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Power crisis will persist unless government diversifies energy sources, says Eterigho

By Victor Gbonegun
19 September 2022   |   3:19 am
STEM generally is a male dominated field, particularly engineering, and so, a male dominated workforce. This is further compounded by our culture and in some cases religion that perceives women ....

Elizabeth Eterigho

Dr. Elizabeth Eterigho is the President, Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN). She spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on the growth of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), among female students and on the transition to clean energy. She also spoke on APWEN’s conference holding today.

How will you assess participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and what are your expectations for the future?
STEM generally is a male dominated field, particularly engineering, and so, a male dominated workforce. This is further compounded by our culture and in some cases religion that perceives women as the weaker ones, whose occupation starts and ends in the kitchen. Therefore, women are not meant to read courses that are termed, ‘masculine’.

Of course, before now, the male counterparts never saw the ability and potential in the female gender. This mindset about lack of ability and competence of female gender regarding STEM encouraged establishment of the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN). At inception, APWEN was determined to break this prejudice at all levels. To do this meaningfully, in its 39 years of existence, APWEN has been advocating for aspiring young girls to enrol in STEM through various programmes, stimulate skills, talents, curiosity and analytical reasoning in the girls.

Some of the programmes are sponsoring of competitions and giving awards of scholarship to girls from primary school to university; training of STEM teachers, placements of young female engineers in relevant industries; capacity building/professional development; coaching and mentoring engineering students through seminars and conferences to retain them in the profession post graduation. The ripple effect of these programmes is the increase in women participation in STEM. My expectation for the future is seeing STEM as a female workforce, where there is no gender inequality.

The APWEN’s conference for this year has ‘Just energy transition: An enabler for sustainable development in Nigeria’ as theme Why is the association focusing on this issue?
Access to clean modern energy services is an enormous challenge facing African continent, particularly Nigeria because energy is fundamental for socio-economic development and poverty eradication. A ‘Just Energy Transition’ is a transition towards a sustainable, low carbon and equitable energy system that is aimed at improving the lives of the people and sustains the environment.

In Nigeria, the power sector has been in comatose for many years coupled with frequent collapse of our national grid. Secondly, our source of electricity is not renewable resulting in high carbon, leading to environmental pollution.

We can say there is energy poverty. Energy plays the most vital role in the economic growth, progress and development, as well as poverty eradication and security of any nation. Uninterrupted energy supply is a vital issue for all countries today.

Future economic growth crucially depends on the long-term availability of energy from sources that are affordable, accessible and environmentally friendly. Climate change, security and public health are closely inter-related with energy. Energy is an important factor in all the sectors of any country’s economy. The standard of living of a given country can be directly related to the per capita energy consumption.  You agree with me that the theme is apt.

However, the transition of the energy sector will require significant investment. This, I guess is the reason why government launched an energy transition plan aimed at boosting investments for energy project development to address increasing energy poverty and ensuring energy sustainability.

This plan includes Nigeria ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all of its 200 million people by the year 2030 and achieving net-zero by the year 2060 through massive investment in oil, gas, solar and other modern energy technologies, such as hydrogen and electric vehicles.

There is no doubt that the present power crisis afflicting Nigeria will persist unless government diversifies the energy sources in domestic, commercial, and industrial sectors and adopts new available technologies to reduce energy wastages and to save cost.

The association is focusing on this issue because, as engineers we are the inventors, so, we are stakeholders in the implementation of the energy transition plan. Again, the Federal Government plan has opened up new opportunities for solar energy companies to obtain results-based finance from the universal energy facility.

Therefore, as female engineers, doing justice to the theme will enable individuals, particularly, corporate organisations key into the transition plan and make the best of our technology investments in providing modern, as well as sustainable energy.

The power sector has remained a challenge, what is your recommendation on how government can revamp the sector?
To me, the issue affecting the power sector is lack of government attention to all the sections in the power sector, coupled with the problem of insecurity, which makes it difficult for those involved in gas production to take bold stride. There is need to ensure inter-connectivity with the natural gas value chain.

In addition to the energy transition plan, the government should play the leadership role in enabling a just and equitable climate, with the ultimate objective of mobilising the finance required to jumpstart implementation of the plan. One of the recommendations of APWEN to government is to ensure an enabling environment for individual investors in the energy sector by way of policy formation and implementation.

New regulatory regimes should be put in place to reform utilities to deliver expanded and affordable services to the poor, while underpinning and supporting economic growth. The government must also ensure that there is a balance along the value chain. One sector cannot be making all the sacrifice all the time for the others to reap. The government must give equal or adequate attention to all the sectors in the value chain.

Government should have new regulation for the sector and effectively manage the settings for the actualisation of the plan. The government should encourage and explore fresh research to offer a thorough grounding in the fundamentals and practice of economic regulation, as well as seek new models to manage power systems effectively for the citizenry. There is need to focus on Nigeria’s needs, while learning international best practice in managing reform and new regulatory environment.

Our energy requirement is very far from what the current system is delivering to Nigerians. The government may want to consider regional grids instead of what we have presently; the national grid that leads to loss of energy in transit due to weak transmission lines. Finally, renewable energy is the solution and should be encouraged with relevant policy and its implementation.

Many developed countries are advocating quick switch over to sustainable energy. There are challenges for developing countries; how effectively and efficiently can Nigeria transit?
For any meaningful development to take place, the power sector cannot be ignored. The truth is that for any change or success, there are challenges. Your ability to handle the challenges leads to either invention or innovation. So, Nigeria cannot be an exception. All that is needed is government’s support for enabling environment for investors. The government must make conscious effort to follow other countries in achieving net-zero by the year 2060 through massive investments.

Also, local content must be encouraged. Of, course the benefits are obvious; economic growth, progress and development, eradication of poverty and security of the nation. It will as well as increase youth empowerment and employment. I think our problem is implementation of policies and that is why I am saying that the government must be intentional to deliver.

How is APWEN encouraging mentorship in professional development of budding engineers?
Mentorship is dear to APWEN because mentorship is sustainability of the profession. There are mentoring programmes put in place for effective mentoring in stages. We have “Introduced a Girl to Engineering” – a programme for girls in secondary, ‘Invent It, Build It’ (for Primary School girls) ­designed to increase the enrollment and retention of girls in schools across the country and create a revolution of girls that will take up engineering as a career.

There is also the Mayen Adetiba Technical Boot Camp for Secondary Schools girls. This is yearly three-day summer day camp for girls and teachers’ training on STEM teaching techniques. The SheEngineer Programme for Junior Secondary School Girls funded by Royal Academy, United Kingdom is a programme aimed at inspiring girls through hands-on, engineering-related activities and STEM Teachers’ Training nationwide.

Additionally, the APWEN’s Town & Gown mentoring/career fair for young engineers sponsored by Worley Foundation is designed for young engineers from penultimate university year up to three years post-graduation with the aim of building their capacity and helping them develop employability skills or entrepreneurial skills or both as required in the industry.

In the aspect of professional development, we train and retrain female engineers and technicians in various skills to continuously achieve professional excellence, thereby creating room for sustainability of competency, particularly in software development and its application.

STEM teaching in public schools with demonstrations to give all girls opportunities to learn, achieve and excel in science, technology and in engineering solutions through FunSTEM is part of our efforts at ensuring mentorship young professionals, while the Shetec2preneur brings knowledge and hands-on technical know-how to women and girls from marginalised communities to start, grow and scale their businesses, whether they are non-illiterates or illiterates, school dropouts, physically challenged, student, a start-up, a small business or a professional. This project sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.

With these programmes and others, APWEN mentors by ensuring that its members are role models to the girls primary schools, secondary schools and the universities. This is easily done with APWEN’s 40 chapters across the 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory. Secondly, each chapter is made to submit, a yearly report on the activities and numbers of their young engineers and collegiate. Programmes such as seminars, webinars and conferences are in place to encourage the mentees. It will interest you to know that in APWEN, mentorship is at all levels.

What impact will today’s conference have on professional development of engineers and nation’s energy sector?
With experts expected at the conference, the new model for energy transition in Nigeria will be unleashed to enable individuals, particularly, engineers and organisations connect with the best technology and investments in providing modern and sustainable energy for Nigeria that will provide long-term availability of energy that is affordable, accessible and environmentally friendly. This will impact positively on the climate change, security and public health. It promises to be an informative session.

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