Power sector and dangers of single unitary grid
About a month ago, I wrote a piece on the above subject that dealt with solving the perennial challenge of providing steady power supply to our people. In that piece, I addressed substantially the major constraint within the downstream sector of our electricity supply chain. I categorically submitted therein that, with appropriate pricing and discriminatory cross-subsidization, we can resolve easily the challenge of power supply in the country while reaping other attendant benefits. (Read my column of April 30, 2020 “Let there be light (1)” https://www.sunnewsonline.com/let-there-be-light.
Today, my engagement will centre on the upstream sector of the power chain and the perils against efficient power delivery. Again, I claim not to have exclusive knowledge of the solution in this area and my views represent that of an inquisitive mind that has left his lane to research into the prognosis, having diagnosed the problems associated with the delivery of power supply in the country. Thus, I remain your humble servant, willing and ready to learn from any other person with cognate knowledge, superior to whatever solution I canvass herein. As seemingly brilliant as my analysis of the downstream may appear, without addressing the hiccups in the upstream sector, realising the objective of steady power supply in the country will remain a mirage. As constituted currently, Nigeria operates a single unitary grid (transmission system) through which all generated electricity beyond 5 gigawatts, that is 5,000 megawatts, must pass. This infrastructure remains in the custody of the Federal Government and is not sophisticated enough to accommodate thousands of megawatts, which ought to be generated and wheeled out. The implication of this is that even where there is appropriate pricing and the distribution companies (Discos) are ready and willing to deliver stable power to the consumers, it will still be at the mercy of the transmission company. I am not unaware of the contrary scenario now wherein Discos decline supplies due to inability to generate enough revenue to meet obligation to the supply company. The solution to this I have addressed in my earlier piece alluded to above. Nigeria is still supposed to be a federation with subnationals in which provision of electricity is supposed to be decentralised, how come, therefore, we are still operating a centralised system to our collective detriment? The import is that no entity, individual, corporation or establishment can engage in transmission nor distribution of electricity independently. Again, the quota system rears its monstrous head here by adjusting distribution in line with federal character, even where this is against all known canons of economics. The truth is that the rationale behind this is to unify tariffs across the country, which is unrealistic, if steady power supply must be achieved. It certainly makes no economic sense. Let the market determine the price regime and the subsidy generated by the sub-national or the privileged in the territory be utilized to take care of less-privileged consumers. Details of this are contained in the piece referred to earlier. This is the issue that must be resolved by reversing the ugly position in favour of total disintegration of the unitary system in line with federal system we are purportedly operating, otherwise we will continue to be unified in poverty.
I am not unaware of the fact that the legislative competence on electricity generation, transmission and distribution is placed by the 1999 Constitution in the Concurrent Legislative List by which it may be superficially argued that both federal and state legislatures have powers to legislate on the item. However, we must be realistic by stating that the power of the state in this regard is with respect to any part of the state not covered by the national grid system. The unitary nature of power concentration in this regard is not lost on any thinking fellow and hardly can any state government achieve anything meaningful even if it has the resources. This system has failed comprehensively over the years and it only shows that the various governments that have presided over the affairs of Nigeria have never been altruistic enough to realise that the overall interest of the nation, in terms of the quest for development, largely depends on the availability of power. What manner of people retards their own development by policies that are diametrically opposed to unity and progress? Nigeria is a country of over 200 million people and a landmass of 923,768 square kilometres. The country has 24 generating companies and less than 10 Discos, all of them lumped together in a convoluted power supply structure that cannot work, centrally controlled from Abuja by the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, Ministry of Power and the Presidency. Britain, with a population of 66.7 million and land size of 242,645 square kilometres, has over 60 energy suppliers and 70 energy companies without the convoluted structure of Gencos, Discos, Transco, NBET, etc, with each home nation (England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland) sorting out their issues only subject to a regulator at the national level.
The consequence of this in Nigeria is mis-alignment in the system as all sub-systems are simply protecting their turf to the detriment of the whole. This continues to impair our vision and capacity to guarantee steady power supply. The inherent contradictions in the arrangement remain a major impediment to the attainment of adequate power supply in the country. Thus, we must, as a matter of urgency, in the fiscal restructuring of the country, facilitate the decentralisation of power supply, recognising the fact that it is the major catalyst to growth. A centralised system that encourages corruption in the live wire of its existence is a compromised system that needs to be restructured to facilitate growth and allow comprehensive development. Consistently doing something in the same way and expecting a different result is what is called madness. The Constitution ought to be amended to allow states and other entities involvement in power supply beyond what is currently obtainable. Where a state is able to largely make provision for its residents, it may as well assist other states whose requirement may outweigh what they can immediately need. This will equally encourage healthy competition the like of which we had in the First Republic among the regions in the country. A recent review I read about the achievements of M.I. Okpara in the Eastern Region of Nigeria, between 1959 and 1965, vis-à-vis the landmark progress recorded in the Western part of the country showed a classic example of how a nation grows in healthy competition among its components.
The privatisation arrangement on ground is certainly not meeting the requirements of the populace both in their industrial and domestic sectors. The half-hearted approach to privatisation of the power sector has shown that we are not a serious people and the need to go the whole hog is definitely indisputable. I urge our legislators to wake up from their slumber and deal decisively with this. Certainly, the present awkward structure does not engender any efficiency. Beyond this fundamental requirement, there are other issues of gas supply and infrastructure protection, among others, that must be undertaken. Adequate supply of gas to Gencos is still insurmountable and needs to be addressed urgently. Gas supply comes through a maze of lengthy and leaky pipelines from the Niger Delta to most plants at the opposite extreme direction. The transmission infrastructure continues to be vandalised by brigands whose entitlement mentality is beyond appeasement. Consequently, the project cost becomes expensive and recovery becomes impossible. The message, therefore, to Mr. President and, by extension, the governors and legislators is that we must move away from the outdated power infrastructure model of the national grid. Nigeria is too big for the model and exclusive control by the Federal Government is counter-productive. It is just a product of an obsession with power, which has never benefited anyone except the ego of the power holders and their fantasies. It cannot engender adequate power supply on a national scale. It must be deconstructed to state level.
It is a shame that, after 20 years of civilian rule post-1999, we are still at the level of debating this. We must, in addition, actively promote embedded power supply. The term “embedded generation,” according to expert definition, refers to electricity generation connected at distribution level rather than transmission level. “It can reduce the effect of losses while providing reactive power and contingency reserves to the network. It can also reduce the need for new transmission and distribution facilities, consequently reducing overall costs.” (See Ganiyu Adedayo Ajenikoko, Adebayo Wasiu Eboda, Impact of Embedded Generation on Power Distribution System Voltage Collapse, published in European Journal of Computer Science and Information Technology Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 33-42, August 2015).
A nation that fails to solve a problem as basic as electricity supply may meet other indices of statehood but is largely a failed state. The international accolade of the economy developing by 7 per cent is just a ruse to continue deceiving a people whose ego would be offended if they were told the truth of their sub-humanness.
Lastly, there is also the need to address the issue of sabotage within the system. All players within the sector should be and must be held accountable with punitive measures administered when in default. As characteristic of us, we must cease to condone all inefficiencies and leakages, to put it mildly, in the system. With the aggregation of the views expressed in the earlier piece and those herein, it is my conviction that, if well implemented, we will kiss bye to epileptic power supply in the country. Au revoir!