A Case for Renewable Energy

by Bemgba Nyakuma

The rapid depletion of fossil fuel resources has renewed the search for alternative energy sources to meet the present day demands. These alternative energy resources such as solar and wind energies are clean, inexhaustible and environmentally friendly potential sources of renewable energy. But the question remains will they ever met the rising demand for energy has stands at 15TW (terawatts 1012) per year? By IEA definition, Renewable energy sources include renewable combustibles and waste (solid biomass, charcoal, renewable municipal waste, gas from biomass and liquid biomass), hydro, solar, wind and tide energy.

In 2006, world Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) was 11 741 Mtoe, of which 12.7%, or 1 493 Mtoe, was produced from renewable energy sources. In OECD countries, total primary energy supply (TPES) from renewable sources increased from 262 Mtoe to 345 Mtoe between 1990 and 2006, yielding an average annual growth of 1.7%.The shares of other energy sources were as follows: 34.3% oil, 26.0% coal, 20.5% natural gas and 6.2% nuclear energy. The growth of renewable energy production is higher than the growth of PES for conventional energy sources in the OECD countries.

Renewable energy sources have grown at an average annual rate of 1.8%, since 1990, which is level similar to the growth rate of world TPES of 1.8% per annum. Growth has been especially high for wind power, which grew at an average annual rate of 24.5%. Solid biomass, which is the largest contributor to renewable energy in the world, has experienced the slowest growth among the renewable energy sources, with growth rate of 1.5% per annum. The question now is what are countries like Nigeria doing to tackle this global issue? Are we just going to sit back and let it go to chance as we have done over the years?

Sometime ago I downloaded and read the Nigeria Energy policy document from the website of the Energy Commission. Like many papers and reports on policy issues in Nigeria it looked very promising. The reality on ground is however deplorable considering that the current generated level of power in the country is around 4000 MW. Is this the capacity that is expected to cater for 150 million Nigerians and the economy? It leaves me wondering if we are serious people at all. Are our leaders genuinely aware of the gravity of the issue at hand? What is the academia doing about this? These questions have been clouding my mind for a long time now. The essay by Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu also shed light on this malady that has plagued many developing countries and Nigeria in particular.

The Obasanjo government decided to take the bull by the horns by launching the Independent Power Projects. But like all things Nigerian it has been overshadowed by the myriad of controversies and scandals that is synonymous with projects in Africa. Besides the IPP project in Kwara state which I am told is functional, there is nothing to show. Yet again the government and our leaders have failed us, flushing $16bn down the hole. Investing $16bn dollars in a power projects should have effectively solved Nigeria’s energy problems. As an Renewable Energy engineering student in training I have played with numbers over and over and have come up with these facts. For $16bn we would have installed a total of 4,000 General Electric, GE, 3.6MW wind turbines, generating an additional 14,400MW at optimum wind speeds. The northern parts of the country like Kano and Borno state with abundant wind resources will be ideal for such a project. One drawback, but a surmountable one; however is that Wind Technology like most renewable energy technologies are very knowledge intensive which means technical expertise will be highly required. Solar on the hand is also a viable and practical option considering that Nigeria has an average isolation 5-7 kW/hm2 which is ideal for solar power generation. Newer solar technologies which parabolic mirrors, trough systems and solar concentrators could also be employed.

This brings me to Biomass energy, the most promising and abundant source of energy in the developing world. Currently the existing technologies of pyrolysis, gasification, combustion, fermentation and biodiesel and biofuels processes are leading the way. Scientists believe biomass has the potential to supply 20 times the world’s energy needs if harnessed appropriately. Thus Nigeria with its forests and forest resources has the potential to be a leader in the drive to harness energy from biomass. Many countries such as Brazil have already taken giant strides in biomass energy production, drawing 44.5% of its energy demands from sugar cane. In the Netherlands, biomass power plants provide a huge chunk of the energy needs. The German power company RWE is planning to build a new biomass power plant in the Netherlands which will generate 2,200MW at the cost of $2bn which on completion would satisfy the demand of 3.4 million households. It means for $16bn we would have eight (8) biomass power plants with a capacity to produce 17,600MW.

The most promising applications of renewable energy sources are their installation in remote areas where the grid extension is costly and the cost of fuels increases significantly with location. In addition energy from renewable sources such as Solar and Wind may be intermittent and hence cannot independently guarantee steady and adequate supply. It is prudent to also mention that neither a standalone solar nor a wind energy system can provide continuous supply of energy due to seasonal and periodical variations. Therefore in order to satisfy the energy and load demands, hybrid energy systems have to be implemented to combine renewable and conventional fossil fuels. Fuel cells, another great option, in combination with gas turbines with efficiencies of 80% are the new best thing in Energy innovation.

The future outlook is that renewables will not phase out conventional fossil fuel sources but will do a lot to complement them. Importantly, the now commonplace rhetoric about sustainability and climate change re-emphasizes the need to be more responsible about the future and generations to come. For Nigeria, it is a way forward from the overdependence on Oil and the possibilities abound in science and technology and a solution to the energy debacle, that way we can truly be ‘Good People Great Nation’.

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