During my very first trip to the United States in the year 2000, I was eager to see some highly advanced power infrastructures, that led to the stable power supply I had always heard about regarding the United States.
As someone with a background in electrical engineering, I was looking out for some of the differences on the front end, which has enabled such a large country to achieve stable power in spite of their heavy industrialisation. However, I was surprised to discover that their front end wasn’t much different from what we have here in Nigeria.
They have electric poles just like we do.
They have overhead cables same like ours.
They have transformers too, just like we have (though not as big as ours), but installed on the poles. I, therefore, was amazed at that similarity and questions started raging in my mind.
How come they have power supply stability and we don’t have? Isn’t the physical distribution infrastructure the reason for our challenges? Is it not because we don’t have underground power cables? The cables in the United States also were not underground? Well, it turned out that the difference is in the thinking, not the physical layout.
With a population of over 198 million people, blessed with rich natural resources and human potential, Nigeria still suffers from acute electric power supply. The current supply is below 8,000MW and I am not sure that there is a clear consensus on the total capacity we require to be self-sufficient. This is in spite of the fact that our economic and social development as a nation tends to revolve around the availability of power.
Power availability is positively correlated with the standard of living of a given society as it manifests in increased food production, increased industrial output, a positive industrial reform, and adequate shelter and healthcare. All of these require a sustainable means of power to function effectively.
Achieving power sustainability, however, is a major responsibility that would also require a sound sustainability plan. The question is: have we really evaluated what our power needs are as a country? Have we gathered and analysed data on the energy supply and consumption in this country?
What really is the total requirement to make us sustainable? Is it 50,000MW or 85,000MW or 100,000MW? The great management thinker, Peter Drucker said: “you cannot manage what you cannot measure”. Therefore I think it is critical that we first quantify the total consumption required in order to determine the total requirement.
In addition, the thinking that has generated only less than 8,000MW for us in 58 years cannot be the same thinking that will take us to 100,000MW or whatever it is that we require. There is, therefore, the need for a “paradigm shift” according to Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
But let’s put this into perspective. The demand for electricity will continue to rise while matching that demand with the required supply remains a major challenge. So what options are available? How about exploring other alternative sources of electricity supply, at least for the rural areas in the first instance? Can solar help?
It’s been observed that the Sun alone has enough capacity to power the entire world if that supply is harnessed effectively. That is one reason why even countries like China, The UAE, United States, etc. that have already achieved power sustainability are still investing heavily in solar energy as a source of alternative energy because of their consideration for the environment.
According to the German Aerospace Centre’s Institute of Solar Research, roughly 40% of Africa’s surface receives over 2 000 kilowatts per hour of solar energy annually. I believe that Africa’s biggest opportunity for sustainable power could be in solar, because of its ability to meet a major part of our energy demands.
In addition, since success leaves clues and there is really no need to reinvent the wheel, another suggestion would be to benchmark some countries in the world that have already achieved sustainability. We should check what they did and then do the same thing. More so, the world has become a global village.
It is no longer news that there is a strong correlation between socio-economic development and the availability of electricity. Therefore if we must succeed as a nation, we must think of producing energy in a way that not only meets the present need but also guarantees that the need of future generations will be met in a more sustainable way.