By Okafor Akachukwu 02/12/16
It has now been established that patience is the currency that Nigeria needs to have in abundance if they are to have regular electricity supply in the near future. Recently, the Managing Director of Benin Electricity Distribution Company, Olufunke Osibodu while speaking at the Founder’s Day event of a private university in Yola, urged Nigerians to be more patient with government on electricity improvements, as nothing is expected to change at least in the next five years. What a sad tale we are now accustomed to from the late Bola Ige days as Minister of Mines and Power. I think it has gotten to the stage when government should be urging Nigerians to be impatient with it and find alternatives that have been proven to be cheaper. Unfortunately it may not be doing this because it will not help its current relationship with the electricity distribution companies (Discos) which is frosty. Recently the association of Discos placed an advertorial in the dailies to ask the government to pay N100 billion owed by its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). The Minister of Power, Babatunde Fashola reacted, stating that the Nigerian government will not pay its estimated debt under an association, and that “debts are not calculated by estimate. It’s either N100 billion or less than N100 billion but not an estimate”. I am left to wonder – have Nigerians not been paying estimated electricity bills? Is what is good for the goose not also good for the gander? I guess these owing MDAs are yet to be disconnected. Let’s watch and see how this unfolds. The earlier people adopt renewable energy technologies for their homes and businesses the less they will have to be patient for grid electricity and estimated bills from Discos.
After I published my article titled “Paris Agreement, Nigeria has to depart from coal”, a reader pointed me to his article which was in defence of the Minister of Finance’s statement in Washington DC. Paul argued that “development funding does not look at the steps required to develop anymore, but is setting a global standard of development which is golden gilted which only the industrialised nations could possibly achieve…The environmental damaged caused by burning wood or refined products in old dirty generators far outweighs that of burning coal in a well managed power station”. These arguments are untrue, flawed and does not help the debate that Nigeria needs to be having about its energy future. It is true that an entire western industrialization was attained on the strength of coal, however this was during an era when the impact of coal on the environment was not known and established as it is today and there were no proven alternatives to the use of coal which could be successfully deployed at commercial scale as coal was. In fact in that period, only wood and coal were the proven fuel sources used except recently towards the end of the 19th century that hydro, oil, gas, nuclear, geothermal, and solar became part of the mix. The environmental damage caused by burning wood or refined products in old dirty generators can never outweigh burning coal in well managed power stations. Wood – biomass is a renewable energy fuel source from trees – which tree planting can be used to offset its carbon emissions. This is not so with coal. None of processes of coal mining, and burning is without severe negative impact to the environment, this is equally not so with oil, and gas exploration and refining expect for tar sands – oil sands, and shale gas which can be as dirty as coal.
The fact remains that there is no such thing as a well managed coal power station. Clean Coal is yet to be proven. While commercial deployment of Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS) technology for sequestering carbon emitted from fossil powered plants holds tremendous potential for the continued use of fossil fuel, however it is decades away from being a commercial success. Till date, only two CCUS large scale projects are in operation, the first was launched in 2014 in Saskatchewan, Canada for the Boundary Dam project at a cost of US $1.2 billion which is meant to capture 1 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of CO2. The second is the Abu Dhabi CCS Project for Emirates Steel Industries for 0.8 Mtpa. CCUS is a complex and expensive venture, in 2009, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a road map that called for 100 large CCUS projects to be implemented by 2020, following failures in delivery, in 2013 it downgraded its plan to 30 projects.
For Nigeria, the debate is not if coal will be part energy mix, already the National Energy Policy plan proposes that coal will be used to meet 30% of Nigeria’s energy needs. The debates are: 1.) How does Nigeria hope to deploy coal technology and still be able to meet its commitments to the Paris Climate Change Agreement – this has to do with the capacity to acquire, install and operate latest coal technology that reduces emissions?. 2.) How prepared are our regulatory agencies especially the environmental agencies to ensure that the operations of this sector comply with world best practices. 3.) What are the assurances that coal mining in host communities around the country will be protected from the toxic environmental – air, water, soil pollution that is evident with coal mining as is already the case in Okobo, and Itobe communities in Kogi State. 4.) How prepared are the government and mining companies to solve the socio-economic, health challenges and possibly social unrest that may arise from the devastation in these communities. We are yet to finish the oil pollution cleanup, Niger Delta crisis, and amnesty program business. We must prepare to pay the price for coal technology and getting locked into it.
Far from these questions on coal, it is important that our policy makers set our nation’s energy priorities right, and design a long term grand energy plan with which we can engage the international community if we will secure our energy future. Else it will continue to be a story of missed opportunities – just like we missed out on coal in the last decades. We must stop playing catch up. Gas and renewable energy sources hold tremendous potentials to sustainably secure Nigeria’s energy future and as a matter of urgent national security we have to do all we must to set the entire system working. We have to engage the right gears and levers, failure in doing this will result to huge. The race for the next energy future has just begun and the time for us join the race is now.
Okafor Akachukwu is a Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert. Contact: Twitter- @akachukwu, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org