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April 26, 2024

Our intractable electricity conundrum, by Adekunle Adekoya

Our intractable electricity conundrum, by Adekunle Adekoya

AS a people, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves when it comes to electricity.  Since 1972 when the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN, was merged with the Niger Dams Authority to create the National Electric Power Authority, NEPA, millions of Nigerians have been born and have died with their dreams of living in a country with reliable power supply unrealised. From one foible to another, the political class, whether military or civilian, have lurched from one excuse to another for this shame that has refused to go away.

It is beginning to look like this regime will not be different. I want to be proved wrong. In the last few weeks, especially since announcement of new tariffs, power supply has taken an abysmal, downward turn. The Band A customers, who we are told should get no less than 18-22 hours of supply daily have been experiencing outages and rolling blackouts. If the Band A people can’t get electricity, despite the high tariffs charged them, what hope for those in Bands B,C, D and E? And we must remember that many communities are not in any band at all; there are streets and neighbourhoods in Lagos whose transformers broke down, were taken away, and have not been returned in one whole year!

What is becoming clear to many Nigerians is that political handlers in the power sector do not seem to understand the issues behind our intractable electricity conundrum, and are therefore incapable of proferring solutions to these issues. As a result, we may be in for more blackouts and system collapses for longer than we think. First thing is that there are not enough generation companies for our teeming population and their power needs. Towns and cities are expanding furiously; and they will all need more power. As infrastructure is developed, more industries will spring up and will also need more power. As more wealth is created from a recovering economy, disposable income will increase, which will in turn trigger greater demand for more electricity. 

In short, we need more GENCOs, so that installed power generating capacity can be boosted. In doing that, as a nation, we need to look at options beyond generated power in the direction of embedded power. According to Wikipedia, embedded generation (also known as distributed generation or distributed energy resources) refers to electricity generation or storage plants connected to a distribution network rather than the transmission network. That means we have to take another hard, close look at the Transmission Company of Nigeria. If we activate options in the area of renewable energy like solar networks and wind, we would not have to connect them to a transmission grid, but directly to distribution networks, what we call DISCOs here. We would be solving a lot of problems by so doing, and saving a hell of a lot of money too.

I said earlier that as a nation of peoples, we should be ashamed of our electricity problem and our status as a generator economy. Yesterday, the internet was awash with news that an East African country, Tanzania, shut down five of its power stations in order to reduce excess supply in the national grid.

Prime Minister of Tanzania, Kassim Majaliwa, was  reported to have announced the shutdown of five hydroelectric stations in the country. Mr Majaliwa said the main plant alone, which is Mwalimu Nyerere Hydroelectric Station, has already generated enough electricity to power major cities, including the country’s main commercial hub, Dar es Salaam.

The BBC quoted an official of Tanesco, the power company run by the country as saying: “We have turned off all these stations because the demand is low and the electricity production is too much, we have no allocation now.”

Following heavy rains that began earlier in the year, the 2,115MW Julius Nyerere hydropower dam is said to be filled up with water.

The shutdown makes it the first time the country, which suffers chronic power shortages, will be shutting its hydroelectric stations over excess production. The development comes just two months after the first turbine, with a capacity of 235 MW of a new hydroelectric plant, was switched on, in order to increase the power generation capacity and help reduce months of power rationing.

If Tanzania can switch off five stations because of low demand which in turn created excess electricity, why can’t Nigeria have enough power stations and generate excess? Eskom is the electricity utility company in South Africa. Its generation division, according to Wikipedia, has 15 coal-fired power stations with an installed capacity of 44,602 MW.  Between Tanzania, South Africa, and Nigeria, the electricity problem, I think, can be traced to the leadership of those countries. How the power elite, since 1999 (irrespective of which party has been in power for how many years) has failed to come to grips with the power problem beats me, despite the fact that some of our brightest and best have served in both the PDP and APC federal administrations. There is a big problem here, and the earlier we identify and solve it, the better. We can’t remain a generator economy forever!