Energy-Poverty in rural Africa and the Technology that will Power Agriculture

Original article was published by RA365 on Artificial Intelligence on Medium


What I wanted then, was the Light to brighten up my physical environment and enable me to study and pass exams. Darkness was an aberration, and is a representation of everything evil. It left many with an unpleasant experience of Nyctophobia at bed time. It drove the children to the safer bed; which is the adult’s bed. When we were growing up, firewood was the major source of generating fire. Charcoal was kept and reused in other ways; like filling up the local pressing iron to make your school uniform stand out, roasting yam, plantains, and corns.

Fig 1 Charcoal Pressing Iron (Soure: https://www.indiamart.com)

Nigeria as a country has been through turbulent times. The myriads of problems confronting the electricity sector include the following:

– Deterioration of the system’s reliability and availability of service caused partly by pipeline vandalism.

– Destruction of sensitive electrical industrial appliances such as transformers.

– Loss of revenue.

– Insecurity

– Unavailability of Medical services

– National embarrassment. (Olatoye, 1979).

According to Claudius (October, 2014), “The history of electricity development in Nigeria can be traced back to the end of the 19th Century, when the first generating power plant was installed in Marina, Lagos, in 1898 fifteen years after its introduction in England. Its total capacity was 60kW”. Uninterrupted power supply has been far-fetched since the advent of electricity in Nigeria. There is no denying the fact that the per capita consumption of electricity of a country is somewhat directly proportional to the economic development of that country.

Back in the days, precisely in 1950, a body known as Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) was set up to manage all the electricity supply outlets in Nigeria. Another body known as the Nigerian Electricity Supply Company (NESCO) was also licensed at the time to produce electricity in some locations in Nigeria. In 1951, all the Government-owned together with the community-owned generating plants and systems were integrated, thereby enhancing electricity power supply through grid connection of generation, transmission and distribution.

A Historical Perspective

On 1st of April 1972, the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was created following the merger of Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) and Niger Dams Authority (NDA) and the first manager appointed on the 6th of January 1973. Government effort to revitalize the power sector led to the transfer of assets and liabilities of NEPA to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) on the 5th of May 2005. Consequently, in 2004, the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP), a private initiative, was formed for the purpose of upgrading and adding more capacity to the current available capacity.

It was in March 2005 that President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Power Sector Reform Bill into law, enabling private companies to participate in electricity generation, transmission, and distribution. The PHCN as a Company was later unbundled into 18 companies to guarantee ultimate reliability and maintainability of systems. They are as follows: Six (6) generating companies (GENCOs) One (1) transmission company i.e. Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), and Eleven (11) distribution companies (DISCOs).

This follows the passage of a bill called Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005 which brought about the transformation of PHCN from a vertically integrated utility to an unbundled entity.

Since the advent of electricity in Nigeria, it has been one challenge one the other. Of paramount significance is the problems of poor preventive and corrective maintenance culture and gross inadequacy of the electricity generated to meet the needs of her ever growing population.

This challenge has been in existence since the 1970s when the Udoji’s Federal Government awards improved the economic life of the workers. This made the workers to increase their electricity consumption by purchasing several sophisticated and automating machines that consumed quite a lot of energy. The power utility company, on the other hand, was not prepared for this increase in consumption. This challenge has consistently left a deficit in consumption and generated electricity ever since that period in Nigeria’s electricity consumption history. Thus, this has led to consistent imbalance in the demand and the supply of electricity (Claudius, 2014).

1999 was a defining year for the electricity industry. It was the end of military interregnum in Nigeria and the beginning of a new era that saw the emergence of a civilian administration. Prior to that, there was a perennial paucity of funds to revamp and revitalize the power sector. However, at the inception of the new civilian administration, much funds was injected into the system that saw a slight increase in installed capacity.

The table below shows a picture of funding for the electricity industry between 1974 and 2007.

Table 1.1 Annual funding of electricity sector (Source: UNILAG fair and conference, 2007, Poster Presentation)

Check the table for between 1974 and 2020.

CHALLENGES IN THE POWER SECTOR

There are numerous challenges in the power sector they border on Technical, Environmental, Political, Economic and Social factors, the major clog in the wheel of progress of the electricity industry is funding. There is no denying the fact that investment in the power sector is a capital intensive venture. It is expedient that more transmission lines and substation be constructed to ease evacuation of energy but the strength of the existing transmission line capabilities is grossly inadequate There is also the major challenge of inadequate technical or skilled manpower to handle and maintain electrical machines efficiently and effectively..

SOLUTIONS

In order to satisfy the demand of electricity by consumers, new power stations must be constructed, by the GENCOS and IPPs. Construction of new power stations and comprehensive maintenance of dysfunctional existing units are capital intensive. There is always a price to pay for constant power supply in our homes. This will definitely translate to more money being given out to the utility companies by end users since the primary concern will be to make profit. This is evident from the research conducted by Hall (2000) regarding a privatization programme and the United Kingdom (Okoye, 2015).

There is an urgent need to sustain the Nigeria democratic structures with a view to ensure government policy stability. The primordial ethnic, language, religious differences and other sentimental consideration have hitherto hampered the smooth transformation of the power sector. Issues of where the current political gladiators hail from has always been a major determinant of who gets what without recourse to salient issues of nearness to raw materials and sundry other issues. The idea of citing Kaduna refinery in its present location, thousands of miles away from source of raw materials readily comes to mind.

The emission of poisonous gases in the host environment also poses a major challenge in citing a power station in a given area. There is no denying the fact that carbon monoxide is a dangerous gas which may pose needless threat to inhabitants of the locals. Other issues may involve payment of outrageous compensation fees demanded by the locals.

Still other issues worth mentioning is that of vandalization of power equipment such as overhead cables, generators and transformer parts and inadequate gas to power generating sets etc. Sadly much of the gases which ought to be reused to fire power plants are flared.

In spite of the numerous challenges in the power sector, there are still opportunities for would-be investors. They include: investment opportunities, employment opportunities, and transfer of technical manpower. The steady increase in distribution power demand has created a serious gap in the transmission capacity at the respective transmission stations and the associated distribution feeders, this results in local load shedding. More so, the lingering problem of poor system maintainability has also been a major bane of the system for a very long time

In the case of the distribution network, some power transformers are faulty thus requiring repairs and/or replacement while many transformers are overloaded leading to frequent load shedding. This is further exacerbated by the unscrupulous practice of connecting several electrical loads without the knowledge of the utility staff. At the Delta station for example, most of the units are in operation but they are mainly threatened by several faults, ranging from transformer fault, ground fault, and gas fuel problems.

EFFORT BY THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT IN TACKLING ENERGY POVERTY

According to Okoye, 2015, As at June 2014, there are 23 grid-connected generating plants in operation in the Nigerian electricity supply industry (NESI) with a total installed capacity of 10,396.0MW and available capacity of 6,056MW. Most generation is thermal based, with an installed capacity of 8,4576MW (81% of the total) and an available capacity of 4,996 MW. (83% of the total). Hydro power form three major plants accounting for 1,938.4 MW of the total installed capacity (an available capacity of 1,060 MW). Of all these generations only about 4000MW is efficiently transmitted.

In an attempt to increase foreign participation in the electric power sector Nigerian government commissioned the independent power projects (IPPs) to generate electricity and sell it to PHCN. This led to Agip’s 450-MW plant in April 2005 in Kwale, Delta State. The NNPC and Joint Venture (JV) partners, ConocoPhillips and Agip, provided the $480 million to construct the plant. Moreso, NNPC, in a joint venture with Chevron constructed a 780-MW gas-fired thermal plant in Ijede, Lagos State. Chinas EXIM Bank Su Zhong and Sino Hydro committed to funding the Mambilla (3,900-MW) and Zungeru (950-MW) hydroelectric projects.

Other IPPs constructed at the time include: Exxon Mobils 388-MW plant in Bonny, 276-MW Siemens station in Afam, ABBs 450-MW plant in Abuja, and Eskoms 388-MW plant in Enugu. Several state governments also contacted oil majors to increase generation such as Rivers State, which contracted Shell to expand the 700-MW Afam station. In addition, the Nigerian government also approved the construction of four thermal power plants (Alaoji, Geregu, Omotosho, and Papalanto), with a combined capacity of 1,234 MW.

According to the Energy Commission of Nigeria, Energy Implications of Vision 20: 2020 and beyond, to energize the Vision 2020. The blueprint planned to increase the electricity production of the country from 4,000MW in 2007 to 35,000MW in 2020 and the petroleum refining capacity from current 445,000 b/d to 750,000 b/d in 2015 and 1,500,000b/d in 2020. This projection was not to be as Nigeria still lagged behind in many of the indices she set for herself.

Air pollution from use of small generators to provide electricity due to inadequate supply from the national grid. Absence or shortage of electricity supply was a major impediment to the growth and development of the Nation Nigeria. The transmission system in Nigeria does not cover every part of the country. It is a known fact that Nigeria currently has total installed capacity of 12,522 MW of electric power from existing plants by virtue of her endowment with large oil, gas, hydro and solar resource, but most days, it is only able to generate a maximum of approximately 9MW, and then struggle to transmit and distribute 5,000 MW (see table 2 below) which is insufficient to meet increasing demands of the growing population and gadgets. As a result, the nation experiences massive load shedding.

In most locations in Nigeria, the distribution network is poor, the voltage profile is poor and the billing is inaccurate. As the department, which interfaces with the public, the need to ensure adequate network coverage and provision of quality power supply in addition to efficient marketing and customer service delivery cannot be over emphasized. In summary some of the major problems identified are:

i. Weak and Inadequate Network Coverage;

ii. Overloaded Transformers and bad Feeder Pillars;

iii. Substandard distribution lines;

iv. Poor Billing System;

v. Unwholesome practices by staff and very poor Customer relations;

vi. Inadequate logistic facilities such as tools and working vehicles;

vii. Poor and obsolete communication equipment;

viii. Low staff morale and lack of regular training

ix. Insufficient funds for maintenance activities.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) was established on 30th October 2007 by the Electric Power Sector Reform Act 2007 as a supervisory body for the Electric Power Sector reforms. The roles of NERC include:

  • Regulates the generation, transmission, distribution and marketing of electricity in Nigeria (and with Nigeria);
  • Licenses and inspects private and corporate electric power projects (10MW and above; where 1–10MW are issued Captive Licenses);
  • Ensures the reliability of generation plants, high voltage transmission system and the zonal distribution system;
  • Ensures occupational health and safety of persons involved with electricity in the whole sector.
  • Monitors and investigates energy markets;
  • Uses civil penalties and other means against energy organizations and individuals who violate NERC rules in the energy markets;
  • Administers accounting and financial reporting regulations and conduct of regulated companies.

Smart Technology that will power Agriculture is Available.

RA365 prototype motherboard. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmJRO77rN6c&t=12s)

Using Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Blockchain technology, We have a prototype and are working on the proof of concept that exhibits how solar systems can be crowdfunded to help mechanized farmers practice better techniques.

RA365 Energy-Demand Heatmap (http://energy-demand api.herokuapp.com/).

Such techniques include:

  • Irrigation farming: Irrigation of agricultural crops comprises 70% of global water use. Using AI for underwater signal analysis, we know where the water is and can plan an intelligent strategy for irrigating farm lands.

Figure 2. Underwater Signal Analysis.

  • Food processing: Solar powered dryers are a smart way of processing food.
  • Food preservation: Solar powered cold rooms for preservation of perishables can be fabricated with recycled materials like fairly used split air conditioners.

References

Claudius A. Awosope, Nigeria Electricity Industry: Issues, Challenges and Solutions, Public Lecture Series. Vol. 3, №2, October, 2014

Pastor S. O. Olatoye; Maintenance of Electric power system and equipment, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Proceedings of the National Engineering Conference on Engineering Maintenance (19th -21st September 1979), pp 44–77.

Prof. Mohammed Ka’oje Abubakar, Welcome Address at the Summit On Energy And Sustainable Economic Growth, Energy Commission of Nigeria Organized workshop at Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotel And Towers, Abuja, 9th — 10th March, 2011.

Okoye, Arinze Evaristus, Term Paper on “The Nigerian Electric Power Sector”, Department Of Mechanical Engineering, University Of Benin (2014)