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Opinions of Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Columnist: Kenny Awe

Who will rescue Nigeria from darkness (1)

Electricity is surely the very basis of our civilisation. After the first fumbling experiments, electricity began to permeate society. Currently, we are facing a future of ever-increasing demand for electricity. And this demand must be fulfilled, keeping in mind the other big issues of the future.

Fortunately, at the moment, we’re equipped with more profound scientific knowledge and better technological capabilities than ever before.

Both human history and history of man on Earth in general are filled with examples of flexibility – and especially of consequences caused by the lack of it.

The strive for flexibility is the key issue in the future of energy and electricity production.

Meanwhile, there’s no philosopher’s Stone to solve the problems of electricity supply that we’re facing now and even in the future, neither is there a single, and simple solution to the same. Despite all the globalisation, the conditions in different societies, countries and continents are very different from one another. This definitely has to be taken into account in trying to find the best solution for each case.

The ambient temperatures in Europe are different from that of Asia, so it’s also not the same with us in Africa, hence suitable solutions must be applied considering the different conditions available in each of these continents. A case of one solution fits all may simply not work.

Surely, there are solutions to be found, a set of solutions to be applied in different situations, in different countries and in different conditions.

It’s therefore our duty to figure out what kind of a future we’re aiming at, in order to make the right choices.

Electric energy is a crucial ingredient for creating wealth and comfort. Demand for electric power will therefore drastically increase in our world during the next decades. The skill therefore is in producing electricity in a sustainable and economic way in order to make it affordable to end users. And that’s why the search for affordable renewable resources and efficient processes continues.

Sometime in the last quarter 2020, we read in the papers and on social media platforms that electricity tariffs would be increased by 100%. Alas, come January 1, 2021, this piece of news became a reality which we all have been living with without getting appropriate volume of power in return.

Some electricity distribution companies even came out to describe and enumerate how the increment would be arrived at, stating that your tariff rate would be dependent on the number of hours one is supplied with electricity per day and per month.

And I began to wonder how this is going to be achieved because in the first instance, the quantum of power utilised by me is dependent on the amount of electricity credit purchased by me on my installed prepaid meter. Not only that, my power utilisation is also dependent on my consumption capacity.

Their explanation was that, if you are supplied with 20 hours of electricity per day, your tariff will be X naira/kwh; with 12 hours electricity per day, your tariff will be Y naira/kwh while with eight hours electricity per day, your tariff will be on Z naira/kwh. X will be greater than Y and Y will be greater than Z. (X, Y & Z are naira amounts).

Meanwhile, the Discos are still supplying consumers with pre-paid meters as the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, the industry’s regulatory authority, is still urging them (all Discos) to ensure that all electricity consumers are supplied with pre-paid meters in order to discourage estimated billing of consumers which more than often generates controversy and brings lots of problems.

A service-based tariff system provides more equity and drives improvement in service for all citizens. This tariff structure ensures that customers receiving high quality of service should pay agreed rates with the Discos, while those receiving poor service would not experience any tariff increase.

The Discos themselves designed the implementation for their customers and have requested a “no objection” from NERC. This tariff is contingent on Discos holding consultations and reaching agreements with their customers on penalties for poor service. Meanwhile, in the current submissions by the DISCOs, 80% of the increase in tariff will be borne by the richest 20% of the population. There is no change in tariff for the poor. Customers that receive less than 50kW of energy a month will not experience any increase and will continue to pay N4/kWh. Customers receiving less than four hours of energy per day will not experience any tariff increase.

Knowing well that this formula of three – four different tariffs cannot work, I was not surprised that the idea was invariably jettisoned and a uniform rate was implemented across board not minding how many hours of power a subscriber is being supplied or consumed.

Be that as it may, I know for sure that increment in tariff rate can, and will bring about increased supply of electricity which has eluded us for many years if the increased income is judiciously utilised and applied appropriately to handle infrastructural deficits.

The need for every participant in the power value chain to up their game cannot be over-emphasised. Lack of improved infrastructure has affected electricity supply performance negatively and unless this is genuinely tackled, the 24/7 supply of power may be a mirage.

Recall that some form of bailout has been given to the Discos and Gencos by government some years back, this was primarily based on the argument that increased electricity supply will be achieved but alas, the reverse is the case.

I’m not condemning these participants in the value chain for decreased efficiency but at the same time, I will not pat them at the back for not delivering to subscribers the expected improved hours of supply which by all standards should be nothing less than 24/7, 365 days a year.

Unfortunately, our expectation has been dashed, power is not as available as we expect. In the past five days in Lekki and environs in Lagos where I reside, power has been completely off. Reason is usually the same, network problem from the Transmission Company of Nigeria.

Meanwhile, diesel cost has gone sporadically higher from N225/litre to N265/litre. News of petrol jumping from N165/litre to N212/liter aroused us from sleep on Friday, March 12.

The question is, for how long do we continue with this epileptic supply of power from the agency saddled with the responsibility to make it available on 24/7 basis and when will this humongous cost of diesel and petrol fuel to run generators end?

The truth of the matter is that Nigeria (with the help of reliable IPPs) can actually achieve 24/7 electricity generation and supply to communities, estates, and industrial concerns within 120 to 180 days of signing agreement without even disrupting the activities of these intermediary Discos by making power directly available to substations owned by them.

And not only that, these Discos would not be involved in the capex investment of the power generation equipment neither would they be required to source for input fuel to run the power plant nor be saddled with the responsibility of the day-to-day operations and maintenance of infrastructural facilities.

With the above, the fear of them losing their hard earned foreign currency (in dollars) is allayed.

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