It is a public secret that Nigeria’s attempt in ensuring sustainable energy supply has always been encumbered by a myriad of forces. While both past and present governments have shown irrevocable commitments in tackling challenges ailing the power sector, the development of the sector has been cheerless.
The present status of Nigeria’s energy generation profile is between 5000 megawatts and 6000 megawatts resonates with the belief that our nation’s dream of joining the group of industrialised nations is almost an impossible dream that may take a long while to be accomplished. The fact remains that no nation attains development without working assiduously to develop its energy sector.
It may be necessary to state here that various ailments plaguing the energy sector are interwoven. For those who once thought that the privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) could widen the prospects of resolving the energy quagmire, the present energy crisis is instructive.
Despite previous and present efforts aimed at achieving sustainability in power supply, the story has remained the same, with long shadows trailing measures undertaken to solve problems associated with the sector. As I pen this article, the generation capacity of our nation’s energy sector is yet to surpass 6000 megawatts. Let’s even assume that the country has hit that figure, the capacity of the transmission company has been severely weakened due to obsolete equipment and inability to ensure prompt maintenance of the transmission lines across various parts of the country.
As a result of this, the collapse of national grid has become normal and recurring. When this collapse occurs, Nigeria’s electricity output dwindles to a meagre 230 megawatts against the backdrop of between 4,000 megawatts to 5000 national average. For a nation that has spent billions of dollars without producing energy enough to realise industrialisation dream for the nation, repeated national darkness caused by these incessant outages is grossly worrisome and must be tackled to avert further embarrassment.
In June 2019, Nigerians witnessed collapse of the national grid eight times. In a bid to correct the worrisome occurrences, there were calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to review the privatisation exercise of the energy sector, with critics lampooning the former administration of President Goodluck Jonathan of handing over the sector to briefcase investors who were never in possession of the technical expertise and financial muscle to manage the sector, thereby plunging the nation into the morass hole of darkness.
In the closing weeks of 2021, President Buhari sacked the management of Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) over constant power outages. AEDC distributes energy to Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger and the Federal Capital Territory. Amidst the dwindling supply of power that was made worse by the collapse of the national grid, AEDC sometimes received between 20 and 70 megawatts from the grid. Multifarious problems are presently militating against the growth of the energy sector, with over N161 billion owed by generating companies for gas supplied. Many generating and distribution companies are often engaged in accusing government of not providing funds, in line with the privatisation contracts. Due to recurring collapse of the national grid, the need to overhaul and rebuild the capacity of the sector has become an urgency. This can only be achieved through a holistic and deliberate efforts at mediating various challenges working against increased efficiency of the power sector.
To avoid the recurring collapse of the national grid that has often led to intermittent collapse of electricity interconnecting system for power generation and transmission, government must provide funds so that critical stakeholders in the sector can meet up with financial obligations in increasing generation, transmission and distribution of power to consumers.
In avoiding incessant collapse of the national grid, constant monitoring of plants and transmission lines through developing a strong Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that is “critical in providing data acquisition, control of power plants, and alarm display to allow operators intervene quickly in periods of emergencies”.
With a strong SCADA system, stakeholders can monitor switches, transformers, including programmable logic controllers and terminal units when installed in plants, substations and the intersections of transmission and distribution lines. Without an effective SCADA technology to tackle incessant national grid collapse within the shortest time, the hope for ending repeated national grid collapse will continue to be a dream deferred.
Critical to the challenges of developing Nigeria’s power sector is the challenge posed by disinvestment. With the government unable to meet with its financial obligations to key players to realise their development goals with the required funds, closing the energy gaps and provision of infrastructure could mitigate against the efficiency of the energy sector.
One striking problem of the power sector is the inability to develop equal in synergy and capacity among various components of the sector for seamless operations. Generating 7000 megawatts without developing corresponding capacity to transmit and distribute same amounts to a waste. The incapacity of the distribution companies must also be tackled to ensure they distribute energy transmitted to them.
It was based on the need to synchronise efforts at improving the sector that the Federal Government recently approved the decision by the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to unbundle the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) into Market Operator (MO) and System Operator (SO) departments for enhanced efficiency and capacity should be welcomed. The planned unbundling of TCN, according to the NERC, is to “promote and guarantee greater independence for the SO and MO”.
The planned unbundling of TCN by the power sector regulatory Commission gives hope for bright prospects for improved efficiency through granting greater independence to both departments that have suffered in facilitating smooth operations and financial backbone.
For a nation whose problems in the power sector are interwoven, working hard to ensure the regulatory commission plays it role in supervising critical stakeholders in the energy sector is irrevocable, if woeful missteps of both the past and present are to be arrested. The present status of the NERC as a regulatory body must go beyond the ink and be broadened for full operations. Giving teeth to the sector’s regulator can only be feasible when the government plays its part in order to encourage NERC to play the role of the watchdog.
Current move to strengthen the laws empowering the NERC and reviewing certain aspects of the laws on developing the power sector should not be swept under the carpet. Both relevant committees of the Senate and House of Representatives in the National Assembly must rally relevant partners in the sector to move the country from national embarrassment as shown by the national constant power blackouts.
Much as the government has shown indisputable disposition in not fulfilling its obligations on critical funding, other partners in the power sector must not allow the burden to be borne only by the government. Current measures being presently pursued by the President Buhari-led administration as exemplified by the Siemen deal must not be allowed to fizzle out. While such gigantic efforts should be encouraged, little efforts by various stakeholders must be boosted to provide temporal succour for our nation that is almost on its knees over constant blackouts.
Outsourcing various components to competent hands and mass metering of consumers must be pursued by distribution companies. While tariff reviews are constant source of disputations between energy providers and organised labour, consumers must be told that nothing good comes so cheap. Approving tariff reviews without insisting on mass metering only gives distribution companies a leeway of exploiting consumers without necessarily improving collection of monthly revenues that has been destroyed by dearth of revenue staffers to collect such revenues.
For our nation to crawl out from this deep hole of darkness, the various components of the power sector must be developed to meet the exigencies of paving the way for industrialization. For now, the present 5000 megawatts generation capacity is not only laughable but reflects the sorry state of our energy sector that is in dire need of attention.