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Federal Ministry of Power: Scrap the national grid!

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Minster of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola.

One of the challenges which we as a nation have not overcome is power generation and distribution. It is a shame that in the 21st century when different options for energy generation are available, we have been conditioned into thinking that power failure is part of our national way of life. As a boy Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) would give notice that there would be power interruption between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., for example. At 4 p.m. the light would go off. A few minutes before or after 7 p.m. the light would be restored. From the 1980s after the power managing company became National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) things changed.

Since then although the company transformed into Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), things have really gotten worse. What went wrong? What can be done? We are told that whereas the nation’s demand for power increased, and whereas the equipment grew old, the Army boys in power did not have time for such details. So today, we have a 21st century economy being powered by a 19th century power generation structure! The national grid!

One of the anachronisms we seem to have been stuck with in Nigeria is the idea of a national grid for power supply. I am not an expert in the field. I suppose some of my assertions will be questioned by technical experts. I am writing from the point of view of commonsense. I am also aware that commonsense is not common. Sometimes all we need is commonsense to deal with a knotty issue, particularly where the experts have only succeeded in confusing our senses! As part of a national response to the embarrassing power problem, PHCN was unbundled and private hands bought over sections in the chain.

A national grid I am told refers to the network of high voltage power lines between major power stations. All power stations which generate electricity make sure they feed their generated units into a system that services the whole country. It is from the national grid that the states or other parts of the country are supplied with electricity. For a national grid to be effective it needs to be equipped with infrastructure to receive the amount of megawatts which are generated by the different stations.

I am told, (I am willing to be corrected by the Federal Ministry of Power) that the national grid cannot carry any megawatts beyond six thousand. I am also informed that the IPPs across the country currently generate about fourteen thousand megawatts or more. The problem is once the grid exceeds its capacity it collapses. So each day, there are about eight thousand megawatts of generated power lying idle. If it is true is somebody playing games with present and future Nigeria? Let me ask some questions as a layman with little or no knowledge of the intricacies of power generation and distribution.

If the installed capacity of the national grid cannot accommodate more than eight thousand megawatts would it not make sense to dispense with the national grid and allow the generated power to be supplied directly to consumers? If the amount of power generated by the IPPs in Lagos can give Lagos and Ogun States twenty-four hour supply, would it not be better to take the Lagos IPPs out of the sick national grid, at least until we have the required infrastructure? Would it not also make sense for the IPPs in the Niger Delta or Sokoto or Kano or Sapele to supply power to their immediate environment?

What do we stand to lose? What are the existing laws that make such a change of policy impossible?
It beats the imagination that there is no part of the country that has regular power supply. This is because we have all been lumped together by a weak link – the national grid. It is my considered layman’s view that Abuja, de-linked from the national grid, can have twenty-four hours of uninterrupted power supply if the IPPs and distribution companies there are efficient. It is also my view that Aba, de-linked from the notorious national grid can generate enough power to keep its industries running twenty-four hours non-stop. If it is the current federalism which we practice that has locked us all in infinite darkness, the time has come to change course – the Federal Ministry of Power, indeed the Federal Government should do away with the inefficient, lack-of-capacity national grid.

Any government which wants to stimulate the economy has to pay attention to power generation and supply. The current change-Government has to think out of the box. Just picture the millions who do not directly depend on government salaries to get on in life. The artisans, the hairdressers, the barbers, the plumbers, the furniture maker, the technicians, even Mama Akara’s business will grow once we stabilize power. It is not the nuclear plant of five years to come that will change electricity supply in Nigeria. It is the little acts of commonsense of today.

I have addressed the issue as a layman. But let me also admit that I interviewed some colleagues in Electrical Engineering, some knowledgeable persons in the field and did some library and internet research before making my assertions. I know that most nations have the national grid. I also know that not everyone in those countries is on the national grid. There are alternative sources of power. I do not see why a battery of solar panels in the Sahara Desert cannot supply power to Sokoto and Kano States or the entire northern states of Nigeria. I do not see why wind and water energy from the river cannot supply power to the Niger Delta or all the coastal States.

Let it also be said that there are some very powerful interests who enjoy the current state of things in the power sector. These include the sharks who would rather give estimated bills than provide meters that can give an accurate power consumption rate. The importers of generators and their foreign counterparts would also like to see Nigeria remain in the throes of darkness. But the change of thinking and approach is what Nigeria voted President Buhari to confront.

He must therefore roll up his sleeves and end the nonsense that is going on in the power sector. He has the reputation; what is left is the will. Also, the current situation in which a ministry that requires six ministers is loaded on one individual, no matter how capable and trusted he is, is a way of saying we want things to remain the same.

The Ministry of Power should be wrenched from the current incestuous marriage and given to one or two Ministers- a full Minister and a Minister of State! Let us scrap the national grid, at least for now. If in the next 10 years the installed capacity is improved then we may return to it, that is, if it will still have any benefits then! AWAY WITH THE NATIONAL GRID, PLEASE!



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