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Small Hydro Power and Vision 20: 2020

By Femi Meyungbe-Olufunmilade
21 December 2009   |   10:16 pm
FROM December 15-16, 2009, at the Banquet Hall of the Golden Gate Hotel, Abuja, experts from diverse backgrounds brainstormed on the way out of the woods for the power sector in Nigeria. This was at a workshop with the theme "24-Hour Electricity for Nigerian Homes and Businesses through Small Hydro Power." The workshop was organised by Continental Capital Ventures Ltd, an Ibadan-based science and technology company, in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation's (UNIDO) Centre for Small Hydro Power.

At the workshop, a number of facts came to the fore, which cannot be ignored if we are serious in Nigeria about achieving adequacy and stability in power generation and supply for domestic and industrial purposes in the nearest future. My paper, which bears the title of this piece, presented incontrovertible statistics from America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the World Facts Book to show how pathetic the power situation is in Nigeria. In a table showing the quantum of power produced by each of all the countries in the world, Nigeria occupies an embarrassing 67th position. With this I made the point that Nigeria’s Vision 20: 2020’s goal is unattainable given the targets set by the Federal Government for power generation. Even if we are neither uncertain of the core elements of Vision 20: 2020 nor acquainted with strategies undergirding their realisation, the broad goal is clear. Since 2007 when he assumed the driver’s seat in Nigeria, President UmarU Musa Yar’Adua’s refrain has been: “To make Nigeria one of the leading 20 economies in the world by year 2020”.

I hinged my submission of the president’s goal meeting with certain failure on the grounds that industrialisation is a common denominator of 95 per cent of the 20 leading economies of the world as presently represented by the G-20, namely, Australia, Mexico, China, Japan, Germany, India, United Kingdom, France, Brazil, and USA. The rest are Australia, Russia, South Korea, Argentina, Turkey, Italy, Canada, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and the European Union. Only Saudi Arabia, whose inclusion stemmed from its dominance in the global oil market may be regarded as not so industrialised. And we may also exclude the European Union from the list because it is a multi-national organisation. Even then, there are a dozen or so countries that stand heads and shoulders above Nigeria that are not part of the G-20. Suffice it to mention some: Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Belgium, The Netherlands, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iran and Sweden. In order words, if Nigeria is to make the list of 20 leading economies by 2020, that is 11 years away, she has not less than a dozen countries to beat to occupy the 20th position.

Another common denominator of the 20 leading economies or industrialised nations generally is that they also constitute the leading power-producing countries. Needless to say energy – especially electric power – is the driving force of industrial development. In the CIA/World Facts Book’s sources earlier cited, the farthest positions occupied by any G-20 countries were 21st and 24th by Saudi Arabia and Indonesia respectively. In-between Indonesia and Nigeria are 43 countries!

Nevertheless, I ended my presentation on a note of hope. Vision 20: 2020 is achievable. I say this because the great, gigantic economic leap China experienced in a decade between 1980 and 1990, which until then and till now, is unprecedented in the annals of history has proved that with planning all things are possible. The Chinese miracle was achieved courtesy of rigorous planning under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. Now, there is a Chinese saying that, “Mao made China to stand on her feet; Deng made her to be rich and strong.” If we plan well and implement well and do not appoint either planners or implementers based on their lobbying capacity but strictly on the criteria of competence and commitment, Nigeria can generate up to 50,000 mw of electricity by 2020, which is my estimate of what it would take us to industrialise on such scale as would secure us a place among the G-20 and make us rich and strong.

In corollary, the biggest hurdle between Vision 20:2020 and its realisation is not the failure to meet the 6,000mw power production target set for December 2009, but the fact that such a target is grossly inadequate vis-a-vis the power requirement of Vision 20:2020. The situation, therefore, calls for a re-appraisal of strategy. The strategy that readily beckons us in this regard is the Small Hydro Power (SHP) option. What is SHP? Simply put, it is the miniature version of the gigantic hydro power plants we have in Jebba, Shiroro and Kainji. Precisely, SHP may refer to hydro power plants generating below 10 MW. Thus, you could have a plant like the Nigeria-owned 3 MW unserviced Bakalori dam’s SHP. And you could have one as small as the 6 KW Clapton Mill owned by Mr. and Mrs Taylor in Crewkeme, Dorset, England .

The biggest utility of adopting the SHP option is that it makes power generation an all-comers affair. In this connection, individuals, communities, farms, factories, corporate bodies, NGOs, religious organisations, town unions etc, as well as local governments can participate in power generation. This was the lesson I learnt in England between September and October this year while on a research tour. A map presented to me by the British Hydro Power Association (BHA) showed that there are several hundreds SHP plants owned by private individuals, companies etc in the United Kingdom . Many are set up as captive power – that is, a power plant dedicated to a home(s), factory or group of factories, or some other concerns within its vicinity. This eliminates the cost of transmission lines and even the use of transformer is unnecessary in several cases. All these make SHP a cheaper option indeed. SHP project duration is also faster. Some can be done in six weeks.

In terms of energy security vis-?-vis power, SHP also offers the safest option because it is well nigh impossible to sabotage hundreds of SHP plants dotting the vast landscape of a country like Nigeria all at once, as is the case with its gigantic power plants that merely blocking the passage of gas to them (remember Otorogu Gas Plant) instantly throw us into nationwide darkness. Sabotaging an SHP plant can only have a localised impact. Yet, because they are community-based, sabotaging an SHP is difficult.

Like the British Isles, SHP is highly feasible on a mass scale in Nigeria because Nigeria is blessed with a thousand inland waters. Many of our cities, towns, villages and hamlets are criss-crossed by water. According to Dr. A.A. Esan, the Director of the UNIDO Center for Small Hydro Power, there is none among the 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria that does not have SHP potentials in varying degrees. Then I thought of Ibadan, an inland city with ample mighty rivers that are today used as refuse dumps. I thought of Ogunpa, Odo Ona, Alalubosa, Dandaru, Kudeti and the mighty falls of the Asejire dam.

If Nigerians are properly mobilised to harness our SHP potentials, they can easily surpass the 50,000 MW to actualise the Vision 20: 2020. But we need a National SHP Action Plan that is comprehensive and reliable without further delay. In the meantime, serious-minded state governments can commission work on an Action Plan for their respective states. A National Action Plan is imperative because, as Peter Sturmheit, Country Programme Officer of the African Development Bank, pointed out at the workshop, the issue of fixing appropriate tarrif for sale of excess power to the national grid, the lack of which has been a disincentive to potential Independent Power Producers (IPP), can only be tackled at the Federal level, owing to existing laws.

While we wait for the right tariff regime, however, Engr. Chinedum Ukabiala of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), happily informed workshop participants that by existing laws, no license is required by anybody interested in power generation to produce 1 MW of power downwards. I wish Lagos state could take an innovative cue from this information to meet its power-generation dream, using the SHP option across the nooks and crannies of hydro-rich Lagos. Where there is a will, there can be a way.


  • Meyungbe-Olufunmilade teaches Political Science at the Igbinedion University, Okada.