With the epileptic power supply in Nigeria, windmills and solar energy might just be the answer to the electricity challenge. At this time of climate change, BUKOLA OGUNSINA writes on the need to consider these climate-friendly alternative energy sources
I imagine if, with the help of solar energy where people do not have to blow out kerosene lanterns, but, switch off solar bulbs at the break of morning if people do not gather fire woods, but use solar stoves. Electricity through solar energy will not only power light bulbs and farm machinery but prevent pollution and deforestation. What a healthy difference it would make for Nigerians embracing energy generated naturally through various forms of renewable energy.
In most developed countries, the countryside is decked with windmills to generate power so it is easier using the latest technology and tractors to farm and go about daily jobs. In contrast, the sun is always mostly at its peak in Africa, and the high winds rage in the northern regions raising dust, leaving many to wonder why Africa has not fully embraced the concept of renewable energy such as solar and wind. Renewable energy can be obtained from natural sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat. Solar energy comes from the sun at little or no cost.
The growing need to diversify the country’s energy sector has become a matter of urgency as the general electricity which depends largely, if not solely, on hydro power grows worse with mega watts often fluctuating from high to as low as below 75 per cent.
Reports have it that the Energy Commission of Nigeria and the United Nations Development Programme recently held a one-day stakeholders awareness and consultation on the SE4ALL. Late last August, the former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan had inaugurated the SE4ALL, a project established to improve energy efficiency while making sure that global access to modern energy services, doubling up the share of renewable energy in the worldwide energy synthesis was achieved by the year 2030.
A teacher and Green campaigner, Simi Gemade, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that, “Renewable energy is a clean idea for development for various spheres in Nigeria and ought to be taken seriously by the government. Nigerians are used to electricity, and so introducing solar energy would not be an easy task. However, that is not to say that it cannot be achieved. The government needs to educate the public on the positivity of renewable energy, the benefits, even to the environment to make the transition easier.
“For instance, solar energy is said to be expensive, but the government can find a way of subsidising it and making it readily available to the public. Take for instance, inverters People use them despite the fact that they are quite expensive. I think both the affordability and availability matter.”
The long term benefits of renewable energy are many: It preserves the eco system, lessens greenhouse gas emission, and removes agricultural household wastes that in turn could be used for biofuel production, rural electrification and as fossil fuel substitutes. All these would keep the environment green and healthy, preventing pollution and deforestation. It will in the long run prevent climate change and resultant disasters.
In a report by EnviroNews Nigeria, the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN)’s director, programmes and administration, Godwin Ojo said, “The time is ripe for the Nigerian government to move beyond mere talks and shift from fossil fuel-based energy sources to renewables such as solar, wind turbines, and mini-hydro projects that are off-grid and in tune with local production, supply and maintenance. These require no gigantic infrastructure.”
Many people have argued that solar energy is very expensive to maintain and with Nigeria’s bad maintenance culture, people are still far better off with the hydro-generated electricity. Again, not many people know about windmills to make an educated decision about whether or not it is what they need. However, one thing is that solar panels and the rest of its apparatus are not inexpensive. Hence, this begs the question, how ready is Nigeria in embracing the concept of renewable energy?
In 2014, Nigeria signed a deal for 1 GW (Giga Watts) Solar Power Capacity, with Solius NGPC, Peoples Home Association, and Solar Force Nigeria Limited. These are said to involve utility scale power projects as well as distributed power projects. In Ondo State, for instance, Japan has a master plan for the utilisation of solar energy and rural water supply. It also had a master plan for Imo State from as far back as 2005 for utilisation of solar energy.
The main goal of the ministry of environment is to reduce the projected energy use by 20 per cent and meet 20 per cent of the nation’s electricity needs with first class renewable energy sources by 2020. The combination of energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy resources, should allow Nigeria to meet any future increase in demand without increasing its reliance on non-renewable resources.
A Nigerian engineer and an expert in renewable energy, Chinedum Ukabiala said that, “Solar energy is versatile. There are so many applications and the technology to harness them for various things. People can dry crops with solar energy and people can drive hybrid cars instead of just cars that use petroleum,” he stated.
Solar energy in itself requires little cost, however, the maintenance for the solar panel, the equipment used to harness the energy from the sun is what is essential. As at 2013, a solar panel costs about N45,000.
Understandably, solar energy cannot work at night as it requires energy from the sun, and the process works through chemical configuration as the energy is hitched during the day. To keep it clean, the solar system panel can be washed using a pressure washer. The dust is removed so that the panel will be clean and effective enough to receive solar energy during the day.
The batteries of the solar panels can use this energy at night to generate electricity. “Energy harnessed in the day time can be stored as power in a battery for use at night. The batteries are expensive and have a life span of about five years,” Ukabiala added.
It has been noted that solar panels can last for 20 to 35 years and more. Further research shows that solar panels have not yet been fully designed to power heavy electrical equipment. “Generators would require a large area for the solar panels to absorb the sun,” he said. This is one of the challenges faced by solar electricity. This would mean it’s better for private uses, however, some tests on its performance is on a small scale around the Nigeria. The versatility involved in the use of solar energy is quite attractive in the long run.
Japan’s major Official Development Assistance (ODA), from 1999 to 2012, implemented a project in Jigawa, a master plan for the utilisation of solar. It also has two projects in Katsina to include a solar electricity generation system.
As a result of strong winds in the northern part of the country, and the federal government’s plans to look at alternative resources for power to implement a wind map for Nigeria with towns nominated for the placement of wind turbines for power generation, reports have it that Katsina will the first state to patronise windmill energy.
The wind energy can be harnessed through turbines. A turbine is defined as a turbo device that has at least one moving portion called a rotor assembly; the assembly is a drum with blades attached. Fluid in motion, it acts on the blades so that they move and convey rotational energy to the rotor.
According to the ECOWAS Observatory For Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, Rimi, a small village in Katsina State is having a 10 MW Wind Power Plant built in the area. The project was started by the Katsina State government under its former governor, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. It is receiving support from the Federal Ministry of Power (FMP) and has done so since 2007.
The journey has not been smooth though. The windfarm, which was targeted for completion in 2012 had complications when the unfortunate incident of the kidnapping of the French national who was in charge of the project occurred, along with the subsequent need to engage another French company to complete the work, among other challenges. In spite of it all, the work nears completion.
Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Power revealed in a statement early this year that the Wind farm, which would be first of its kind in Nigeria has achieved nearly 98 per cent completion and has 37 turbines presently being test run.
He also indicated that harnessing the wind resource is an integral part of the newly approved national policy on sustainable energy and energy efficiency.
The contract presented for the windmill project was given by FMP to Vergnet S.A a certified French wind turbine manufacturer, while O.T Otis Engineering, Nigerian and the German firm Terrawatt were hired together for consultancy in regards to the project. Reports say that with 55 metres, the average yearly wind speed for Katsina is measured at 6.044 m/s. with this the farm will work to produce electricity through the 37 wind turbines with a rated power of 275kW each.
Reports state that Edo State’s first phase of the Azura-Edo Independent Power Project (IPP) is set to commence construction of a 450-megawatt (MW) open cycle gas turbine power plant. This is situated near Benin City, in Edo state. The first phase of the plant is scheduled to come on stream in 2017. Nigeria’s former president Goodluck Jonathan welcomed the construction late last year.
The Ministry of Environment in Nigeria believes that renewable energy projects in most developing countries have demonstrated that this form of energy can, in fact, directly contribute to poverty alleviation by supplying the necessary energy needed for establishing businesses and employment.
Asides this, renewable energy is healthy for the environment in this era of climate change. This is energy that has no carbon dioxide emission and the only problem which may arise from its use is disposal of used up batteries. These batteries however, can be recycled.
The cost of maintaining renewable energy would naturally be on the high side, but the benefits are worth it. Solar energy would go a long way if the installation is not complex and its paraphernalia is cheap and readily accessible to the general public.
How can the government take this important step? Although some studies have said that renewable energy in Africa is on the rise, most Nigerians are yet to see it affordable and in use everywhere.
Sometime ago, the President of the Federal Environment Agency in Germany, Jochen Flasbarth, in an interview with the media said that Nigeria needed additional electricity supply to achieve the 2020 target of becoming one of the top 20 economies. Long after he has spoken, his words continue to reverberate. And with the erratic hydro energy electricity supply in the country, it may be time to harness other sources of power to develop the country and meet the 2020 target.
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