Is 24-hour power supply in Nigeria a pipe dream or reality?

My friend and ace television producer, Amaka Igwe posted an alarm on her Facebook wall. She had electricity in her home for 48 hours running. Mind you she didn’t say a ‘blackout’. She actually meant power supply to her residence did not blink for all of 2 days.

Now you have to understand her delightful ‘worry’. For a sector with a reputation more inclined to default than performance, she must have wondered if she is still within this clime or having a malaria-induced dream. At least Facebook comments might help restore a sense of balance and reassure her that she still lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

Let me confess that I know Amaka not just for her prolific skills in television scripting and production. I can also testify to her unquestionable character and Christian faith; she is not one to grandstand or embellish or do some public relations stuff. If she says she enjoyed power supply for 2 days running, then I believe her.

To her claims, I have also responded that the feat is no magic. It is rather a product of hard work, persistent determination and the fact that it is beginning to dawn on all players in the sector that it is no longer business as usual. Current improvement is the immediate outcome of the completed major repairs on many vandalized gas pipelines. Now power generation now hovers around 4150 MW while grid loaded power is over 3800 MW up from between 1800 to 2500 MW when most of the pipelines were vandalized.

So the GenCos are producing more power due to the availability of having more gas supply. Main beneficiaries of the improved gas supply are newly completed NIPP plants especially Olorunsogo, Omotosho and Geregu power plants that were almost shut down due to non-availability of gas. Egbin plant in Lagos and others also ramped up production due to same reason. Thanks also to a relatively improved grid system with fresh 33KV transmission lines, sub stations and injection transformers.

As it stands today, heavily metered areas will naturally receive more power from the DisCos than unmetered areas, ditto metered commercial and industrial areas. Why; because that ensures more revenue streams for the DisCos and lowers commercial losses. As you know these classes of consumers pay the highest tariffs. Perhaps this explains why in some cities, some are now getting from 18 hours to 24 hours while some get less, even as low as 8 hours.

This point can be better appreciated when viewed from the perspective that the regulator NERC is whipping DisCos that are not making efforts to meter their customers. According to NERC, the era of estimated billing should be done with. If the DisCos don’t have the funds to roll out full metering for consumers, then they should utilize the option of Credit Advance Payment for Metering Implementation. The DisCos, of course, are not ready to fall under the NERC hammer given that consumers have the right to seek redress if they believe that their bills are unjustly estimated. On the contrary for metered customers, it is pay as you go, so no one complains.

That however, may not be the sole reason for the disparities in power distribution. There are still areas with weak distribution facilities – such as dilapidated sub stations and distribution lines, and overloaded transformers. Naturally, to avoid heavy technical losses, the DisCos will choose to wheel power to areas not so challenged. After all, they are business entities and will really not be willing to suffer technical losses unnecessarily. More so when they no longer enjoy the luxury of owing GenCos for power supplied. Part of their KPIs is that they must prove off-take credit-worthiness by paying the Bulk trader as and when due.

In all, it is still far from uhuru. Yes, the Transmission Company has relatively stabilized the grid system, yet it needs to continuously up its game in terms of continued monitoring of the grid system, transmission lines and sub stations to keep them at best optimum performance. There is equal need for scaled-up investments in transmission. Equally, the new DisCo owners should invest to improve their assets, build more sub stations, procure energy efficient transformers, construct more distribution lines and get cracking. True, these would require a lot of money, yet they ought to explore creative financial modelling including going the stock market to raise funds.

Nonetheless, the issue of vandalizing gas pipelines and other vital assets continues to be sticky point. There is urgent need to checkmate this criminal element out to exasperate our collective yearning just for a mesh of porridge. Apart from effective policing of the pipelines, the more sustainable way maybe to engage in deliberate structuring of a more diversified power mix, coal, hydro, solar, wind and bio mass. It is also essential to consider utilizing captive generation and distribution for far-flung areas not connected to the grid with comparative power source advantage such as wind, hydro, and solar. That way, you save cost of constructing transmission lines running over hundreds of kilometres just to connect some rural areas with rather small population. Another option is to ring fence some peri-urban and suburbs off the grid and use either solar or bio mass to generate and supply electricity there.

For now, some like Amaka are beginning to occasionally enjoy the dividends of the ongoing power sector reform and we should say kudos to the Power Minister, Prof Chinedu Nebo and his team, who, despite heavy criticisms from some anxious frustrated public, refuse to lose focus. The caution though is to moderate our expectations. The rot is really deep and demands continued hard work, creativity and purpose driven actions to fully rectify. The fact is that the journey to the Promised Land will take some time and sometimes seem rather arduous. Forgive me to parrot the Warren Buffet famous quote again: “No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”

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