Fixing the broken pieces of Nigeria’s electricity market – 1

By Okafor Akachukwu 13/03/17

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Nigeria’s power sector is broken, collapsed and needs fixing as many power sector headlines in the past few weeks have suggested. In this year alone, a Punch January 22 caption reads “[Nigeria’s] Power System Collapses Four Times in Five Days”. A THISDAY caption on the same January 22 says “The Perennial Power System Collapse” Two days before January 22, ESI Africa reported that “Nigeria’s Electricity Generation keeps Plunging”. On January 12, Guardian reported, “Power generation drops by 207.1 MW on gas shortage”. The trend of the reportage indicated no improvements which must have necessitated Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) to make appeals to their customers over the disrupted power supply. The Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) had to issue a statement to blame the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) for the power cuts. On January 27, ESI Africa reported that electricity consumers in Onitsha choose to issue the Enugu Distribution Company with a 21-day ultimatum to improve power supply and also install prepaid meters. Then on January 27, ESI Africa reports that the sector regulator – Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is seeking government subsidy to rescue the power sector. Very recently on February 7, during a National Assembly workshop on power the President of Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki was quoted to have said that Nigeria power sector was on the “verge of total systemic breakdown” which he attributed to the sale of power Distribution Companies (DISCOs) to individuals and parties who had “no idea about running a proper power distribution business”. The power sector is not on the verge of a total systemic breakdown, it has actually broken down and failing further.

The failing of the power system/electricity market depends on who you ask, when and where. The DISCOs would blame the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) for not allocating them adequate power to serve the customers as well as some of the customers for electricity theft and billions of unpaid electricity bills by both government and private. Government and GENCOS (Generating Companies) blame inadequate gas supplies to thermal plants for low power generation. TCN blame GENCOS for low power generation to transmit to DISCOS and Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) for billions it owes it. National Electricity Regulatory Commission on its own thinks that a review of the electricity tariff is due to ensure that tariffs are cost reflective and that the sector is in need of subsidy from government. Some politicians and technocrats think that the privatization of the sector needs to be ‘reviewed’ – whatever that means has to do with the political economy of the sector. Consumers on their part blames President Buhari, the Minister of Power, and DISCOS – who have preferred to be ineffectual in areas they could be very effective. DISCOs have turned themselves into the power sector’s un-cautioned bullies, and NERC has equally failed to prevail them and other actors in the sector to conduct business appropriately. Several deadlines issued by NERC to DISCOS to install prepaid meters for customers (many of whom have paid for these meters) have not been met with February 28, being the latest deadline. Consumers now group themselves in different ways that seem right to them to find solutions.  How else do you know a market that is broken and failing if not by these swarming challenges?

As depressing as the tale of the power sector is especially with continued drop in gas supplies to power plants, the Minister of Power, Mr Fashola has confidence that a policy that leads to more gas plants would be what will fix the system in terms of generation challenges. Asides, challenges with vandalization and liquidity that have adversely affected supply of gas to power plants, there is a looming threat to further development of Nigeria’s gas resources that will guarantee adequate supply of gas to our power plants. Recently, Christopher Akor of Business Day called the nation’s attention to a surreptitious attempt by the National Assembly to amend the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Act that will mandate the company to remit 3% of its annual budget to Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). This move is not in the interest of Nigeria’s national energy security. Government has many ways to increase NDDC’s funding base than to further tax NLNG.

It is not surprising to hear about these moves especially when Nigeria’s Energy Commission independently develops Nigeria’s Energy Master Plan, Ministry of Petroleum Resources (MoPR) and Ministry of Power (MoE) are independent ministries and have their different ideas of how the sectors should be ran and for what purpose.

To MoPR, Nigeria’s gas is for export to earn foreign exchange, to MoE, ‘gas would help solve the power problem, maybe we should talk with MoPR to see what can be done’. Then policy makers turn around to say more tax and contributions need to be extracted from the gas sector to fund activities that can be adequately met by other means. What government should be doing at this time is to make development of the gas sector as attractive as possible. For Nigeria’s vast gas reserves to contribute in any significant way that will help solve Nigeria’s power needs especially in the long term, the Department of Gas at MoPR must rise beyond “overseeing” NLNG, West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) Project, Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline Projects and other projects it may have entered into and work to ensure that Nigeria’s gas is harnessed for the country’s power needs. The Directorate of Gas and Power at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) must also do more than “monitor and support” all LNG and Independent Power Producers (IPP) Projects in Nigeria. Government has to find ways for ministries, departments, directorates, agencies, commissions that work in the energy and power space to work as close knit as possible.

While Nigerians wait for Nigeria’s gas to be turned to power, there has to be new and quick to deploy solutions and alternatives such as renewables – solar, wind, biomass, biofuel, waste, hydro which are solutions and alternatives for today and the future. Government has to recognize and believe that these are feasible and practical solutions and alternatives. The Minister of Power’s view that renewables are not a solution but an alternative is problematic and does not help government in planning and policy development. Renewables on their own are however not “the” solution even when combined with power from gas. Solving other problems around energy efficiency, social, financial, technological, political, organizational, institutional and market services issues are part of the solution for our very complex and complicated electricity market. It is true that the current high forex rate in Nigeria and other factors including high duties, taxes and fuel subsidies adversely affect an accelerated uptake of renewable energy solutions particularly solar. What I see as the most important and key factor that will help fix Nigeria’s electricity market is a successful business model for renewable energy consumer financing. This will disrupt the market in ways that were never thought possible and will force the Nigerian government and other actors in electricity market to get their act together. Renewable energy entrepreneurs must continue to work hard to get this done.

 

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

 

 

Derisking Nigeria’s Electricity Market for increased Energy Access

By Okafor Akachukwu| 04/11/2016

 

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It may not currently be the best time to invest in Nigeria but the risk of investing in Nigeria may be worsening – possibly worse than as reported in the World Bank Doing Business 2017 report. Nigeria was ranked 169 out of 190 countries, reviewed from her 170th position in the 2016 report. Of the ten (10) indices used, only getting credit and getting electricity recorded upward improvements by 16 and 2 points from 44 and 182 positions in 2016 respectively. However, while getting electricity for business improved by 2 points is creditable, recent developments in Nigeria’s electricity sector may be threatening this improvement significantly.

Just this Monday, during an oversight visit by Nigeria’s House of Representatives Committee on Power to Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET), it announced that the Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) which NBET had secured with 14 power generation firms “may have breached due process”, because the process of securing the agreements appeared to have “no proper guideline” and therefore was “null and void”. The Committee further threatened to subject the agreements to legislative investigation. This presents more questions than answers for the sector – how soon will this investigation commence, how long and what process will be taken, what penalties will be prescribed to defaulting parties, what impact will this investigation have on the electricity sector – achieving current project timelines, sector generation plans, and how would prospective investors in the electricity market respond to this? These questions present a challenge and it is currently unclear what the total volume of affected transactions is in megawatts (MW).

The first effects of this announcement will be that these 14 firms would suspend their project implementation until the investigation is concluded. This means that new utility scale electricity additions to the grid would have to wait – which threatens the actualisation of Nigeria’s generation targets and electricity sector reforms. On the short term, investment in the sector will stagnate and prospective investors will be forced to reconsider their investment interests. Depending on the process and recommendations of the investigation, the confidence of investors may be strengthened if there is an indication that the outcome will introduce a new process and guideline of securing PPAs that complies with due process, and transparent procedures. If not handled properly, this incident may be the start of an end to Nigeria’s electricity sector improvements and reform. Already, in the last 10 months, Nigeria’s general investment environment has witnessed increased currency and exchange rate risk, interest rate risk, inflationary risk, liquidity risk, credit risk and market risk. In the electricity sector, the market risk is that the revenue generation of Discos have dropped since the start of the year. Also there is currently a legal challenge of the current electricity tariff at the courts, including the political/social/legislative risk that the sector is now faced with. Nigeria’s electricity market is a failed market and the government should be seen to be doing all it can to intervene and correct the failures and not increase the level of risk and uncertainty that investors have to face in making investments.

In response to the committee’s announcement, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of NBET, Marilyn Amobi stated that the management under her new leadership will work to correct identified anomalies. In other statements, she said, “From my perspective, we have no business talking about 20,000MW for 2020. It is clear we can’t achieve that by 2020….We can’t make that happen. Nigeria is not financially buoyant to embark on [nuclear energy]. We cannot run nuclear in Nigeria, and the question of wind energy, forget it. It’s just a story. We cannot run all that in Nigeria. It’s just a wish list.” These are big and weighty statements, which need some clarifications.

Amobi may have drawn her conclusions from the fact that the generation contribution of the 14 firms would not be realized based on original timeline if an investigation is conducted. She also does not see new PPAs being secured speedily by any means that would mobilize to site and deliver 20,000 MW by 2020. Incidentally, independent power producer (IPPs) application and licensing processes and PPA negotiations for large scale, centralized utility grid projects and transactions takes upwards of 3-6 years to secure and the construction of the power generating plant takes 1-10 years, depending on planned capacity and technology being used. This is the big challenge. On the other hand, decentralized renewable energy (DRE) off grid technologies and other solutions can generate 20,000MW by 2020 if the right policy, regulatory framework, and financial mechanisms for the sector development and growth are put in place. Renewable energy technologies do not require very lengthy, bureaucratic and expensive licensing and PPA processes required for large scale utility plants. Government needs to acknowledge this fact and act on it. While government has already indicated that Nigeria will generate 50% of its energy needs in 2020 from renewable energy, the sector is yet to see or set a clear roadmap of how that will be achieved.

On another hand, Amobi’s position that Nigeria can’t go into nuclear and wind can be understood from a science, technology, and innovation capabilities and management perspective which the scope of this paper will not permit me to go into. The financial cost of nuclear technology is huge, with its waste management challenges. Nigeria cannot afford to have a Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima nuclear disaster on her door step. It will be the worst human catastrophe; we should first concentrate on effectively running our gas and hydro-plants at full capacity. Depending on the way you choose to look at it, wind technology is still new and will require significant investments along its delivery chain in Nigeria – if it will ever work as it is currently does in countries such US, UK, Germany, China, Denmark, Japan and South Africa. I see this as a challenge to wind power IPPs. In all, the Nigerian government has a huge responsibility in correcting the electricity market failure, derisking the sector for investment inflow, building our science, technology and innovation capabilities and systems, building and strengthening institutions that would be able to effectively deliver on its mandate based on due process, transparency, fairness and global set standards.

 

Okafor Akachukwu is a Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy and Sustainability Expert. Contact: Twitter- @akachukwu, Email: akachukwu_okafor@yahoo.com