Rafat Salami, Abuja

Nigeria’s quest to provide stable power supply for its millions of citizens and for use in the manufacturing sector has been epileptic at best, with only 40 per cent of the population having access to electricity.

More than 800 companies folded up in Nigeria between 2009 and 2011 according to the Nigeria Association of Chambers, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, due to unstable power supply while those still in operation have had cost of operations increased by 40% from generating their own power. The effect on small scale industries and entrepreneurs is immeasurable and with dire consequences on national development and economic growth.

Today, many Nigerians still rely on generating sets for their power source, which the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria says has resulted in the loss of nearly 73 billion Naira daily.

Currently, power generation from all 23 generation sites hovers between 4,000 and 5,000 megawatts, while the projected peak national energy demand is put at nearly 31,000 megawatts. This demand as projected by the Energy Commission of Nigeria is expected to grow at the rate of 10%.

Experts say the current 4,000 megawatts being generated is grossly insufficient to provide stable power to Lagos state alone, with its 21million people and many industrial sites but that is the quantum of power that is distributed across 170 million Nigerians.

When Nigerians massively voted for President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress during the 2015 general elections, there were many expectations that power will top the list of priorities. Though the immediacy with which Nigerians want power may take a while to materialise, government appears to be on the path to improving generation, transmission and distribution of power by addressing the challenges along each of the value chains.

One of the major constraints is the lack of steady supply of Gas to power plants. In the month of December alone, power generating sites were unable to generate 2,000 megawatts  of power due to inadequate supply of gas.

Government on its part through the Ministry of Petroleum has promised that within the next 12 months, it will build ‘critical pipelines’ that will potentially ‘add another 2,000 megawatts to power.

Still setting timelines, the Ministry of Power has given assurance that the Transmission Company of Nigeria will within the next 12 months complete 22 of the 142 projects, which will increase the carrying capacity of the existing transmission lines to enable the transmission of the nearly3,000 megawatts that is currently stranded because of a limited transmission capability.

Once these are achieved, power generation could rise to nearly 7,000 megawatts. Particularly heartwarming is the fact that in the 2016 budgetary allocation, Works, Power and Housing Ministry got 433.4 billion Naira, which will serve as a major boost to funding outstanding projects.

While the nation await the realisation of the timelines set by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, there are, however, other quick fixes that the Nigerian government can latch on to, to speed up the process of increasing power supply in the country.

The implementation and strict enforcement of the National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy 2015 could help to ensure more access. The policy envisages that remote communities with a low demand density can depend on off-grid energy solutions; the country adopts energy saving appliances and devices and more importantly, the country provides incentives for consumers to adopt energy-saving technologies.

The 2015 policy on energy also provides for the creation of an energy efficiency fund to provide rebates to on-grid customers who implement substantive changes in their equipment to gain efficiency. These are soon to be implemented.

As part of the measures, Government has directed that all its departments and agencies must pay for electricity they consume to reduce the back-log of arrears owed to power distribution companies.

Nigeria would in the long run strive for a well-rounded energy mix; combining the available renewable energy with the non-renewable fossil fuel. Already, there are small holdings of solar generation groups, especially as Nigeria lies within a high sunshine belt and solar radiation is fairly well distributed. Furthermore, the Nigerian government has set a machinery in motion to speedily complete the 10 megawatts wind energy project in Katsina, the 215 megawatts  plant in Kaduna and the 3,050 megawatts plant in Mambilla, Taraba State.

In the words of the Minister Fashola, only a ‘Predictable, stable, and uninterrupted power supply to the country’, will ensure rapid growth and sustainable economic development. That, is the challenge that Nigerians want to see the government overcome, sooner, rather than later.