Towards Sustainable Energy: Windy Whims, Epiphany, or Probability

by Bemgba Nyakuma

It is strange what we come across in our e-mail inbox these days. And so on this fateful day, I logged-in to check my emails, and there it was – the billion dollar question. The mail was from someone I didn’t know, so you can imagine my apprehension. However, I braced up and perused the email whence I came upon the question; “what kind of opportunities in renewable/sustainable energy do you foresee in Nigeria … you must have had some sort of epiphany before deciding to pursue that course of study?” I took a deep breath and began replying the e-mail. “My decision to study the course had nothing to do with epiphany, my dear friend”, was how I began. However, I cannot honestly say I thought of opportunities in Nigeria as a whole before actually making up my mind. But to answer your question, I think there are and will certainly be a lot of opportunities for a Sustainable Energy Engineers in Nigeria. The reality of the matter is Nigeria and its citizenry cannot boast that all is well with the power/energy sector. Power supply nationwide is intermittent and can at best be described as non-existent. We all know the story. Power is vital to the growth and development of our economy, and the sad truth is that we also know this and yet do nothing. A million excuses have been given by present and past governments on the reasons behind the state of our power sector. Despondently it appears the trend is only worsening; the media is awash with news of outages, and our lives are constantly becoming illuminated by the dark spectacle of irregular power supply. What is really the problem? Perhaps this will serve as food for thought.

Back to my e-mail inbox and reply, in truth my decision to study the course, Sustainable Energy, was due to the fact that I simply wanted to do a masters degree abroad after searching fruitlessly for a job. Well, that in itself is a whole matter of discuss, I am afraid I will have to save that discuss for later. So after much research, I stumbled upon the course MSc Sustainable Energy with a specialization option in “Hydrogen Economy”. As a trained Industrial Chemist I saw this as a great opportunity. Therefore I must state matter-of-factly that my decision was not “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, occurrence or experience” – which defines an epiphany. Strangely I get the impression that “my inquirer” let light the load of inquiry in his heart about this matter due to the following reasons. Any ardent observer of Power/Energy developments in Nigeria will discover that the government has over the last decade voted mind blowing sums of money to the sector. Where has it all gone? Into private pockets and scam like uncompleted projects- Independent Power Projects ring a bell? The average Nigerian seems to tilt ever so easily towards the windy whims of the Naira. Everyone wants a piece of the cake. That’s brings me to my second reason for opting for the course of study. Without mincing words, the job prospects for Nigerian graduates of foreign universities have always been great in Nigeria. They are paid better, treated better and have a better chance of making it in their careers, compared to their compatriots with Nigerian degrees. To cap it up, the enormous funds been voted by the government in the sector is evidence that the Energy sector is sparkling bright. The investments will provide jobs, and thus the skills and expertise of highly trained graduates both home and abroad will be greatly sort after. A recent publication by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the United States reveals that for every 100 MW of installed Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)-a Solar Energy Technology- approximately 4,000 direct and indirect job are created. Also NREL estimates that a total of 145 000 jobs in construction and 3 000 permanent jobs will be created by the current and proposed CSP development projects planned across the United States. Another study I came across also states that for every billion dollar spent on the development and implementation of Wind Turbines creates 3,350 jobs, the list of prospects and possibilities is endless. For examples already taking shape in Nigeria, I draw from the wisdom of Robert South; “problems can become opportunities when the right people come together.” Another good example is the Gas to Liquid (GTL) Plants being planned by some multinational oil companies in Nigeria, there are quite a few other large energy projects. The technology behind these plants will be centered around the Fischer-Tropsch reaction, Biomass to Liquid, and other chemical reactions, all aimed at producing hydrocarbons from non-fossil based sources. Furthermore, I foresee that for Africa and Nigeria in particular, biomass will prove the technology of the future, with Biomass Gasifier Power Plants; which can use the abundant wood, saw dust, waste paper and combustible/refuse waste and chips and also the agric waste, like manure, straw, chaff from breweries used produced by the timber industry. All these enumerated waste would provide fuel for the plants which will in turn produce electricity. These plants and the ensuing informal industry around it would spur the economy through the provision of jobs directly and indirectly. Another renewable energy technology I foresee as a viable option for Nigeria is Concentrated Solar Power, a solar technology. The principle is that sunlight is focused on tubes (or receivers) that run the length of the mirrors. The reflected sunlight heats a fluid flowing through the tubes. The hot fluid then is used to boil water in a conventional steam-turbine generator to produce electricity.

It employs thousands of mirrors arranged as can be seen in the picture. The Master course in Sustainable Energy has many specializations, and although I have decided to major in Hydrogen Energy/Storage, this leaves open; Biomass Energy, Wind Energy, Solar Energy, Sustainable Electric Energy, Energy Policy and Sustainable Development. In summary, the job the opportunities are endless and if you follow the press you would recall the “Baba” expended billions of dollars on power projects. These financial investments will certainly continue, considering the state of the nation’s current Electric Energy output. Since it is required to expand the current infrastructure, increase demand for the requisite manpower and personnel that will be needed to manage these infrastructure. So my dear friend, reader and compatriots, energy is the fuel that will lead the way for the future of Nigeria. It is the biggest melee facing the manufacturing industry and many more sectors in Nigeria. In conclusion, the future of Nigeria and its energy supply is of utmost importance. My guts tell me this, who knows may be one day I will return to Nigeria and pick of one these jobs and hope that I can help make a change, if the environment and our Nigerianess will permit. I have to stop here; this email reply is getting rather lengthy.

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1 comment

tayo September 18, 2009 - 6:58 pm

I totally agree with you. I am someone of the same opinion frustrated by the constant (you must have a 2:1 or 1st class before you can get a job) I am a trained chemical engineer that has not designed a single process as a graduate. I currently work in the I.T Dept of a big bank in Nigeria but I am not satisfied, I feel i am wasting my talent even though I am doing well in the I.T industry. My heart lies with the engineering profession and I can happily inform you that I just got admitted into the MScEng program in Renewable and sustainable engineer in a South African university. Hopefully we will team up one day to make Nigeria a better place and take our rightful place. Pls do contact me through my mail and we will rub minds further.


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