Thursday, January 18, 2018
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How solar can create millions of jobs in Nigeria

I was recently shocked when I visited a Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) office; I discovered to my uttermost amazement that they run on generating set to meet their daily energy needs. It was then it dawned on me that Nigeria still has a long way to go in her quest for reliable energy.

The story was not different when I got to my friend’s house the other day, the instruction I received is not to touch any electrical switch and appliance because all of them “provoke an electric shock when touched.” Obviously, my friend has turned into a refugee in his own house without permission. Anytime he goes to lodge complaints in PHCN’s office, it is either the wire is the problem or the transformer.

Now, even with the change of name from National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) to PHCN the cries of ‘UP NEPA!’, ‘UP NEPA!’, and ‘UP NEPA!’ often uncontrollably rent the air whenever the utility company that has the monopoly of power graciously takes away darkness from Nigerians for the period they choose. Each time power comes, one could hardly hear the next person given the magnitude of the shouts of joy. Even children who have minimum use of power join in the jubilation–dancing, jumping, shouting and singing. For some reasons, steady power has become a luxury in Nigeria.

These days some children hide their excitement, as they explain that hardly would they complete the shout of ‘UP NEPA” before the light is taken. The other day, deafening shouts woke me up from sleep and handed down migraine to me, which made me stay at home a couple of days, with risk of losing my job.

I do not blame the children who are merely expressing their happiness over what should be their entitlement as citizens of a “great nation.” Wait a minute, maybe the children need to shout louder, but closer to NEPA offices or relevant agencies, and not close to my window. I still love my job.

Nigerians desire for uninterrupted power is uncontainable. This can be seen whenever NEPA retrieves power (always without notice), even the children wear gloomy faces. You would hear remarks such as; ‘they have done what they know how to do best’, ‘E no go beta for them’, ‘God punish them… ‘ and many such curses.

As a first-time visitor to Nigeria, as you observe the massive cable working the sky with NEPA poles and her power transformers, you think Nigeria has enough energy to waste. However, spend an hour or two; your guess is as good as mine. With a population of over 140 million, Nigeria’s energy needs have been estimated at about 20,000 MW. But the NEPA, which has the monopoly of power distribution, generates between 1,800 MW and 3,000 MW, and is hardly able to meet 20 per cent of the power demand of Nigerians.

While countries like Ghana with an estimated population of 24 million are creating 2,000 MW of electricity and celebrating 10 years of uninterrupted power supply, and creating thousands of jobs, Nigeria with over 140 million people cannot generate 3,000 MW of electricity or celebrate 10 hours of uninterrupted power supply, and thousands are losing their jobs and businesses are dying daily.

According to Vangurad News, the former Minister of Power, Professor Nnaji, had put current power output at around 4,000 megawatts of electricity and said he hoped to increase it to 5,000 megawatts by the end of the year (2011) and target 6,000 megawatts by 2013. It never happened, even with privatisation!

According to Tribune newspapers, former President Goodluck Jonathan said his administration remained committed to the attainment of uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria before the end of its tenure in 2015. Jonathan gave this assurance during an audience with members of the Board of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company led by Vice President Namadi Sambo. But this is not the first time such promise was made and broken, and apologies tendered to helpless Nigerians.

The displeasure over Nigeria’s erratic power supply has been extended to the personality of NEPA officials. It manifested recently when a young lady brought home a NEPA official to her father (who was thrown out of employment on account of erratic power supply) as a fiancé. Not even pleas from a number of people including myself would make her father allow his daughter marry a NEPA official.

The man went further to say that NEPA officials are insensitive, wicked, corrupt, and selfish and a repository of curses which he did not want his daughter and family to partake of. The man concluded that the NEPA official will bring darkness in the life of his daughter and family. All attempts to convince the man to accept the NEPA official as son-in-law met with stiff resistance.

The man shared how he established a big factory, purchased trucks and other heavy duty machines including generating sets to complement NEPA. He employed 2,000 workers in Lagos after he returned from Europe where he spent 20 years. A few years into the business, he recorded great sales.

Bit by bit, business began to dwindle thanks to the epileptic power supply which eventually forced him to rely solely on generating sets. The high cost of diesel and maintenance ate deep into his profit, and two years later, his business collapsed throwing him, 2,000 workers and dependents into unemployment.

Right now, he is fund-raising to go back to Europe and never to come back to Nigeria until the power situation improves. The man told me in utter frustration, “You either have energy or forget about industry.” This man is just one in a million of Nigerians who have been thrown into unemployment due to inadequate power supply.

I do not think that any NEPA official would want to keep Nigerians in darkness and unemployed. The problem goes beyond NEPA officials. “Nigeria is in darkness because she chose to be,” said Nick Samuel, a solar engineer. Some individuals are benefitting (generator sellers of course) from the unending national darkness that has denied Nigerians one of the basic necessities of life today—power.

Everywhere you go, the deafening sounds of generator sets buffet your eardrums. Generating sets have become a basic necessity in every Nigerian home and business. Statistics from Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) shows that 60 million Nigerians depend on generating sets for their electricity needs.

It is estimated that N16, 408 trillion is used annually on fuelling generators in the country because public electricity supply is unreliable. This is evidence of government-NEPA’s inability to supply power. Nigerians rely on generating sets as an alternative energy source but is a generator a viable alternative? Considering the cost, environmental and health hazards, and employment implications among others?

Nigeria is said to be the largest importer of generators, especially from Asian countries. The amount spent on importation has become a huge drain on the country’s foreign reserves. After spending a whopping N762.93 billion through the special intervention fund for the power sector in 2009, the 6,000 MW promise by the Federal government became an empty promise. This is in addition to the approval by Federal Executive Council (FEC) in the Power ministry’s Tender Board of award of various contracts in generation, transmission and distribution in order to improve power supply to the nation.

Available and affordable energy is not a luxury in Nigeria; it is a basic requirement for economic development and poverty reduction.

The National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, disclosed that money spent on diesel is higher than that spent on petrol annually to power generators. The Federal government equally joined the private sector in generator-importation by making a provision of 2 billion naira for the purchase, fuelling and maintenance of generators for government offices in the 2009 budget.

The high cost of maintaining generators has forced many manufacturers to scale down production and lay off workers, a situation which is taking its toll on our economy, and strengthening the manufacturing base of countries that manufacture generators, as well as creating jobs in those countries.

Generators constitute great danger to our health and environment. Besides the noise which experts say could damage the eardrums, the fumes they emit -which is carbon monoxide-have resulted in respiratory complications to many Nigerians. Substandard generators have even caused fires that have resulted in loss of valuable property and even death in some cases.

It also produces harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Like the glass in a greenhouse, these gases collect in the atmosphere and create a barrier that prevents the earth’s excess heat from escaping. As the barrier grows, the earth’s temperature increases. This is magnifying the natural greenhouse effect and the result is climate change.

We now consume petroleum products at a tremendous rate. Burning fuel in our generators has pumped billions of tonnes of microscopic particles and greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, fundamentally changing its composition.

Global warming and its increasing effects have shed light on the many global environmental issues. Our planet’s fragile ecosystem is under attack on many fronts as a result of industrialization and our growing transportation infrastructure. Worldwide change is needed in order to avert catastrophe, the development of alternative energy sources is absolutely necessary.

Instead of these constant national embarrassments, Nigeria could take advantage of what nature has given to us–the sun, which is the earth’s primary energy source to meet her energy needs. Switching from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources is vital to protect our atmosphere and climate.

The sun is the largest source of energy. The energy from the sun is inexhaustible, renewable and ubiquitous. The average daily sunshine duration in Nigeria is about twelve hours daily. Due to climate change, the earth is increasingly becoming warmer, whereas the earth is losing water. Since there is an abundance of sun, most societies are taking advantage of it to meet their power needs. In the last few years, solar panels are being mounted in the Sahara Desert which facilitates the transfer of energy to the West for their technological production.

“If Nigeria would invest in solar technology, it will not only meet our energy needs, but also generate excess energy for export and earn foreign exchange. It will also create markets and employment” said Nnamdi Anaele, a solar engineer.

Photovoltaic, or PV for short, is a solar power technology that converts sunlight into electricity when the sun’s rays excite electrons in the cells. The PV system features solar cells that generate electricity current when they are exposed to the sun’s rays. The PV system converts solar energy into electricity. The sunlight charges silicone-based particles in the panel and the electricity that is generated can be used to power appliances or stored in batteries for later use.

Solar cell is made from cuprous oxide instead of silicon. Cuprous oxide is one of the first materials known to display the photoelectric effect, in which light causes electricity to flow in a material.

Power inverters can be incorporated; the inverter formats the direct current electricity into alternating current for home use. Worldwide, nearly 500 million watts of electricity are produced by this method, and the market for solar cells is growing at 60 per cent per year. The power you generate can either be used for your home or can flow back into the national grid. The mounting systems minimize roof perforations, maintenance is inexpensive, and performance is optimal.

Installation by a trained installer is fast and performance is guaranteed for up to 25 years. With N300, 000, PV can provide stable power for a household for 25 years.

Employment experts believe that PVs can create not less than 10,000 jobs in Nigeria annually thereby reducing the staggering 40 million unemployed persons in Nigeria as recently presented by the World Bank.

So with PVs, you become your own energy producer. Installing a PV is an easy and safe way to help the environment, to add value to your home, and to save money on electricity bills. Solar power is highly efficient. They are already, with existing technology, powering Sevilla, Spain and parts of California, USA. We could build them here. We have already seen the proposed map of Europe. One kilometer of solar panels in the desert provides the equivalent of 1.5 million barrels of oil. So an area of 170 kilometers by 170 kilometers of desert will provide for all of Europe’s energy needs. And this is just concentrated solar power, heating water which turns the turbines. Absolutely zero carbon emissions.

Sunlight is a non-exhaustible source of energy that makes no contribution to the greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Still it is miles away from replacing the fossil fuels. Many reasons can be cited. One of its biggest disadvantages is it is still out of reach for the common man and it has a long break-even period. Unless a product or service is embraced by masses it can’t be treated as alternative source to fossil fuels. But scientists are tirelessly working on solar cells. It is believed that solar cells could soon be produced more cheaply using nanoparticle “inks”.

These nanoparticles can help in printing solar cells like newspaper or painted onto the sides of buildings or rooftops to absorb electricity-producing sunlight.

The situation whereby you pay NEPA bills even when you do not see power would not be there. It reduces government’s expenses by adding clean energy. It does not emit fumes, only comfort. So we should be looking at climate friendly energy that does not contribute to the depletion of ozone layer. With PVs, there is no sabotage by generator importers, as is often a reason given for NEPA failure. It offers stable and predictable power, not the irritating low current. Years ago, solar panels were very expensive, but now the price of solar panels is on the decline.

With solar power, small businesses that have been grounded by NEPA would be reactivated thereby creating employment. When you install solar, you liberate yourself from NEPA and its ability to shut down your business.

Solar panels, inverters and batteries can be manufactured in our secondary schools and universities and then sold to the public. This situation could generate employment for students, meaning available work after they leave school instead of roaming the streets.

Each citizen can finance solar panels by allowing citizens to buy shares of the installation. This joint ownership works. Again, since the panels are placed in strategic locations, it allows the people to see their own electricity production.

We already have the sun available. It is time to let modern technology power us, and the best day to start is today. Nigeria, let’s go green. Let’s create jobs and put food on someone’s table and shelter over someone’s head.

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