Nigeria’s Epileptic Electricity, Don Advances Permanent Solution
…Says he attended same college with President Yar’Adua
Professor George Adebiyi is a seasoned University doyen in Mississippi State University (USA); his research interests largely focus on Solar/Renewable Energy/Fuel Cell applications, Mathematical modelling of advanced energy systems including Thermal Regenerators (such as Packed Bed Storage Systems utilizing Phase-Change Materials), Heat and Mass Transfer Regenerators (such as Desiccant Dehumidifiers, Crop Dryers). Others are: Formulations for the Thermodynamic Properties of Substances and Development of Algorithms for use in Computer Property Codes, Computer-Aided Thermodynamic Analysis and Evaluation of Thermal Systems, Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer Applications in Systems Design and Analysis, Piping networks system design, to mention a few.
In an interactive online (electronic) parley with Emmanuel Ajibulu, the Professor responded to a number of issues that can bring back hope to Nigeria’s energy crunch. The interaction was quite participatory and interesting as the energy guru injects some sense of humour to the question and answer session.
Question: Can I meet you sir?
Prof. George Adebiyi: I was born in Nigeria, a native of Igosun in Kwara State. My early education began in Ejigbo. Later, I attended Senior Primary School at Laminga (midway between Keffi and Nassarawa) from 1955 to 1956, and Senior Primary School, Bauchi (1957 to 1958). I attended Government College, Keffi (1959 to 1963), and King’s College, Lagos (1964 to 1965) for the HSC. I studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Manchester, Manchester, England, and graduated with a 1st Class Hons. degree in 1969.
Question: Working Experience?
Prof. George Adebiyi: I worked for a year (1969 to 1970) as a Research Associate at the Central Electricity Research Laboratories in Leatherhead and returned to the University of Manchester for the Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. I completed my Ph.D. in December 1972, although the award of the degree was dated March 1973. From January 1973 to December 1973 I worked with Shell in Lagos.
I was appointed a Lecturer at the University of Lagos and worked there from December 1973 to July 1975. My next appointment was with now Kwara Polytechnic, Ilorin (July 1975 to 1979). At Ilorin I was beneficiary of a Unesco Fellowship to Huddersfield Polytechnic where I earned an Advanced Diploma in Further Education (a University of Leeds Award) in 1977. I later served as Director of the School of Technology from 1978 to 1979. In July 1979, I assumed duty as Rector (then Principal) of the Federal Polytechnic, Bida. I continued there as Rector until 1985. Around 1983, we established a Solar Energy Research Centre at the Polytechnic.
The Centre continues to provide a focus for students’ projects as well as research by Lecturers in the area of solar energy applications. In 1984, I was away from the Federal Polytechnic on sabbatical leave that gave me the first opportunity to work in the U.S.A. The time was spent at Rust College, Holly Springs in Mississippi. Rust College is a Liberal Arts College and is a Private University. I was a Visiting Professor of Physics. On my return to Nigeria I spent 3 months (May to July 1985) with the Solar Energy Centre of the then University of Sokoto, Sokoto. In August 1985, I returned to the U.S.A. this time to the Mississippi State University as a Visiting Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. I was promoted to full Professor with tenure in 1991. I co-authored a Classical Thermodynamics textbook with a colleague (Dr. Lynn D. Russell) in 1993. The book was translated to Spanish and is currently in print.
Question: Parental Antecedents?
Prof. George Adebiyi: My father (now deceased) was an ordained Baptist Reverend who as far back as 1955 began a career as an Educationist and served in several civil service positions in the former Northern Region of Nigeria. My mother (also deceased) was the first woman to complete Standard 6 in Ilorin province in the 1930’s, and she served until her death in 1983 as Church Organist everywhere we lived. Although I was born into a Christian family, it was not until 1960 that I got saved and became a Christian. I have often served as Church Pianist/Organist in Churches that I belong to. I currently play the piano at a Church in Columbus, Mississippi, which has a Missionary Pastor from Nigeria.
Question: Can you share with the world what you think is causing persistent power failure in Nigeria?
Prof. George Adebiyi: I always dramatize the seriousness of power failure in much of Africa by pointing to a NASA picture of the Earth at night. (See the following web site, for example: NASA PICTURE ) Virtually all the continents are lit except Africa!
Let me now share some facts and figures that explain why Nigeria experiences vexing and perennial power failure. Nigeria currently has a population of around 140 million. In a recent interview, Nigeria’s President announced that total electric generating capacity in the country was effectively below 3,000 Megawatts. If you divide this by the population you will find that there is only about 20 Watts per person. Increasing generating capacity to 5,000 Megawatts will raise this to a little over 35 Watts per person. The household bulbs we use are rated 25 Watts, 40 Watts, 60 Watts, or even 100 Watts. The 2-ft fluorescent lights consume around 20 Watts powers. Thus, if all the electricity generated is used exclusively in homes (with nothing for industries, businesses and commercial centres), there is just enough to light one bulb for every Nigerian.
In actual fact, typically 50% of grid electricity is consumed in homes, while the commercial and industrial sectors account for about 25% each. Nigeria still has ways to go to generate at the 5,000 Megawatts level. The Kainji Dam can only provide 960 Megawatts (less than 1 Gigawatt). Not all the turbine units are in operation because water level in the reservoir is often low for a multitude of reasons including drought. The power from the dam is only about 500 Megawatts to 600 Megawatts most of the time. Also, there is an agreement that requires much of this power to be delivered to Niger Republic. This is necessary to avoid a situation where Niger Republic diverts much of river Niger to take care of its own needs for water power.
Thus, on average less than 3 kWh of electricity can be supplied per household per day in Nigeria for the forseeable future. This assumes that all electricity generated is used entirely in houses and residences.
Let us make a few comparisons. South Africa with a population of a little over 44 million has electric generating capacity of 30,000 Megawatts. This translates to an annual per capita consumption of electricity of 4500 kWh. For Nigeria, the annual per capita consumption of electricity is estimated at between about 100 kWh and 135 kWh. Here in the U.S.A. the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provides electric power to about 8 million people. TVA’s generating capacity is currently 33,000 Megawatts, and the average daily electrical energy sold per household in 2006 in Mississippi alone was 44 kWh per household per day. A daily average TVA sale to commercial and industrial customers for the same period was 220 kWh per customer. Ironically, during the summer months in Mississippi and other states in the TVA region, the weather is so hot that air conditioners have to run “full throttle”, and in July especially, TVA often cautions its customers to slow down on the use of air conditioners or else risk power loss.
Why is there persistent power failure in Nigeria? The answer is simply that supply is way below demand; the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is generating less than 2% of the power needed (if the TVA, or even South Africa, record is taken as standard). In addition, there are human factors that make the power situation in Nigeria a lot worse.
A source recently indicated that over 40% of generated electricity is lost. In recent years, thieves have stolen transmission line wires (only to resell to NEPA/PHCN), causing serious disruption to electricity supply. Even transformers have been stolen and resold. Pipelines supplying fuel to power stations have been sabotaged and vandalized. If fuel does not get to a power station, no power can be generated. There are lots of illegal power connections. As a result, there is shortfall in revenue that could be applied to improving electricity supply in the country. All these compound the problems and frustrate any effort being made to solve the crisis.
Question: Why is there persistent power failure in Nigeria?
Prof. George Adebiyi: Conventional power generation uses fossil fuels (which a layman would call: coal, gas, and oil). These are non-renewable energy sources, and are being used up very rapidly. Fossil fuels take millions of years to form, and with heightened global demand they may be exhausted a lot sooner than later. The future of electrical power generation from fossil fuel combustion is threatened by escalating fuel prices and by adverse environmental consequences of large scale combustion of carbon-rich fuels.
Combustion of these fuels unleashes intolerable amounts of carbon dioxide to the environment contributing to turning the Earth’s atmosphere to a greenhouse with the harmful effect of producing global warming. In this regard, coal-fired plants, while offering electricity on the cheap is the worst culprit, and power utilities that propose these plants are increasingly incurring enormous (capital) costs in assuring adequate emissions control and carbon dioxide sequestration to minimize the pollution they unleash on the environment. Natural gas (mostly methane) also adds significant amounts of carbon dioxide to the environment.
Meeting these challenges adds significant costs to electricity production from the use of the non-renewable primary energy resources. In other words, there is every indication that electricity production from the mix of conventional fossil fuels will occur in the future at increasing cost to consumers than the current levels.
Nigeria is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy both as direct solar energy and indirect solar energy. Indirect solar energy includes water power in the form of hydroelectric power, wind power, bio-fuels derived from corn and other plants, biomass, and biogas from garbage and other biological wastes. Solar energy can be exploited directly in thermal applications (crop drying, water heating, distillation, solar cooking, refrigeration and air conditioning, thermal power generation) and in solar electricity production using photovoltaic converters.
Solar/Renewable energy is attractive principally because it is manna-like. It is a renewable energy resource. It is a widely distributed form of energy. In other words, it is available where needed; this eliminates the need for long transmission lines that could be easily disrupted by robbers and saboteurs. It is free. Only the energy converters cost money, and the investment needed is largely capital. Maintenance cost is generally minimal. It is a non-polluting form of energy. (As indicated already, fossil fuels are known to generate a lot of greenhouse gases that produce global warming and threaten the future of the planet. Solar energy is clean and safe to use. Electric generators pollute with the noxious emissions and the noise. Solar converters provide electricity without emissions and without noise.)
Attractive as solar energy is, there are challenges to be met in its exploitation: Solar insolation levels on the Earth’s surface are generally low, and, therefore, collectors and solar converters must have large surface areas to meet even relatively low energy demand applications. For many locations in Nigeria, the amount of solar energy inflow exceeds 5 to 6 kWh per m2 per day, which is a typical threshold value needed for viable solar energy applications. Current technologies for solar cell production are energy [capital] intensive. Typical energy pay back periods are on the order of 6 to 11 years. New technologies are emerging, however, that significantly cut manufacturing costs and as a result make solar converters increasingly more affordable. Solar energy flow to the Earth occurs on a diurnal cycle. This intermittency imposes an energy storage requirement, which adds to the capital cost and reduces overall system efficiency. (Storage systems have regeneration efficiencies that can be as low as about 60% for thermal storage systems and as high as about 80% to 90% for battery storage.)
Can solar energy rescue Nigeria from its current energy crises? The honest answer is that solar energy alone cannot be the answer, but it can be a significant part of solving the problem. Let me begin by sharing some of the experiences of other countries: Solar water heating is saving on use of non-renewable energy in many parts of the world. An article by John Perlin History od Solar Thermal Energy recalls the widely known fact that Israel requires its inhabitants to heat their water with the sun. “Today, more than 90% of Israeli households own solar water heaters.” California, Florida, and several states in the United States use solar water heaters extensively.
The United States Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, uses solar water heaters to enable self-sufficiency and lower use of fossil-fuels. Hot water is available even during routine black-outs. Solar thermal power stations are being built all around the world. A Wikipedia listing on this is indeed informative. These include:
- An 11 megawatt PS10 solar power tower in Spain that produces electricity from the sun using 624 large movable mirrors called heliostats.
- Three hundred and fifty four (354) MW Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) power plant in California, U.S.A.
- World Bank financed integrated solar thermal/combined-cycle gas-turbine power plants in Egypt, Mexico, and Morocco.
Significant developments in the area of photovoltaics will foster widespread solar electricity generation in the very near future. For example, solar shingles are now available in the market place that can make solar electricity available to houses without using extra space other than the roof. Concentrating photovoltaic systems are being developed with a potential for increasing solar cell efficiencies to over 40%. California provides an example of how to tackle energy crises using a mix of approaches. California was forced to implement rolling black outs a few years ago because there was not sufficient power generated to meet the demand. Here is a summary of some measures adopted since that time to address the bigger issue of holding down power demand: Lighting accounted for an estimated 37% of electricity use per California household in 2006. Energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use about a quarter as much electricity as incandescent light bulbs, and the CFLs last several times as long as the regular bulbs. The utilities heavily subsidized the CFL industry and brought down cost of CFLs from $5 to $10 dollars in 1999 to a mere 25 to 50 cents in the marketplace.
In summary, solar energy can complement other forms of energy available in Nigeria today. In the short- and medium-term, the use of solar energy ought to be focused on the following applications:
(1) Thermal applications such as heating and cooling, crop and food drying, cooking;
(2) Lighting applications that use energy-efficient CFL and LED light fixtures;
(3) Powering of low wattage electrical appliances such as energy-efficient TVs, fans, refrigerators and freezers, water pumps. Appliances like air conditioners are typically rated in the kilowatt range, and while they can be powered using solar electricity, the cost will be inevitably high.
Substituting solar energy for conventional energy in the home will provide succor for many households while making more of grid electricity available to industries and commercial units.
Can an individual solve Nigeria’s energy crises? I wish! I am reminded of the proverbial rooster that claims credit for making the sun rise by its crowing! The magnitude of the problem calls for making prudent use of Nigeria’s human talent. I am impressed at the tremendous contributions that Sons and Daughters of Nigeria have made, and continue to make the world over. Some have confidently asserted that if you go to any part of the world and you do not find a few Nigerians there, something must be wrong with that place. Frankly, I think this is an overstatement of what is anecdotally true.
We need to recapture a vision of great things that can be accomplished when we work together. There is currently a lot of excitement and interest everywhere (in Nigeria and other parts of the world) about solar energy, and I am excited that several companies now exist in Nigeria “doing solar.” I fear, however, that a lot of dupes seize on the public excitement to defraud unsuspecting customers. Someone needs to educate the public to discriminate between the genuine thing and what may be counterfeit. Government has a role to ensure safety and probity in the public arena.
I welcome State Governments that have embraced solar projects like solar street lighting. They should show transparency on such projects. How much do they cost? How good are they? It is a shame if the solar street lights fail prematurely. It is just as bad to pay a lot more than is necessary for such projects.
Question: Why are you lecturing in Mississippi University in USA? Why not in a Nigerian University, or don’t you believe in Nigeria anymore?
Prof. George Adebiyi: In 1985 when I left the job of Rector in Nigeria, I did so to return to a profession that I spent most of my life preparing for, that is mechanical engineering. I was dissatisfied with the kind of elitism that created a wall between products of universities and those of polytechnics in Nigeria, and I was glad that as Rector, I had opportunity to make a case for products of both institutions to have respect for each other as equals and as having something valuable to give to the country. While I was a Visiting Associate Professor here in the USA I attended an interview in 1986 in Washington, D. C., for position in Nigeria’s Universities, but I never got promised response, let alone an offer of appointment from any of the universities. It was providential that Mississippi State University took a chance on me and gave me a job at a time I was intent on getting back to engineering. Reminds me of what Jesus said on a few occasions, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”
I believe that being in the USA helps me to be more helpful to Nigeria than I would have been if I had been in a Nigerian University all these years. I was able to spend 6 months in 2004 with Bowen University, Iwo, on a Fulbright Research Award. Some of the students that worked with me are now in the Solar Energy business. I have maintained contact with Bowen University and some other institutions including University of Ilorin, University of Lagos, the Federal Polytechnic, Bida, Kwara Polytechnic, Ilorin, in productive ways. During my most recent visit to Nigeria in May this year (2009), I got a carpenter in Ilorin to construct a solar fish dryer cabinet for me and I left the unit with the Dean of Engineering at University of Ilorin for further experimenting with the idea. A Lecturer in the Fisheries Department expressed interest in the project. I also worked on trying to secure collaboration and partnering between institutions in Nigeria and counterparts in the USA, and one of these days we will succeed.
Question: Can you develop solar assisted Air Conditioners, TV, Deep freezers and other home appliances?
Prof. George Adebiyi: In 1983, the Federal Government awarded contract for development of solar assisted air conditioner to the Federal Polytechnic, Bida. The most attractive option is to use an absorption refrigeration system that uses solar heat rather than electricity. You remember the Electrolux refrigerator that was used in rural areas that did not have regular supply of electricity. We used kerosene heaters to produce cooling in the refrigerator. While I welcomed the contract award in 1983, I felt helpless to pursue the research in Nigeria because of grossly inadequate infrastructure for meaningful research and development (R & D) effort. I got to the USA in August 2004, and within a couple of weeks I was able to access technical data base for the research. Back to Nigeria, I had a hard time figuring out where to obtain ammonia to brew an ammonia-water-hydrogen system. This was one more reason to relocate.
Solar assisted air conditioning is one of the most rational applications of solar energy. In Nigeria, air conditioning means keeping a space cool. Who needs air conditioning during the harmattan season when it is chilly and cold? Cooling is needed during the hot weather, and coincidentally that is when there is plenty of sunshine to make a solar air conditioner efficient and effective. This is one problem that is in phase with the solution. I hope to get back to research of this nature in the years ahead. I wish I had a benefactor to take care of my bills, and feed me, and then task me with developing a solar assisted air conditioner that works and is affordable for the average Nigerian.
Solar powered freezers have been developed and are in the market. I have one in my house here in the USA and it is operated entirely from a 100 Watt solar panel with a 55 Ah deep cycle battery. It has been working since August last year, even on days when we had a bit of snow for a day or two. I have friends and family in Nigeria that I helped acquire the same type of unit, and they have expressed total satisfaction with the product.
With the help of individuals in Nigeria we have set up comprehensive solar energy systems in homes that provide uninterrupted lighting (including security outdoor light), power to operate TVs, fans, laptops and printers, and other low-power appliances. I do not recommend using solar electricity to operate pressing irons, nor do I recommend it for water heater units or electric cookers. Both of these require kW of power. For pressing irons, wait until PHCN shows up. For hot water, use gas/kerosene/fire wood to heat water, or else, wait for us to include solar water heaters on our products list. That will come sooner than later.
Question: Can you tell us the process of making this solar energy work? And what is going to happen if there is seizure of ultraviolet radiation (heat of the sun)?
Prof. George Adebiyi: Solar energy is a form of electromagnetic radiation. It travels through space at the speed of light. The solar radiation that flows to the planet Earth in 1 hour is as much energy as the whole world uses in a year. Approximately three weeks of solar radiation reaching the earth is more than the sum total of all known capital non-renewable energy resources on Earth.
Solar radiation reaches the Earth as low intensity dispersed energy form. If it were more intense, we will all be roasting in its heat. The good Lord saved us from all that, and placed the Sun in the right place so it gives warmth to the Earth and provides all the Energy-manna we need for survival, including agriculture and the water cycle. We use roofs to create shade inside our homes, but place a few solar panels on the roof and you have free supply of electricity to do many things in the house. A solar panel comprises solar cells that convert energy of the Sun to flow of electricity. The output of these panels typically varies from 15 V dc to 19 V dc and higher. You need a battery charge controller that serves as a kind of voltage regulator for charging batteries that store the energy for later use. The automobile battery is a poor choice for solar applications. I knew a vendor that sold batteries used for trailers for solar application thinking that a battery that is good for a huge truck can surely work wonders for the home. Automobile batteries are designed to deliver huge current for starting an engine. The plates of those batteries are thin so they can perform very well. They do not store energy efficiently, and battery cells are easily damaged if discharged beyond certain limits. The batteries that are appropriate in solar applications are those referred to as deep cycle or marine batteries. They are a lot more robust, and they operate with much thicker plates than those used in automobile batteries. They do not deliver as much cranking amps as automobile batteries, but they do energy storage much more efficiently. Deep discharge of deep cycle batteries is less critical than doing that to automobile batteries.
Energy storage in a battery is much like storing water in a water tank near ground level. You can fill up your bucket from a water tank near ground level. Likewise you can operate dc devices (like radio, dc fans, dc LED light bulbs, even solar freezers) straight from the battery. If you need water pressure for a shower, for example, or to flush a toilet, you must pump the water to a high level tank and draw water from the elevated tank. The same with operating high voltage ac appliances from batteries; you use inverters (like pumps) to convert 12 V dc voltage of a battery to 220 V ac supply needed for operating the appliances (such as TV, ac fans, ac refrigerators, etc.) Both water systems and energy systems obey a conservation law. If you have small amount of water stored in your tank that is all you have; you cannot later use more water than what you previously managed to put in the tank. A law of thermodynamics likewise decrees that you do not have more energy than what you stored in the batteries in the first place. So the goal is to have enough batteries, and store all the energy you can so as to be able to meet all your electrical energy needs in a 24-hour cycle.
The Sun’s energy is good for a host of thermal applications other than producing electricity. You can use it for heating and cooling, cooking and drying, producing clean water from brackish water, etc.
The ultraviolet component of solar radiation is relatively small, and is absorbed largely in the ozone layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. Depletion of this layer by man-made chemical substances endangers the health of humans. Use of solar energy in and of itself poses no health hazard to humans.
Question: Is solar energy better off and more cost effective than inverter and generating sets, if yes, how?
Prof. George Adebiyi: There is confusion about what an inverter is. An inverter is a device that changes direct current (dc) from a bank of batteries to alternating current (ac) that several appliances need. Battery voltage is typically 12 V dc, whereas the ac supply in Nigeria is around 220 V ac. The opposite of an inverter is a battery charger, which charges a 12 V dc battery from a 220 V ac supply. Some so-called inverters actually have both an inverter and a battery charger. I favour such combination because whenever PHCN supply is available, batteries get charged, and to a significant extent, normal operations can be maintained for a much longer period than otherwise. What happens when PHCN supply is on a long vacation? My Auntie in Ibadan complained they did not have grid electricity for nearly a week. The only thing she had going was solar electricity from the 200 W solar panel installation at the house. Couple solar with the UPS feature of a battery charger and you have a more sustainable system for use in the home.
Those generating sets are very poor substitutes for what I have proposed for the following reasons:
1. Current cost of fuel actually makes electricity generated with a household generator at least 5 times as expensive as that from PHCN. For every 1000 kWh of electricity produced by a generator, you will save at least N60, 000 in fuel cost alone by employing a solar system.
2. Management of power from a generator is truly a burden. If the lights are out in the middle of the night, you have to get up to turn the generator on, and to turn it off when power returns. It is very wasteful to have to turn on the generator just to have lights in the toilet/passage way/room, all of which do not amount to a large amount of energy.
3. There is significant maintenance cost associated with generators, in addition to the fact that they degrade in performance with time.
4. Management of fuel supply for generators is hectic and very cumbersome. Also, the pollution associated with their operation is both deadly and a nuisance. The emissions often include carbon monoxide, a silent killer.
Question: We know there are many health implications on the use of generating sets, inverter etc; is there any health implications in the use of solar energy?
Prof. George Adebiyi: Solar energy is clean and safe. Nearly 50% of the sun’s energy falls in the visible spectrum and is what makes us see so well during the day. Another 40% or so is in the infrared region that produces heating effect and makes us warm. About 11% is in the ultraviolet region, and this is a portion of solar radiation that can pose health hazards to humans. Providentially, much of this is absorbed in the ozone layer, and that is why human interventions that result in depletion of this layer are really bad for humanity. Solar energy in the home is safe, but we must insist on electrical wiring being done safely and correctly so we don’t have fires caused by electrical faults. Also, if wet cell batteries are used, normal battery care must be observed, and any danger from noxious gas emissions must be avoided.
Some of the benefits of solar systems include:
1. You do not have to get up at night to operate the system for basic needs such as lighting or operating a fan or TV.
2. The UPS – Solar Combo guarantees uninterrupted supply for the facilities that the system is designed to operate.
3. You save a lot of money because once your solar system is installed; the solar energy inflow is free energy.
Question: As a stakeholder in the academic milieu what can you identify as setback(s) in the Nigeria’s educational sector?
Prof. George Adebiyi: Nearly 50 years after gaining independence from the UK, Nigeria’s educational sector has remained quite unsettled. If the students do not strike, the academicians will, or the junior staff will! I remember a President of the USA challenging his fellow Americans with the charge, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country instead.” We need such a rallying call in Nigeria today. The writer of Ecclesiastes in the Bible has this to say, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income…” Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul writes, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that…. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
Many Professors in Nigeria currently earn over N100, 000 per month. Some people with ND or NCE earn less than N5, 000 a month. If anyone should go on strike over pay, not the professors in a country with so many people who cannot afford basic necessities of life.
Respect for other humans and regard for sanctity of life appear to be vanishing on our campuses. Students kill each other for the flimsiest of excuses.
Are the facilities adequate in our educational institutions? Far from it! When I was Rector of a polytechnic, it did not take long to observe that when you divert money for equipment to students’ feeding (to avoid crises), you end up short changing the students. They come to school to learn and be educated. The simplest solution was to hand over catering to independent caterers that could do a much better job than institutions. In our case, there was much vested interest, people who profited from the food tendering process resisted and as a result it took time and a bit of student unrest to make the change. Happily, we quickly moved beyond that and settled into the real business of the institution.
Question: Can you train our young Nigerians who do not have University education to make a living out of this solar energy initiative?
Prof. George Adebiyi: Sure! As recently as May this year, I worked with a carpenter in Ilorin on the construction of a solar fish dryer cabinet. He did an excellent job even when I was unable to stay with him while he worked on the project. Much of the work on solar energy installations can be successfully done with electricians, plumbers, carpenters (without university education) all contributing their skills as needed.
Question: Have you ever engage Nigeria government on any discussions on how to explore solar energy in Nigeria as a remedy to our energy quagmire?
Prof. George Adebiyi: I happen to know several individuals in Government in Nigeria, but I never abuse that privilege. For example, I do not know His Excellency, President Yar’Adua personally, but he attended Government College, Keffi, (North-Central, Nigeria) years after I graduated from the School. If I had been in Keffi when he entered the school, he could have been my fag as was the practice in those days!
I feel the best contribution any of us can make is to help Government whenever called upon to do so, and to do so in a responsible manner. While I was in Nigeria, I took part in at least two Energy Policy forums that the Federal Government convened on energy. I am amazed at the brilliance of policy advice that various individuals and bodies have made to Government on energy issues. I am glad if and when I have opportunity to be a part of that.
Question: Can you really partner with private individuals or corporate bodies in making all these major breakthroughs of yours actionable, and how can you be reached in this regard?
Prof. George Adebiyi: I surely would love to partner with others on easing the energy crunch that makes life so unbearable to so many Nigerians but we must do so on mutually acceptable terms. For example, a couple of years ago, a friend of mine who lives in Dallas, Texas, joined me and two solar energy companies in Nigeria in submitting proposals to the World Bank in response to Lighting Africa Initiative. I serve as Consultant to both solar energy companies. At least one of them has paid me in the past for consulting. The other often pleaded “we are struggling sir”! The reality that we all face is that there is no free lunch. I will gladly share what I know with anyone who wants to know what I know, but remember I too have bills to pay, and a worker is entitled to his wages. I read a joke on the internet. A barber gave free haircut to a priest, then a policeman, then a Nigerian business man. The priest came back with books etc. to show his gratitude, while the policeman brought donuts to the barber. Guess what, the Nigerian businessman brought eleven or so other Nigerians for free haircut! The good book says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We need to change our mind set and replace a “grabbing” mindset with a “giving” spirit.
Question: If you really want to go into full scale solar energy installations in Nigeria don’t you think you will have problems in importing some of the materials that could be required for the task, or what do you think?
Prof. George Adebiyi: The good news is that much of the materials needed for solar energy installations can be procured locally. Solar thermal applications, for example, require such items like wood, glass, mirrors, nails, and hinges, virtually all of which are available locally. On the other hand, key items needed in solar electricity generation must be imported from other countries. Interestingly, here in the USA, the situation is not very different. The solar panels I buy here are imported mostly from Europe (Germany, for example) and China. Deep cycle batteries are frequently from China. A major retailer in the USA buys most of its wares from China. We in Nigeria are not shy about buying cars, TVs, and other things that make life more comfortable from all over the world, so why should solar gadgets be an exception? I really wish Government will help here because for once we can import products that have a potential to ease the burden of inadequate energy supply that thus far has proved to be intractable and damaging to the quality of life in the country. I pray for policies that facilitate such imports for the good of the country.
Question: What is your advice for Nigeria especially governments at all level, and what do you expect them to hope for in the energy sector?
Prof. George Adebiyi: History teaches us that no one learns anything from history, so said somebody! Why don’t we learn from the experiences of other nations? If I may borrow a saying that President Obama used during his campaign for the Presidency of the United States, “To keep doing the same thing and yet expect a different outcome is insanity!” The public is mistaken in thinking that Government can do it all. If you have a plumbing job in the house you go to a plumber. If you are hungry, you look for a caterer in a bukateria or a fast food place depending on how much money you have. If you are sick, you look for the Doctor. I think the word I am looking for is privatization.
Here in the USA, Government is not in the electricity generating business. Even the UK today has privatized much of the electricity generating business. The water supply in a subdivision I once lived in was entirely private. Government in Nigeria gets involved and bogged down trying to do things they are ill-equipped to do well. It is time for well-meaning people in Government to focus on governing and let those equipped to do the work get on with responding to the challenges facing the nation. Government has responsibility for policy and safeguarding of public safety and orderliness. There is a role for agencies like ECN (the Energy Commission of Nigeria), but as experience has shown in Nigeria from the other ECN (Electricity Corporation of Nigeria) to NEPA (Never Expect Power At all) to PHCN (Problem Has Changed Name) – the characterizations not mine – Nigeria is still a long way from generating anywhere close to the electric power needed. Government agencies are simply not equipped for the task assigned. Government should find out best practices elsewhere, and then promote forging of private/public partnerships that will deliver the desired results. Thus far, several Government initiatives have often turned out to be dead ends, unfortunately.
This leads me to a second piece of advice for Government. Accountability is the word. Contracts have been awarded with hardly any results to show. From the Governor down to the labourer, everyone must be held accountable. The labourer who does not clear the grounds he is assigned should only be paid for what he did. The Governor who pays contractors for job not done according to the terms of the contract should be impeached and removed. People may not like this kind of talk, but equality before the law must be the core value of a civilized society.
How do we connect the dots? The energy crisis in Nigeria today calls for unusual measures. The Obasanjo 1 regime used to work with “think tanks”, but now we need “think, act and deliver tanks”. How about identifying brilliant minds in the country and putting them to work for the country? No fanfare, but give them a free hand and the means to succeed. Provide for their bread and butter needs, and hold them accountable. Be specific about goals, and judge them by their success in achieving the goals set. I am impressed that faced with challenge from Russia in the 1950s, the USA not only caught up in a hurry in the space arena but became the only country to send man safely to the Moon and back home. I wonder how they did it!
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