Published On: Mon, Jul 31st, 2017

Are generators rendering electric grid obsolete?

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By Ochiaka Ugwu

The Nigeria energy crisis came to the fore penultimate week when the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara revealed that Nigerians spend five billion dollars on generators annually, saying the House of Representatives will support the Executive to find a permanent solution to the power problem in Nigeria as it is not acceptable.
Dogara who also explained that the House is reviewing some of Nigeria’s energy laws in order to provide an appropriate legal framework that will facilitate the exploitation of renewable energy to benefit the economy noted that power is arguably the single most important driver of the national economy and that is indeed difficult if not impossible to imagine modern life without power.
The Bauchi born lawmaker who lamented our offices, homes, businesses industries and factories heavy reliance on generators estimated that Nigerians spend about $5 billion US Dollars yearly to fuel their generators.
To arrest this ugly trend, Dogara informed that three bills are already getting attention in the House. He said Bill for an Act to provide for the utilization, sustainability and adequate supply of renewable energy for electricity and heat generation and for other related matters, and a Bill for an act to amend the National Electricity Regulatory Commission meter reading, billing and cash collection and credit management for electricity supplies and regulations to address matters relating to outstanding liability of electric bills in rented apartments and a Bill for an Act to amend the Electric Power Sector Reform Act to reposition the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission for effective service delivery and for related matters will be given utmost priority.
Moreover, it is on record that Nigeria has topped the list of generator-importing countries for the fourth year in a row, having surpassed others since 2002. This was said by Chairman, Benin Electricity Distribution Company Limited (Vigeo Holdings), Mr Gbolade Osibodu.
According to the statistics, Nigeria accounted for 35 per cent or $152million of the total $432.2million spent by African countries on generator imports in 2005. The consequence is that nearly all surviving manufacturing companies run private plants, with more production costs being shifted to the consumers and this is not good news for industrial development meaning that development would continue to elude Nigeria until there is regular power supply.
More worrisome is the fact that Nigeria has all it takes to make it work from sufficient water, gas, manpower, to resources etc – to solve the power problem in the country. Regrettably, Nigeria is faced with inadequate and unreliable power supply, making it difficult to achieve needed economic growth and development.
More so, Federal Government that has the responsibility of rolling out policies that will drive the power sector seems to have lost direction on what to do. Early this year, it cautiously provided soft ground for manufacturers and retailers of generators with an announcement that the nation will still not enjoy uninterrupted power supply as promised. This no doubt sent shouts of joy in the camps of those who deal on and stock up these all essential items and sadness to ordinary Nigerians who are still groaning under epileptic power supply and heavy tariff.
Being at the end of Nigeria’s woeful power supply record, this group of merchants must be smiling all the way to the bank at the expense of ordinary Nigerians who toil all day to better their lot while praying that power will stabilize in within a short period. Why won’t they? Since we are the world’s highest importer of generators and unwittingly support a whole billion dollar industry in the developed world. They are profiting (and laughing at us) from our miserable power supply.
We all know that Nigeria is currently going through a phase which is worsening by the day due to its unreliable electricity supply. There is power rationing and various households and localities have been put on a schedule of eight hours of power supply, 16 hours of darkness. That notwithstanding, during those eight hours of light, the light may go on and off a number of times. This has made many to rely on expensive diesel generators to provide electricity. The reality for most people in this part of the world is that they cannot afford generators. This means that their power requirements remain unmet. To add to the trouble, the government has also increased petroleum pump price from N97 to N145 per litre.
Although, the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan promised “Fresh Air” but was rejected at the polls given the fact that his “Fresh Air” promise was contaminated by Generator fumes as he was unable to restore steady power. Even the All Progressives Congress (APC) has not fared better. It has become worst with no solution in sight. This has made cities to stem from the sound of generators in the background. No doubt, there are a number of issues relating to the use of generators, it is expensive because diesel is 20% or 30% more expensive than other fuels and pollution is also a key issue. More pathetic is that hospitals are not able to function properly as they don’t have electricity, reflecting the human cost of this system. Most businesses cannot rely on the grid and have their own generators, which is very inefficient and costly leaving them with no option to relocate to other countries or more worst close up completely. Many industries that rely on petroleum products have had to shut down, unable to bear the high cost of production.
Apart from cost, pollution is another serious case as people have been known to die from placing their generators indoors (a mechanism against theft). Also generators are noisy and produce a lot of smoke, entailing noise and air pollution. A family in Edo was reported to have died from generator fumes they inhaled while sleeping.
Again, the economy has faced major challenges including a sharp currency fall, deepening energy crisis, deteriorating macroeconomic imbalance and rising inflation and interest rates. It should be known that unstable foreign exchange regime as well as the uncertainties of economic indicators make doing business a higher perceived risk.
Indeed, the electricity sector would have been very attractive to investors because of the current demand of electricity, foreign and local investors (IPPs) are unwilling to invest in this sector because of their lack of confidence in the system, the distribution company which is finding it very difficult to collect tariffs for electricity as what they are give out on bills does not commiserate with what people are consuming. Customers have helplessly complained on DISCOs extortion in high billing even when they don’t have current in their cables.
With all the claims by the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola that electricity will improve in no time, Nigerians are yet to see any progress. There hasn’t been really a structural change in power sector since this administration came in. One of the problems relates to companies handling the sector as most of them don’t have the capacity to drive the process. Most people feel vindicated about their early opposition to privatization. It was the government’s misled privatization policies and the practice of putting profits before the needs of the people – and of the country – that blinded it to the developing crisis. It seems it was never about ensuring a reliable, safe, clean and affordable supply of electricity; no, it was always about using cheap electricity to feed mining, industrial and agricultural profits and building DISCOs into big multinational cash cow energy corporations.
The electricity companies currently driving our power sector are in a decaying state and it has plunged the nation deeper into energy crisis. The energy utility has failed to keep the lights on in spite of the fact that consumption levels have been declining. There is no doubt that for things to go back to normal, these companies will need a massive capital injection in order to breathe a new lease of life into its operations. Small wonder it has anxiously been devising ways to turn its fortunes: from inhuman tariff hike to seeking funding so that it can fast-track its infrastructural projects.
It is time electricity companies invest in solar, wind, water and other renewable sources of energy to meet the yearning and aspiration of Nigerians who need not only steady power but cheap and clean energy to drive production that will make them upgrade from consuming economy to producing economy.

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  1. BUHARI,please give us electric power.OBASANJO gave us cell phone and let another in-coming president give us water.

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