Opinion

The cost of Nigeria’s poor power supply

Nigeria faces the triple challenge of providingreliablepowersupply, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and keeping energy affordable to consumers. The availability of electricity in Nigeria has worsened over the years.

The country has been unable to meet demand because of its policies, regulations and management of operations. Its failure to provide adequate and reliable energy is well documented, specifically its impact on the economy.

Its commercial and industrial sectors have become heavily reliant on self-generated power, using petrol and diesel generators. This accounts for nearly half of all electricity consumed. Nigeria’s shortage of reliable power supply is a constraint on the country’s economic growth. The country needs to diversify its economy beyond oil and gas revenues, because that market is volatile.

But if the energy-hungry private sector invested more in self-generation to make this possible, pollution would rise. An increase in self-generation would increase greenhouse gas emissions.

There’s extensive literature on the energy solutions that could provide reliable power supply. But most of it has focused on smallscale systems such as solar power for rural homes. There is still need for power in urban areas, not just for lighting homes, but for powering commercial and industrial operations.

We sought to address this gap by examining the economic and environmental viability of hybrid off-grid power generation solutions for urban commercial centres. We looked for solutions that were affordable, reliable and sustainable.

We took into consideration the fact that unreliable supply imposes indirect costs on people. Our work suggests that a combination of power generating technologies could help meet Nigeria’s triple challenge.

We surveyed 40 commercial centres in the capital city, Abuja, to establish their most common activities. This informed load demand projections. We then modelled a single commercial centre catering to these activities.

We found that the majority of businesses in these commercial centres were boutiques, cyber cafes, salons, tailoring and grocery shops. Small-scale petrol generators served most of the commercial outlets on every shop floor.

We also interviewed three business owners from the commercial, education and entertainment sectors, who told us more about the economic, social and environmental costs of unreliable power supply. A respondent in the commercial sector discussed the impact of electricity unreliability on business performance. He runs a male grooming salon. He said he couldn’t operate air-conditioners for long periods and the heat affected his business productivity.

In the education sector, our respondent highlighted the amount of time spent shuttling the school and business centres to ensure learning materials are always available to students. When the power is off, these centres are the cheapest places to produce paper-based learning materials. And the entertainment sector interviewee said his turnover was halved when the power was off. Being a musician and music record producer in the digital era means that everything in music’s creative and distribution process is online and depends on power supply. In evaluating the impact of electricity unreliability on quality of life, the commercial sector interviewee enabled us to draw the link between power supply, business profitability and personal stress. Financial worry can take a toll on mental and physical health.

We heard about the stress of working around the power supply situation. Particularly, the disruption to sleep patterns caused by having to catch up work outside normal hours. The power supply situation also has an impact on the health sector.

Especially, in providing health care services. Unreliable power supply comes with environmental cost too. Petrol and diesel generators increasepollution, withanegativeimpactonclimate changeandhumanhealth. Inturn, environmental damagecanresultinagriculturaljoblosses. Nigeria’s electrification initiatives have favoured the expansion of centralised power systems to meet urban energy demand and decentralised power systems for rural areas.

Such an approach could still leave a shortage of electricity in urban areas because of the continued movement of people from rural to urban areas in search of better quality of life. Extending the electricity reach of centralised systems might be costly, particularly in meeting the demand of the new urban population. The most practical solution for countrywide electricity access is the combination of centralised and decentralised power systems. These solutions would ideally provide uninterrupted power supply, have cheap operating costs and be environmentally clean.

Olówósejéjé is a Doctoral candidate and Research Fellow, University College Cork. This article was first published by The Conversation

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