Saving Nigeria From Oil: Renewable Energy Answers By Amir Ado
Oil has wrecked unimaginable havoc on the people, environment and economy of the Niger Delta in particular. An area that should be the most developed in Nigeria because of the billions of dollars in revenue has become a dead land. The resulting impact instead has been one of bloodshed, deprivation and pollution. Farming is no longer an option for the communities caught up in this incredible mess. Oil companies act with impunity; they extract oil and sell for billions in revenue every single day without bothering to clean up after themselves. They do not invest in these communities beyond the infrastructure they need to extract oil and house their staff. It is safe to say that the benefits of crude oil are not just nil but in the negative because it is not just damaging to the environment, it has also created motives for an armed insurgency. According to some, 70% of the oil spills in the Niger Delta are neither cleaned nor remediated. Toxins from oil pollution are associated with ailments including respiratory problems and organ damage. Niger Delta life expectancy is as a result the lowest in the country. This has destroyed the people’s ability to live in health, safety and also to farm and fish condemning them to a relatively short life of poverty and hardship.
This is the legacy of crude oil in Nigeria; one of corruption, destruction of the environment, politically and economically motivated violence. It is a sad legacy indeed. This much is clear but have we learned our lesson? Is there nothing better than dirty energy from dirty crude? If you are an average Nigerian you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no alternative. The world revolves around oil prices in this little corner of the world. Once the price of oil moves up; food, transport and energy costs quickly follow. Surely this is not the only option, surely there is a 21st century alternative that will provide clean and sustainable energy which will unlock the huge potential of our people. Is this alternative some sort of a secret? Turns out its not! Renewable energy has been around for a very long time, countries all over the world have already gone far in unlocking this potential economic gold mine from the developed to the developing world. Some 147 Gigawatts of renewable electricity came online just in 2015 alone. Investments in clean energy increased to $286 bn with solar power taking 53% of that while wind energy made up 38%. Germany generates 80 000MW of Solar energy one of the most prominent forms of renewable energy. In fact, partly because of the huge abundance of renewable energy at some point energy prices were in the negative in Germany! Chile is another country where electricity companies have had to give away electricity for free because of – get this – oversupply! That means that people were essentially being payed to use electricity in these two countries simply because they diversified to renewable energy. Brazil uses Ethanol made from sugarcane to fuel cars. On October 28th, wind power not only provided 100% of Denmark’s power but at 2: 00AM wind was producing 122% of the country’s energy needs. Sweden has at some point had to import waste from other countries to generate energy because they were already using all they had.
Do these ambitions not matter to us as a nation? What excuse do we have? We complain that the sun is hot yet we do not even think to use the sun to power our ACs and Refrigerators so that we can enjoy a cool breeze and a cold glass of water, a better solution to bitter complaining don’t you think? This is only a small part of what we can do with clean and renewable energy however. Think of solar power giving our markets, our schools, our hospitals and our homes clean, cheap and sustainable uninterrupted power supply. Think of the crash in energy prices when we have hundreds or even thousands of solar farms/plants scattered across the country. Think of the benefits to farming, with solar energy our farmers may finally be able to afford the use of automated farming techniques such as the re circulatory system and automatic feeders for fishery as well as other automated techniques for poultry and other livestock. This will improve farming productivity and quality while creating a number of good paying jobs, thus raising the standards of living for millions of families around the country. According to a report by Blue Green Canada in 2012, 15 jobs are created per $1 million invested in clean energy as opposed to 2 in oil and gas. Solar energy alone would give you 14 jobs per $1 million invested while wind should give you 13/ $1 million according to the political research institute of the university of Massachusetts. This is therefore not some idealistic dream, it is a reality very much within grasp with private and public investment in solar energy infrastructure.
As we all know, the lack of sufficient power supply is the bane of many small and medium scale businesses in Nigeria. Businesses simply cannot afford the high cost of buying diesel or fuel for generators and as such end up failing. Ask any Nigeria SME owner and they will tell you their biggest problem is insufficient capital and high energy costs. With energy costs down as a result of the introduction of renewable energy alternatives, business production costs will soon follow. This should bring down the prices of goods and services thus lowering inflation. Going beyond solar power however, biogas or biofuel is another important source of renewable energy. Using agricultural waste and waste in general you could extract either gas or fuel for cars. This again offers a cheaper, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable alternative to PMS. It will bring down transportation costs further lowering production costs in addition to making life easier for millions that depend on our sorry excuse for a public transport system, further bringing down inflation.
At the household level, renewable energy solutions provide us with cost saving and reliable energy. There is no need to wait for the government anymore. Just buy your solar batteries and inverters, in the long run those generators we insist on using instead will just cost more and more from maintenance to fuel thus exposing you to the effects of petroleum price fluctuations apart from the pollution costs. The switch to renewable energy will however require us to inculcate the culture of preserving energy in our daily lives. Simply by learning to switch off the lights, TV, water heaters and Air conditioning when no one is using them we can save a lot of energy. We can also make use of SMART APPLIANCES; home appliances that can shut off in response to fluctuations, energy generated at off peak times can be stored in batteries for use later on. This means we save more energy for other more efficient and urgent uses. Most importantly however it means reliability. The benefits of a decentralized power grid that is smart will not be complete without a change in individual attitude towards energy management and efficiency. When the two come together, the system is complete. There is no doubt that this household level involvement is ultimately what will drive the clean energy revolution in Nigeria.
This country is poised to take off yet these constraints threaten to hold back our progress; The insufficient power supply, the high cost of oil and its stubbornly reoccurring scarcity. A switch to renewable energy is one very important answer to these problems. God has given us everything we need; The blazing sun as a result of our position near the equator, strong winds on our mountains and highlands as well as abundant agricultural resources. In addition to that we have more waste than we know what to do with. These resources could solve our energy and fuel problems yet they are worthy of little notice to us. Once we realize this huge potential and begin to unlock it, we will see that we don’t need oil, in fact we don’t want oil! To give you an idea of how much we don’t need oil you need not look further than 2015 when this country made $15 Billion from oil, Apple made $20 Billion from its app store alone! The potential revenue we can get from so many sectors of our economy dwarfs our oil revenue many times over – Oil revenue is not therefore an indispensable source of revenue by far in this country. Crude Oil has only brought misery to majority of Nigerians and has provided a highly convenient avenue for rent seeking by vested interests. We cannot continue like this, Instead we want to build a future of clean air, clean water, clean energy, smart cities and sustainable development for our people without the corruption, instability and pollution of an oil economy.
My advice to local, state and federal governments is to urgently provide the needed policy framework and enabling environment for private sector investment in renewable energy. For the first time ever, in 2015 total global investment in clean energy surpassed that for the oil industry. The crash in oil prices has provided a historic opportunity for the whole world to rid itself of oil addiction. Countries and even a few oil companies themselves are investing in alternatives. This clearly shows that renewable energy solutions are a global trend, the whole world is moving towards a sustainable future and Nigeria cannot and must not allow itself to be left behind. The technology already exists, it is simply about buying and installing, we have to get a move on. The Kaduna State government must be commended for its N40 Billion commitment to renewable energy in its 5 year plan. Other states must move quickly to follow this example; for we have a historic opportunity to rid ourselves of the oil curse once and for all. With the financial muscle of the private sector and the political will of governments across this country, Nigeria may soon enter an era where depending on crude oil is a thing of the past.
My name is Amir Ado @Amir_Ado on twitter