Friday, August 08, 2008

A simple power solution for Nigeria...

Here's an ingenious idea, to answer this question: how can the power situation be radically improved in Nigeria, without a single new power station being built (or not built, as the case may be)? The supplementary question is: and how can the situation be improved and create jobs/businesses in the process?

The potential solution is so ingeniously simple, it would probably never work. Here goes:

Fact 1: Nigeria's grid currently powers around 1-2,000MW of power per day - via PHCN (formerly known as NEPA).

Fact 2: Meanwhile, the sum total of independently-generated power is somewhere between 40-50,000MW (at least twenty times as much as the grid produces). The large bulk of this power comes from small and medium size generators - there are estimated to be 500,000 of them in the country.

Fact 3: The trouble is, the lion's share of this independently-generated power is not efficiently used. Take our compound as a classic example. While we use a 2.3KVA pure sine wave inverter, which works brilliantly and gives us 24/7 guaranteed power with no fuel charges, Alhaji downstairs has a 40kva generator (ie quite big machine), that slurps diesel like the hungry beast it is. At most with all his ACs on, Alhaji needs 10-15kva power, meaning that his genset is permanently under-used. As all engineers know, under-utilisation of big machines is usually a no-no. The engine wears out more quickly, and its hardly an efficient use of diesel. Worse still, the carbon footprint is unnecessarily widened.

Solution: So, and here's the brilliant bit: what if generator sets like Alhajis were put to better use by distributing the power generated in the immediate neighbourhood? The business opportunity is to turn the tens of thousands of similarly under-utilised gensets into microgrid systems. The owners of the gensets would make money out of their own power back-up system, in effect obtaining subsidised back-up power.

That's the idea in a nutshell. The details could easily be worked out. For example, a subsidiary of PHCN, or perhaps better, NERC, could be set up to regulate this SME market. There would be a licence system required, and specifically authorised metering equipment that is regularly checked (perhaps with remote monitoring by an sms device built into the meter - not exactly hi-tech these days). The microgrid would only 'kick-in' when NEPA fails (just as an inverter does) so it would not actually be competing with the national grid, merely complementing it. The costs of regulation could even be generated (at least in part) by the regulator taking a percentage of the metering bill.

In the case of our Alhaji, he has in effect 25KW to 'sell' to the neighbouring houses. As we get by fine on 2.5KW back up, that's theoretically enough for up to ten houses (so long as the microgrid does not involve ACs).

The beauty of it is that the total power generation figure of 40-50,000MW becomes theoretically available for more efficient distribution, creating real business opportunities in the process, with no capital outlay of any significance to the govt.

Is this idea far too simple and ingenious or what?

If the idea was piloted in a few places, who knows?


onydchic 4:33 pm  

Um... U really think the other people. will NOT use the airconditioners though???

And while this is a nice idea in theory (though Ill be thr first to admit i dont completely get it), I can just not see it happening, dude.

Morountodun 5:20 pm  

Innovative solution. I wonder if you could market it to the techies at NEPA/PCHN. In fact perhaps if you did some leg work you might even be able to make a few bob out of it yourself...

Moni 12:53 am  

This is an interesting idea.

I wonder though if this only further encourages an increasingly distributed network based on inefficient, dirty, expensive and noisy equipment. Granted there are solar options, but the majority are diesel generators.

The most efficient is centrally generated power. Until that becomes a reality for Nigeria, this certainly seems like it will help, but it doesn't seem like the answer.

In some parts of the US, if you generate your own power and are hooked up to the power grid... you can sell the excess back to the power company (i.e. automatically back to the grid) and you end up with a net credit from the power company at the end of the month.

more here:

@Jeremy. Are you using a solar setup? If so, what kind & are you using batteries?

Anonymous,  8:59 am  

I think the big issue is the distribution, how will that work. If you hooked up to his gen and then put too much load who's gonna pay when it blows up!

By the way with your inverter where did you get it and how much for? I'm trialling one at the moment but they're asking for N300,000 plus N200k for the 4 big batteries.....admittedly it's saved me a lot of money on diesel in the last month but I'm just waiting for something to spoil! I'd be interested to know more about your exeriences.

Mr C 1:04 pm  

I love the idea. But lets bring it down to current realities in this Nigeria we live in
1. Most Nigerians switch on their gen set in the evenings, and this would limit the effective supply of electricity to the grid during the day.
2. The poor management structure of the NERC would deter people from hooking their gen-sets to the grid (It is stress receiving money from the large Nigerian establishments, unless you know "somebody" ).
3. If this thing works at kickoff, you can expect Nigerians to drop their gen-sets later on; they will assume that everyone else will switch theirs on.
4. Alhaji (downstairs) actually likes the idea that the neighbors do not have light. How would they prove they are wealthier than the next man?
Nevertheless, I still like the idea.

Debo,  3:30 pm  

Thia ia how others have dealt with a similar situation - it really speaks to "collective" thinking which, I am afraid, there is a dearth of in today's Nigeria

Hassan,  10:48 am  

Hey Jeremy, did you think of the pollution this will cause? It is highly inefficient and counter environment!

saul 10:40 am  

J - the idea has lots of merits, but it's all about getting the incentives right to get the impact you want.

From an environmental and efficiency perspective you wouldn't want lots of people going out and buying bigger, diesel hungry generators so they could subsidise their own power back-up.

However, this wouldn't be a big deal if you incentivised people to use solar power generators to put energy back into the grid. You might even get President Clintor dropping into your compound:

Cost may be prohibitive at the moment but photovoltaic cells are getting more efficient (

Oz Omodudu 9:32 pm  

I like the line of thought. For those pointing out the obstacles, keep in mind this is a second best option since it appears that we can not get the first choice right. I suspect this is going to be more effective if this is organized around the transform or neighborhood leave rather than the main substation. I believe that sense of community can also be a draw for some of us.
The technology already exist, the pollution is going to continue for a while anyway.
The only problem I see here is that this will give PHCN an opportunity to throw in the towel.

Snake Oil Baron 2:32 am  

While it sounds like there are some details to be worked out it does sound like a good idea. While electrical generation (through conventional means at least) is more efficient when centralized, inefficient infrastructure would probably increase the transmission costs, making distributed generation sensible.

Environmental concerns don't convince me since many of the coping strategies of people living with insufficient energy supplies are far from environmentally benign. The generators are already their and being used so using them more efficiently through cooperation is a good idea. If Westerners can run lawn mowers, toys like dirt bikes and jet-skies, Africans should be not worry about climate scams (creationism for secular leftists) when they could be having refrigeration, increased productivity/wealth creation and industry. Reliable electricity can increase food yield, reducing habitat pressure. It can also help provide the time needed to educate children and resources to keep them healthy, reducing fertility rates and firewood usage.

anonymaus,  6:36 pm  

Jeremy, I admire your mental dexterity tackling technical and non-technical subjects. Props to you.

The key is co-operation, if (poorer) Nigerians can get over being jealous of someone wealthier than them, and those that have money not to look down on those who are poorer, it just may get out of the starting blocks.

Ruth 5:27 am  

I think its a clever idea. I'm sitting here chewing my fingernails to figure out how to set up micro co-generation plants that could run on natural gas (hey now...) or better yet on the methane produced by all the rubbish we regularly tote out to the municipal dumps. Because we really don't need any more rattling diesel generators in the world-- believe it or not, people, one day the oil will run out...
The problem is fundamentally the lack of collective spirit in Nigeria. Kenya, Lesotho, Tanzania, communities band together to make things happen when the government fails them, whereas we want to know why so and so should get the first cut...
Lets talk though, this is a fresh idea. Perhaps a way to get around the overloading of the system is through prepaid electricity. No scratch card, no electricity.

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