If appropriate actions are not taken now, the intractable logjam in the Nigerian power sector may sink Nigeria. Despite the great efforts of experts in the field, growth in the power industry in Nigeria remains stunted. The ominous sign is the shying away of further private investments in the industry. The government that thought they had privatised still have to bail out the sector to the tune of N1.7 trillion in the last four years. The stakeholders in the power sector cannot be accused of not trying hard enough. The privatised power sector is also counting its losses in the region of N1.5 trillion in five years. Maybe it is time to look for solutions in other directions.

This writeup is not to belabour the readers with familiar narratives of the problems associated with the unreliable power supply in Nigeria. It is, therefore, directed to the authorities to explore other solutions away from fixating on the engineering aspect alone. If you ask a million Nigerians on how to solve the power issue, I am more than confident that we would have a million and one answers. You cannot blame us, the ordinary people, particularly as we, as individuals, know about how to produce and use electricity more than any other citizens of the world. Circumstances have made most Nigerians experts in the field, including the writer. But the bottom line is after all is said and done there is still no light. So what element are we battling?

Let us start from the areas I know we hardly consider or discussed, but critical. That is apart from the repetitive narrative of annoying tales of no gas, low water level, old and inadequate high voltage wires (high tension transmission), and lately, flawed privatisation process. Many people even believe that corruption is the main issue – it sure plays a part. What we rarely hear or push into the open space, as a narrative, is the application of electricity that takes the lion share of demand in Nigeria and how it impacts on the power architecture. It is not much of industrial power demand since our industrial output is low, thanks to the onslaught of imports. Or the electricity to power our electronic gadgets is minuscule. That leaves the process of cooling and refrigeration consuming a large portion of power in Nigeria. There is a phenomenon called ‘degree day temperature”. At what temperature do people start to crank up, in Nigeria’s case, the air conditioners to cool their homes and workplaces. As we all know, Nigeria, being in the tropics, has most of such days.

Apparent prosperity and increase in income have over the decades fuelled our ability to continually want to reduce the harsh heat outside to a more comfortable temperature in homes and in workplaces. A new study carried out at the Berkeley Haas School of Business, University of California, U.S.A. highlights the “cost of staying cool when income heats up”. As prosperity increases, the demand for air conditioning causes consumers to use more electricity resulting in stress on energy pricing (tariffs), power infrastructure and the environment. Unfortunately, Nigeria has a regime of low grid power capacity. So, people have resorted to generating power for themselves to at least cool themselves and provide light. It is reported there are over 100 million power generators in the country, of varying sizes, put to use because of no light. So, one wonders why the loud cry of no power if we have all these alternatives?

Let me quickly answer that. Public power supply, apart from its convenience, would typically cost each consumer a fraction of what we individual spend on the provision of electricity. It is due to the economies of scale of public utility. The cost of individuals generating electricity ought to be a concern to the government. The unnecessary spending resulting in a higher cost of living, collectively, could have boosted the national savings to facilitate other developments in the economy. Besides, over ninety per cent of these hundred million plus generators run on subsidised petrol; that is further squandering of the country’s meagre resources.

It is evident that between 60% to 70% of electricity demand in Nigeria as per necessity, depending on the season, is for refrigeration and cooling. We live in tropical weather and naturally will want to reduce the high ambient temperature to comfortable room temperature of 24°C. However, for the majority of the time, our thermostats are as low as 16°C. Thereby consuming much more energy than necessary and putting so much extra pressure, if on public supply that is of inadequate capacity. Except I have missed something all these years, we never hear of such narratives – never.

We all seem to look in the direction of the shortfall in grid engineering network, but never on the utility or application of electricity itself. Ironically, the industry is subbed under service utility. Still, we are fixated on the engineering aspect of grid power supply only, not how we squander our resources. No wonder we appear lost in the mist. Electricity versatility, as a source of energy, plays a significant role in modern economies. It is the most convenient source to convert to other forms of energy. There is now the technology to efficiently transform heat from one spectrum to another (heating to cooling or vice versa). Nigeria is presently trapped in our desire for cooling, but that is where the solution to the logjam in the power sector should begin. How do we mitigate the devastating impact of cooling and refrigeration on the stabilisation of the national grid? At least to allow it to grow beyond the 5,000 megawatts ceiling.

Living in Nigeria up until the 1970s, the use of air conditioners was not widespread. We made do with electric fans, and the pressure on the power supply was manageable. With modernisation and prosperity, we have evolved, which is a big welcome. Still, we do not have adequate national energy architecture to power this new trend of comfortable living and multiplied that by a bulging population figure. The needs of human beings to live in a more relaxed environment are paramount. That ought to be our focus, instead of unnecessarily chasing shadows.

My advice is to revolutionise the retail of electricity as a commodity. It is the market force that will attract private investors for good returns on investment to sustain the sector. But more importantly, we need to find an efficient way of cooling our premises with less stress on the power infrastructure. The upcoming tariff hike is nothing but kicking the can down the road. Even if made N100/kWh, it will not move the needle of irregular supply. Premises could be cooled free, using solar roof panels, as a start, and with no stress on the power network. On the other hand, conventional refrigerant cooling consumes ten times more electricity from the grid.

For more details, please visit www.powerinnigeria.com for a free download of the book, Power In Nigeria/will there ever be light?

Samuel Akin Caulcrick
Lagos