An expert on solar energy estimated that one Megawatts of solar electricity plant will cost 100 million naira. I asked another expert to confirm. One hundred million naira, he said, is too high an estimate.
There’s this growing understanding that solar is getting cheaper than coal as a source of electricity. Huffington Post reported: “In December , the World Economic Forum released a report that found solar and wind energy have reached parity with, or dropped below, the price of coal in 30 countries.”
This is on account of improvement in technology and economics of scale.
Still, for our purposes, let’s use the figure today to think about what we can do with N34 billion seized from the former petroleum minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke.
A federal high court on Thursday last week ruled that $153 million (34 billion naira) linked to the former minister of petroleum be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria. Which is a cheering news, given that the money was earlier put on an interim forfeiture. Permanent forfeiture is good.
It’s good for the government and the people would take a good deal of benefits from it if the FG employs the amount properly, engage the public and carry them along by spending the money on one problem, product or solution. I recommend solar electricity; for the following reasons.
If Buhari would solve the problem of electricity generation, most other sins would be forgiven. And no one would balk at the efforts to make energy accessible and affordable for Nigerians. Also, this would be one programme that our compatriots would find relatable. Every household or business is affected by electricity or lack of it.
Two, solar energy is usually off-the-shelf. It’s something you can buy and easily install; therefore, it would be a project that would quickly return dividends. We don’t have to wait years to benefit. A solar plant can be completed in six months. A coal plant takes years. And a nuclear plant can take a decade. This would be the economics that everyone would understand. I can tell my aunt in the village that “electricity improved because Buhari converted stolen money to electricity.”
Everyone would understand this, rather than the fancy economics terms we’re being bombarded with regularly by our experts: MPR, trilemma, recession, floating exchange rate, etc.
At the rate of 100 million for each MW, Diezani’s N34 billion will give us 340MW. If the EFCC succeeds in converting all the following interim forfeitures of the alleged illegal money to permanent forfeitures, we’d have 100 billion in cash that is already sitting in the bank and screaming to be put in the service of Nigerians: Raymond Dokpesi, N2.1bn; Patience Jonathan, $15m; Murtala Nyako, N29bn; the Amosus, N2.7bn; Andrew Yakubu, $9.8m; Roberts, $40m; Steven Oronsaye, N190m; Mba, N2.9bn and Ozekhome, N75m.
In that case, we’d have 1,000MW of solar electricity. That may not appear much, but it is close to what the three hydro stations in Niger State are producing. And in the past several months, the nation has been depending on them, especially when militants disrupt supply to gas plants. It is also more than 700MW being constructed in Zungeru, Niger State, which has taken many years to be completed.
Some may argue also that solar does not even approximate what it is cracked up to be. They would point at Germany and say although it has the largest implementation of solar energy in the world, there are still problems associated with it. But the fact that we have Germany as an example should be the reason why we should go the solar route. They’ve made the mistakes for us, so that we don’t have to, we can tweak their template to adapt to our situation and we can call upon them to assist us. Clearly solar solution has moved beyond the question of whether it’s a fix or a fig leaf. At a point, renewables – mainly solar and wind – contributed up to 90% of Germany’s energy.
Still, 80% of the developed world’s energy mix is still fossil fuel, according to the book, “Renewable Energy without the Hot Air” by David MacKay.
But solar is half the cost of coal now. And the technology is improving at such a pace that in the next decade, it wouldn’t matter whether you’re a sunny or a rainy country. Already, places like Texas, California and Germany are producing more renewable energy than they need. This is good news. Abundance of technology makes it accessible to billions of people; two good examples are mobile phones and the internet.
Others may also say that our problem is not generation alone. This is true. Some would argue further that problems in the distribution corner is worse than in the generation. And they would all be right. We have problems with transmission and especially distribution. A recent interview with the chief executive of one of the generation companies is a validation of this. He said while the drop in electricity supply was blamed on the lack of rain to feed the hydro stations, that wasn’t the case. Indeed, they had power stranded at their plants but the distribution companies were refusing to buy, he said. A friend in the industry recently told me that “Discos are the ones messing up the sector.”
Therefore, distribution appears to be the weakest link in the chain. Yet, if we produce enough, the DisCos would eventually run out of excuses and be forced to do the right thing or be terminated. Electricity is being stranded at their power stations because the DisCos are not willing to buy because they still making money without providing electricity due to the crazy estimated billings.
Still once we know that we have enough electricity to power our homes, that the generation is not our problem, that we can no longer blame the lack on water shortage and pipeline vandals, then we can all rise and say the DisCos either improve or ship out.
In conclusion, the forfeitures provide a tremendous opportunity to adopt a razor sharp focus and carry the people along, get us get excited again, get us to take ownership of government projects and build Nigeria together.