Why did NEPA take the ‘Light’ again?— Part 2

Source: Google

As a Nigerian, how else do you show your Nigerian-ness if not in manifesting certain characteristics such as asking first upon arrival in a new city/town the questions…

“how long have you had light for”?

“Do you usually have light at night?

When do ‘they’ give you guys light”?

“Do you have generator? Does it carry Iron”?
(carry here means “can your generator power a pressing iron”?

These questions are essential in determining how one’s stay in most Nigerian towns/cities will go. Whether smooth or rough. Yeah!

On a recent trip to Dubai, having been well bred in Nigeria, the first thing that came up in my mind was “I hope this hotel will run their generator all day and all night”. Lo and behold, local man lifted the window blind to see if they have a generator and if it was running.

I snapped out of that in about a minute. Dude! This is Dubai not Lagos or Kaduna!

Pardon me, but it is a true story.

So, let’s get back to our discussion.

What is the cause of the ceaseless power outages in Nigeria? The first point I discussed in Part 1 is Insufficient Generation. In this part, I discuss other things I consider to be responsible for the lack of stable power outage in Nigeria for several decades of the country’s existence.

Please Read on…

2. Transmission and Distribution challenges

A DisCo official entangled in the midst of several wires while trying to fix a problem. Source: Tribune Online

Without effective means of evacuating power that is produced, even when in excess, end users will not benefit from the generating capacity that exists.

The grid, Transformers, transmission and distribution lines, metering etc. must exist and be adequately managed, monitored and maintained for maximum efficiency all year round. A distribution pole that is felled by a heavy rainstorm will cause power cuts no matter how much power is generated or delivered to the substation.

So, that power cut you experienced may just have been caused by a fallen pole at a location out of your sight. It could also be caused by something as ridiculous as a snake, rat or bat causing a short-circuit somewhere along the distribution network. Of course, this is within the purview of the distribution company. Two things are however involved: first, the customers need power restored immediately; secondly the discos won’t make a dime if there is no power consumed by the end users. So, the DisCo have to do everything possible to restore power.
(In an ideal society. lol)

Sadly, communities have been shouldering some of these responsibilities over the years, since they’re at the receiving end and the DisCos operate as a monopoly. Also, for whatever odd reason, they seem not to be operating as normal business entities should.

3. Equipment failure

Power distribution is very capital intensive and requires huge infrastructure. It is also not out of place in an industrial process to have faulty equipment. This is expected and planned for using what is referred to as redundancy in Engineering parlance. In the event of a fault, the faulty equipment should be fixed/replaced while a backup (redundancy) is kept running in the interim.

When there is lack of adequate funding, such repairs and replacement will be delayed, thereby putting a strain on the redundancy. In a situation where there is another failure, this time of the alternate equipment; it will definitely lead to a system shutdown. Ever heard of grid collapse recently? Aha!

What is the solution? Allow power companies to run independent of government, be adequately funded, and managed without corruption. No profit driven entity will ordinarily allow an equipment to shut down its operations.

4. Metering

The cost of setting up a power plant is huge, that is why you rarely find small players in that sector. Also imagine the cost of transporting that power from the power station via the national grid to the end consumer; the transmission lines (which are sometimes installed in the most obscure places), and of course the transformers plus other elements of the final substation. These are not cheap equipment to produce, install or maintain. In fact, if residents of your community have at anytime pooled funds in order to buy a transformer (which originally should be procured by the electricity distribution company), you will have an idea how much money is required to maintain some of these facilities.

The Nigerian government has privatised most of the power infrastructure in Nigeria today. So, if there is no return on the investment of business owners in the sector, they will shut down and go home. This ROI can only be guaranteed through effective metering; where everyone pays for what they consume.

This is not the case in Nigeria today, sadly. More distressing for most people in the industry is the fact that there are so many people who don’t see any reason why they should pay for the electricity they consume, so they carry out all kinds of untoward acts; meter bypass being the most popular.

If electricity will be available to Nigerians at all times, we must discourage power theft — in fact stop it completely.

Some Discos recently adopted the method of supplying ceaseless power to zones and regions where most of the occupants pay their bills regularly; as their financial stability more or less depends on such customers. This I believe has worked so far, but there are other challenges.

Finally

The economic model for power generation and distribution must be profitable, else it will never attract the right investors. Without the right investors perhaps with deep pockets, the power sector will never take off. What we are doing in Nigeria today is basically scratching the surface.

In my opinion, none of these problems will be solved by the government being in charge of power. Power generation, transmission and distribution should be decentralised and deregulated to allow qualified investors to drive the industry.

Ayokunle Saba
Electrical Engineer.
I generate power for a living.

This post was inspired by Dr. Joe Abah’s #GovernancePuzzles question about why we’ve not had steady power in Nigeria. I started out typing out a response tweet, but 250 characters were not enough to allow me pour out what I thought. I didn’t want to do a tweet thread either. So, here is what I have to say.

Missed part 1? Here it is. Click me!

I write, I love.