Renewable energy takes centre stage in Africa

Yemie Adeoye, Just Back from South Africa

15 October 2014, Sweetcrude, Lagos –  As Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, continues to grapple with its perennial epileptic power supply with little recourse to alternate sources of power, renewable energy is taking the centre stage elsewhere in the world. It is increasingly the focal point of major electric power conferences around the continent.

Solar panel array and wind turbinesWith several developed and highly-industrialised nations calling for continued reduction in gas emissions to avert global catastrophe, renewable energy – inherently, a clean energy source – has become the beautiful bride. The popularity of renewable energy is also buoyed by the need to meet predicted spike in global energy demand, to drive global development.

Nigeria, Africa’s economic super power with an annual GDP of about $510 billion, is currently struggling to keep up with the rest of world as it introduces one policy after another in its quest to salvage what is left of its highly epileptic and seemingly moribund power sector.

Recently in South Africa – a country with a population of 48 million people and power generating output of 35,000 megawatts – delegates from around the world gathered to discuss electric power supply, with focus on solar energy.

The seminar was an avenue for representatives from stakeholders in the African PhotoVoltaic, PV, market to set out their vision and establish a roadmap for solar development across the region.

At the seminar, tagged ‘PV project development 2014’, delegates wondered how Nigeria could have emerged Africa’s largest economy with less than 5,000 megawatts, MW, of power for 170 million people. For the delegates, the matrix just doesn’t add up. But some held the opinion that if there had been constant power in Nigeria, its GDP would certainly have grown above a trillion dollar.

The quest for an improved power sector by Nigeria is at an all-time high, but the efforts on the part of the various governments since 1999 have not been commensurate with the attendant result as power generation remain well below the installed capacity of the national power generating stations. The nation has been investing only on thermal power generating plants, rarely on hydro, to the neglect of renewable energy sources.

A recent move by investors in Nigeria’s power sector to consider massive coal importation from South Africa for the purpose of power generation was discouraged by the Federal Government for no justifiable reason, when it is a reality that coal is a practical and sustainable alternative to gas and hydro.

Already, a projected upward review of gas prices in Nigeria is threatening to take its toll on electricity tariffs and this is also generating negative reactions from Nigerians across board who continue to live in near absolute darkness.

Pekun Adeyanju of Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company in Lagos confirmed to SweetcrudeReports that the power distribution companies are not being fed with adequate power to distribute to customers. A major part of this problem is blamed on non-availability of gas due to incessant production shut-in by the international oil companies as they carry out repair works on pipelines.

An industry operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted as sad the fact that Nigeria is still fiddling with the idea of going into renewable energy when it has been confirmed as the cheapest and fastest growing source of electricity supply.

“Why would we be generating less than 5,000MW when we have no less than 170 million people to supply? What do we have to lose if we invest in renewable energy, especially solar?” the operator queried.

According to him, Nigeria could be generating thousands of megawatts of electricity through renewable energy which would go to complement the conventional thermal and hydro sources of power generation.

The Republic of South Africa is currently generating about 37,000MW of electricity for which over 80 percent is coal fired. The conference in South Africa, however, confirmed that solar remains the cheapest means of electric power supply for which Nigerians are currently clamouring.

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