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Harnessing Nigeria’s solar power potential

President Goodluck Jonathan

As the sixth largest producer of crude oil in the world and a strong member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Nigeria no doubt has all it takes to effectively provide un-interruptible power supply for her citizens. With a population in excess of 150 million people, Nigeria’s current power generation is estimated at less than 6,000 megawatt.

This is unarguably a far cry from her projected power requirements that are expected to sustain both the domestic and industrial activities, especially given the country’s projection of becoming a truly industrialised nation. There is a major disconnect between the supply and consumption of power and as a result of this, there is always a shortfall in supply compared to the demand, which is the genesis of the perennial energy crisis in the country. This is probably why many energy experts firmly believe that there is need for the government to pursue other alternative sources of energy in the midst of the prevailing realities.

It is estimated that only about 10 percent of rural dwellers and about 40 percent of urban families have access to electricity. This obvious deficiency has earned Nigeria the title: ‘A Diesel Generator Economy’. This deficiency has over the years become a major impediment to the achievement of the Federal Government’s Vision 20-20-20 by which it projects that the country will be among the 20 biggest economies of the world by the year 2020. This is in addition to hampering the realisation of Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals.

This extreme electricity shortage has been blamed a so many factors including but not limited to financial, structural and socio-political. Over the years successive governments have made efforts to address the energy crisis in which huge sums of tax payers’ money has been committed but all to no avail. Unfortunately, they have concentrated on only two sources of power generation which are hydro and gas. For instance, Nigeria has a total of three hydro plants located in Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro. She also has several thermal installed power plants comprising those of Egbin, Sapele, Okpai, Afam, Delta and Omoku. Others include the Ajaokuta, Geregu, Omotosho and Olorunsogo.

In terms of generating power using gas, the government has through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Joint Venture with some multinational oil companies undertaken several projects designed to utilise gas in power generation. Some of these projects include the Escravos Gas to Liquid Phase three, Trans-Sahara Gas. Pipeline Project, Mobil OSO Condensate Project phase Two, Brass -LNG Project, OK-LNG Project and the West African Gas Pipe Line Project, among others.

These projects have, however, not achieved the set objectives as the nation still grapples with lack of adequate supply of electricity both for domestic and industrial uses. Some African nations, which are not as rich as Nigeria have a long time ago celebrated one year of uninterruptible power supply, a development that had given rise to calls for the harnessing of other sources of energy, especially the solar power. Also, the 1973 oil crisis as well as the economic hiccups faced by the Western World on account of the embargo placed by the Arab World brought about the realisation across the globe for the need for renewable resources such as solar energy, as part of the strategies to meet the increasing demand for energy. It was probably in response to this realisation that the Federal Government put in place the Energy Commission to conduct researches on develop renewable energy technologies and also make its application popular in the country.

In a paper presented jointly by Dr. P.A. Ilenikhena of the department of Physics, University of Benin and Dr. L.I.N Ezemonye of the National Centre for Energy and Environment of the same university on the solar energy application in Nigeria, the duo observed that solar radiation, which is abundant in the country, is one area of focus among the renewable energy resources.

“Researches were carried out and technologies produced for direct harnessing of solar energy in six centres across the country. Some state governments in collaboration with some non-governmental agencies also sponsored solar energy projects in some rural communities that are yet to be connected to the national grid”, the paper noted. They however regretted that the technologies for solar energy application are not yet accepted as household commodities. It is therefore believed that as soon as this form of energy is given an appreciable level of acceptance, it will go a long way in augmenting the use of fossil fuel energy and by so doing improve the living standard of the people.

Moreso, the futile nature of fossil fuel energy as well as the increasing problem of greenhouse emission, which is believed to significantly contribute to global warning, more than ever before reinforces the need for the adoption of solar energy as an alternative power source. It was probably in realisation of these obvious facts that the Federal Government in 1979 established the Energy Commission of Nigeria, which now has a total of six centres spread across the country.

However, solar energy, which has several applications, can be converted into electricity, heat and biomass. Experts believe that Nigeria has all it takes to make the use of solar agency popular among the people. Director General of the ECN, Professor Abubakar Sambo, who spoke recently, said that one percent of Nigeria’s land mass could be utilised for the generation of over 600, 000 megawatts of electricity using solar energy. Nigeria currently generates less than 6, 000 megawatts using fuel products.

According to him, Nigeria could generate about 600, 000 megawatts of electricity by deploying solar photovoltaic panels of only five per cent efficiency from just one per cent of her land mass. But he however noted that the high efficiency in electricity power generation using solar energy, cost of the solar modules was very high. He also disclosed this system has another benefit in view of the fact that the lifespan of the solar panel could be as long as 25 years.

In addition to this, it was further gathered that despite the huge cost of solar energy, the pay-back period was only about four to five years, since the inverters and charge controllers can last for a very long time. Experts believe that the major challenge associated with solar energy is its high cost component. They however argue that despite the high cost of the solar modules, the lifespan of the solar panel after installation could be as high as 25 years, which also gives a considerable long time to plan for its replacement while the storage batteries are replaced within a medium term range of five years.

In terms of comparing solar energy with other forms of renewable power like wind, most experts believe that these are inexhaustible given that they exist in cyclical form unlike the conventional energy of oil, coal and gas. They have argued that since wind arises as a result of extra-terrestrial solar heating of the air masses in the extra-terrestrial space leading to pressure differences, manifesting in the flow of air, significant amount of energy could always be tapped from wind. This is also true of hydropower, which comes due to cyclic activities of the rainy reason.

In conclusion, experts are of the consensus that solar energy is best among all the classes of renewable energy and therefore should be tapped into. This according to them is because as long as there is life on earth, this form of energy will always be available on daily basis because when the sun rises, solar energy is released.

Source: National Mirror