Friday, November 16, 2007

Power in Nigeria

Jeremy Rifkin, the futurist adviser to the EU who wrote the hydrogen economy book, was interesting on Hard Talk last night. However, it seems to me, as a complete amateur on power issues, that his wholescale bias towards hydrogen cells as the basis of the storage component is overplayed. There are many alternatives to hydrogen-based storage that are much cheaper and ready to use now - especially as battery technology optimises. Nonetheless, he may well be right that a shift to a hydrogen economy in the next 100 years is all but inevitable as the hydrocarbon age fades away - as an alternative to a nuclear platform.

More interesting right now, especially for a country like Nigeria which does not have a reliable electricity grid, is the idea of using a smart grid. As Rifkin says, in the age of facebook, blogger, wikipedia, myspace etc we are used to creating content others will consume across the network. The smart grid concept works in exactly the same way: small scale energy production which is distributed across the network - in contrast to centralised power distribution (the equivalent of centralised media systems such as the BBC, CNN etc). Click here for a basic primer on the smart-grid concept. Rather than planning huge carbon-based power stations to solve the country's power needs, a smart system that makes much more plentiful use of small-scale systems (solar, wave, wind etc.) and powerful computing power to switch energy to where demand is located in real time. The other sense of a smart-grid - with broadband over power lines (BPL) could also be part of this system, to once and for all solve Nigeria's internal communications infrastructure deficit and hook everyone up to web 2.0.

So how about this proposal: Nigerians and others with expertise in smart-grid technology group together and write a concept note, which can be presented to the Energy Ministry. Nigeria could lead the world in new ways of power generation and distribution, and at the same time put the foundation stones in place for a low-carbon future. What about that for a vision for the current administration?


Anonymous,  12:58 pm  

Smart grid instead of huge carbon-based plants? No, sir! Wave and wind are still very dodgy forms of technology, and wind systems are extremely expensive to maintain. Don't even go into tidal technology - do you know of any country worth its salt where tidal energy contributes more than 5% of total energy? Indeed, do you know of any country on earth where solar energy (perhaps the most promising one according to eco-Nazis) contributes more than 10% of their total energy demands? No! In addition, it is not Nigeria's responsibility to reduce carbon dioxide, methane or other such pollution. Remove the gas flaring (which, ironically, is done by Western countries) and pollution per capita in Nigeria is one of the smallest in the world. Indeed, China's CO2 use percapita is much smaller than that of industrialized countries. Therefore (and I am an Environmental Engineer), I believe China has a right to pump the atmosphere full of CO2. As does Nigeria. No sane country should clog the wheel of its economic progress in the name of reducing carbon emissions. Not China, not India - indeed not anyone. Reducing short-term effects of pollutions (such as smog) is a good thing, always, and China is retrofitting some of its worst polluters with SOx and NOx removing technology, but to cut down carbon-plants in the name of emissions reductions? Gimme a bl**dy break! Huge carbon plants all the way. Let the West take the lead on this one.

Jeremy 1:05 pm  

wow what a stunningly irresponsible attitude from an environmental engineer...

Smart-grids, as I understand the idea, do not rely on alternative power at all. The point is simply that a distributed system needs smaller-scale plants. This naturally invites more supply from alternative sources.

You need to look to Scandinavia and Spain to see alternative energy systems transforming the way we look at energy production - you are completely wrong when you say 'wave and wind are still very dodgy forms of technology'.

Anonymous,  1:07 pm  

Hahahaha! Hahahaha! Hahahaha! Dreamer! It seems to me that still, you do not understand the country in which you live. We have a saying in Nigeria - Why you dey swallow Panadol for another man headache?

Being serious now, there is no proposal under the Sun which has not been presented to Nigerian administrations, past, present, or future. You need to read all our energy policies, even you will be impressed. Formulating policy has never been our problem, and it never will be, our problems lay in the heart, minds, and brains of the SIMPLE MINDS that hold power in our beloved country.

I never have seen or heard of a place like Nigeria, the Nigeria situation simply does not exist anywhere else. People in power, sad but true, simply aren't intelligent enough to lead let alone think for 150m people. Journalist believe in supernatural things, Presidents and Governors believe in witchcraft and the rest of the populace believe there is a physical Heaven and Hell, and this is the 21st century.

Where in the world do you find a University Physics lecturer (a man with a PhD in Physics) who is a 'born again' Christian? A physics lecturer with no conviction in the science his own subject, hahaha, how on earth are his students supposed to think?

Listen man, leave Nigeria to nature and let evolution take its course. If we are to be wiped out by our own stupidity then so be it, I am quite sure the world will not be worse off. The only alternative is a revolution, of hearts, minds, polity, and establishment. Knowing Nigeria as I do, that will not happen!

Anonymous,  2:30 pm  

love both these exchange. Anon, indeed, Nigeria must be the only country where you find a born-again and physicist!! that really made me laugh. It is true but very very sad.

oguro,  12:24 am  

you are a true engineer, typically cautious and happy to inhabit the confort zone of familiarity.
I've met a few zealous engineers who dare dream, and curiously understand the meaning of the word innovation. it strikes me that you are more the norm than the exception.

Anonymous,  5:33 pm  

**directed to that vitriolic first anonymous**

what is incongruous about being a PHD in physics and a 'born-again christian'? man is first of all a spiritual being, its pushing the limit of stupidity to insist on living in denial of this fact. but then, going by the negative pattern of thought you exhibit in your posts i assume that would be the only limit you would most heartily push.

Mike,  9:27 pm  

@Last anonymous - to understand why it is 'incongruous' to have a phd in physics and be a born again christian or whatever one has to be open to reason rather than spiritual woo-woo. Read the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins as a starting point but read it with a resoning mind and then maybe you will undestand who is pusing the 'limits of stupidity'...

Anonymous,  1:28 pm  

@ Mike

Thanks Mike. I really couldn't be bother about replying to that anon, but you've put it most delightfully.

Chxta 2:24 am  

I was hoping for more comments on this issue, but apparently there may not be too many more...

Has anyone ever considered the flip side of the equation that we actually waste a lot of power in Nigeria?

The government's policy on power seems to be focusing on generating more electricity, throwing up figures and cost implications, comparing what Nigeria produces to what South Africa produces, etc...

Generating more electricity is a good thing if it will solve the power problem but in reality this approach is both expensive, and a waste if attitudes don't change.

How many times have we seen that air conditioner left on even when the occupants of the building are not at home? How many times have we seen that light bulb left overnight despite the fact that you don't actually need a light to sleep? Bigger is not always better so the government should consider a serious energy conservation policy while planning to guarantee steady power supply, but more importantly sensitising the populace about effective energy management.

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