Recurring Energy issues and developing a Strategic Niche Management Approach for the energy sector

By Okafor Akachukwu |05/01/2017

It is not news any longer that President Buhari presented the 2017 appropriation bill to a joint session of the National Assembly. What you may not have heard or which will come as a surprise if you have is the sum of N65 billion appropriated for the presidential amnesty programme. This is quite a huge sum, and no doubt every failing whether on the part of government, Niger Delta people or the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta since 1956 comes with real life consequences. The huge loss in oil revenue and power outages this year was mostly attributed to the activities of militants in the Delta. In this year also, government launched the Ogoni Clean-up which is estimated to cost USD 1 billion and 30 years to fully complete, however a lot of places in the Delta and oil producing areas remain to be cleaned up.

With the past events in the region since the turn of democracy in 1999 till date, we are yet to learn our lessons as a country. We seem to be more concerned about meeting our economic and financial needs without thought to the more costly socioeconomic and environmental consequences that normally follow. Where am I going with this? As I have always written, The Federal Government of Nigeria aims to meet 30% of its energy needs by 2030 from coal. What I haven’t said in my writings is that the coal to be used for this proposed generation would not be imported from abroad; they will be mined in Nigeria. If we do not know, coal mining and burning is highly environmentally – air, water, soil polluting. Particulates and chemicals that are released into the environment include Sulphur dioxide, Nitrogen oxides, Hydrogen Chloride, Hydrogen Fluoride, Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Dioxin, Chromium, which are all known to be very toxic. A preamble of the devastating effects of coal mining is already being set in Okobo and Itobe communities of Kogi State. But we seem to enjoy going through the cycle of environmental, security, and socioeconomic challenges with managing our natural resources.

In the last edition (Aug-Dec, 2016; Vol.2 No. 3) of Powerwatch, a quarterly publication of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Dr Abdulsalam Yusuf, an editorial board member of the publication did a good job of highlighting the energy potentials of coal power for Nigeria and the challenges it faces with securing financing – which are all sector wide established facts. However, Dr Yusuf failed to mention that coal power comes at huge costs. I would have ignored this, but coming from an official publication of the sector utmost regulator, it should be an issue of grave concern to stakeholders and the general public who will get to face and bear these consequences when they finally come. In my November 30 publication titled “The impatience with grid electricity and our energy future”, I asked some questions which should form the basis our debate and dialogue on the coal power. “…2.) How prepared are our regulatory agencies especially the environmental agencies to ensure that the operations of this sector [coal power] 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 [hazards] – air, water, soil pollution [which are] 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?” As things are currently, the answers to questions 2 and 3 are obvious; the Niger Delta experience is a case study. The answer(s) to question 4 is relative considering the strategy that government, mining and coal power companies may decide to solve these problems when they arise. But before they do, this debate on coal power is due for an extensive public debate, and importantly a federal legislative hearing, so that the facts on coal power can be presented by all sides of the divide. We hope to start pushing for these policy making processes in the coming year. Nigeria can’t afford to continue taking chances with its future when there are many better and proven alternatives. I will not be weary of writing on these issues or demanding for a robust sector public dialogue until a clear and holistic path of our relationship with coal is established.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the immediate past Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo and his engineering team invented an innovative fuel-efficient power generation system named ‘power-seed web machine’ which was presented to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu during a courtesy visit.  Prof Nebo stated that the machine is built to utilize only 20% of the amount of fuel needed by power generating systems to generate a kilowatt hour. Of interest to me is that Prof. Nebo said that the machine which has been test run would soon be deployed to select tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria to help meet their energy needs for one year before its commercialisation. This is a positive energy sector engineering – scientific and technological development which Dr Onu acknowledged and further pledged government’s support in protecting the invention and copyright abuse. Government’s support should not be limited to protecting the invention but also providing the enabling environment for inventions such as this to grow, successfully reach commercialization, wide adoption and diffusion. As I stated in a previous article (December 14 publication) titled “Scientific, technological and innovation capabilities required for an efficient energy system”, I listed amongst others that “education policy that aligns with development plans, foresight, right system regulation, technological spaces/platforms for interaction on various levels, use of demand stimuli – procurement to push for supply improvements and innovation, increasing capacity to absorb and use knowledge, building regional and sectoral systems of innovation, stimulating entrepreneurship and incubators” are required for Nigeria’s energy sector to become efficient.

The proposed plan by Prof. Nebo to deploy the fuel-efficient machines to select tertiary educational institutions is a good step in the right direction. However, this should not end with deployments to serve the institutions. Careful steps should be taken in collaboration with the team, institutions, and ministries of education, science and technology, power, petroleum resources to set up structures to engage in more in-depth and broad research and development on these technology and other related technologies, and capabilities to absorb and use knowledge across other sectors and ultimately develop a strategic niche management approach that will lead to a successful diffusion of this machine and other innovative sustainable technologies. I believe that the technical experts and administrators at these ministries understand these issues and will take the opportunity.

Okafor Akachukwu is the Energy and Environment Editor, The Initiative for Policy Research and Analysis (InPRA) and  Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert. Twitter: @akachukwu Email: akachukwu_okafor@yahoo.com

 

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