister’s Conference when the  Ghanaian minister of  Youth announced that members should take information to their home government that Ghana has just celebrated one year of uninterrupted power supply.

That sent signals to the rest of the world. That was in the year 2000. By the year 2000 Ghana celebrated one year of uninterrupted power supply, but I do not have information about their  total megawatts.

What is the assurance that we can have steady supply of power if we choose coal because right now we have problems with hydro, sometimes the power generation companies complain of shortage in water level.  Sometimes about gas pipes vandalism.  What difference can coal make in this regard?

The difference coal will make is in an earlier question when you wanted to know where the power plants will be locatedIf we locate the power plants in the area of the coal mine, the people of the immediate communities will protect the investment in their own areas because they will work in the plants.

It won’t be like the unfortunate development in the Niger Delta where people are blowing up investments. They should be able to protect it. Electricity will be transported through high tension cables to consumers which are not very easy to vandalise. That is one of the strongest reasons why efforts should be made to locate the power plants in the vicinity of the mines.


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