Daily Trust (Abuja)

3 July 2006

Nigeria: ECN - Transforming the Energy Landscape Through New Devices

Abuja — Moved by the deteriorating power supply in the country, environmental damage by fossil foil and the mass rural and urban unemployment, the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN) has now initiated moves to popularize the exploitation of the numerous renewable energy sources available to the country.

The Energy Commission has always emphasized that Nigeria is well endowed with various energy resources including oil, gas, coal, tar sands, hydro solar, wind and biomass. Indeed the National Energy Policy approved by the Federal Government in 2003, promotes the achievement of an optimal energy supply mix, consisting of all the viable energy resources.

To give meaning to the policy the ECN has been making efforts to promote among others, the use of the nation's renewable energy potentials of solar, wind, hydro and biomass. The need to develop a viable alternative to firewood and kerosene is the reason for the ECN's initiative into the widespread use of renewable energy to solve the pro blem of energy scarcity in rural areas of the country.

The lack of such alternatives has not only put pressure on our forests, which is the source of fuel wood, but also promoted deforestation and the twin problems of desertification and soil erosion in different parts of the country. So acute is the desertification problem in the northern fringes bordering the Sahara desert, that in about 50 years from now some of the Nigerian settlements will be wiped out. Fortunately, according to the Energy Commission various renewable energy technologies have been developed at the two energy research centres at the Usumanu Dan Fodio University (UDU), Sokoto and the University of Nigeria (UN), Nsukka.

The technologies include solar dryers, biogas digesters, solar cookers, solar water heaters, solar distillers, photovoltaic generators, improved fuel wood and sawdust stoves as well as wind generators and small hydro power plants. Some of the devices were developed at the centres, while ot hers were obtained through technology acquisition from other countries. In an effort to promote these technologies throughout the country, the Energy Commission of Nigeria realized that it needs the participation of an establishment that reaches out to all the 744 local government areas in the country. No other organization has such a wide reach for an assignment of this magnitude as the National Youth Service Corps.

Additionally the youth corps members are the most articulate and educated persons in the country for this purpose. The NYSC too realized that its development activities in the rural areas, in such areas as agriculture, water supply, rural industry employment generation, control of soil erosion and desertification need energy supply technologies appropriate for the rural communities in the country. The Energy Commission possesses the technology with which the corps members can achieve some of these objectives. Cooperation between the ECN and the NYSC, therefore seems not only an imperative, but inevitable.

This cooperation between the duo was formalized through a memorandum of understanding in Abuja in January 1997 by the Chief Executives of the two organizations. The programme to implement this agreement consists of two stages. The first is the sensitization workshop which was held in Kaduna on March 2, this year, training workshop on the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the selected renewable energy devices for about 70 youth corps. members who expressed interest in the scheme.

The training is to expose the corps to devices they can easily replicate and disseminate the techniques to institutions and communities in which they will serve. The venue is the Kaduna Polytechnic and the workshop stretched from Monday May 22 to 26, 2006. It is the expectation of the ECN that the corps members will establish their own businesses to mass produce and commercialize the renewable energy devices.

By so doing they will create jobs and eradicate poverty rather than remain job seekers themselves. The ECN has organized similar training workshops in Sokoto, Lagos and Enugu States and plan to have similar ones in other states of the federation. The training workshop attracted all the stakeholders, among them the NYSC Director-General, Brigadier General Yusuf Bomoi, Rector of Kaduna Polytechnic Engineer (Dr) Danjuma Isah and officials from the Ene rgy Research Centre at the Usumanu Dan Fodio University, Sokoto.

Surprisingly, no single entrepreneur attended the training workshop which was why this reporter asked the Director- General of the Energy Commission of Nigeria, Professor Sambo why the programme is receiving such a cold reception from entrepreneurs who are expected to commercialize the renewable energy devices; "It seems to me that this idea of the private sector leading and driving the economy is yet to be entrenched in Nigerians. For Nigeria to be developed there is no option than in seeing that the private sector drives our economy. And what government will be required to do is to set up the necessary environment. "So in this our own little way between the ECN and the NYSC we are exposing these corps members and training them. We have agreed with the NYSC management that we will look around for possible sources of finance to enable these corps member set up their businesses. So that is the kind of environment that the Energy Commission and the NYSC is trying to create. To look for third parties and to convince them to provide some funds to train the youth corps in the renewable sources of energy system".

The programme to popularize the use of renewable sources of energy among the corps members, could not have come at a better time according to the NYSC Director General, Brigadier - General Bomoi who recalled, at the opening ceremony of the training workshop, that when the NYSC was established in 1973, there were only 2,000 corp members and facilities were adequate. Post service employment opportunities were easily available. In fact jobs were then waiting for the corp members along with houses and cars ,and they had to choose from many options available.

At the time the country's economy was buoyant and social services were efficient. Electricity supply was satisfactory, and the energy problem was not as pronounced as it is today. According to General Bomoi, today, the story is certainly different, as things have greatly changed over the years. There is the global economic recession from which the Nigerian economy cannot be insulated. The national economy is not as buoyant as it was some 30 years ago.

Today there are over 130 institutions generating over 130,000 corpers. Next year, he said there will be over 200,000 corpers. "Sadly, at the end of the service year, these energetic young men and women are released into the teeming labour market, where probably less than five per cent will manage to secure white-collar jobs within the next two years after completing their service. "The spate of graduate unemployment coupled with the energy crisis that we witness today, must certainly be a source of worry to all of us. Unfortunately, these are the realities of our time and we can only make a difference if we identify policies and projects, and put in place appropriate machineries to address these issues. This we have an obligation to do, in order to give our youths some hope for the future", Gen. Bomoi declared.

Judging by the series of activities of the energy commission of recent in this direction, one cannot doubt that the commission is in a fast track towards transforming the energy landscape of the country. The workshop itself in the words of Gen. Bomoi is a "great leap forward" in this regard; "I also envision a situation whereby this project would generate a revolution in the rural communities, for production of small tools for households that will eventually use renewable energy such as solar and wind energy at cheaper and safer alternative energy to kerosene and petrol. "This would also go a long way in reducing the incident of death as a result of kerosene explosion. Today we are also grappling with the problems of global warming, ozone layer depletion and environmental degradation. Pollution and desert encroachment are also assuming alarming proportions", he added.

At the same time, poverty and ignorance continue to be the bane of our society. The heavy dependence on wood, kerosene and petrol which aggravate the already bad situation of our environment, are reflective of the level of poverty in our society.

It is therefore, essential that we all join hands towards this approach to development. Necessity, as in our case, should be the mother of invention and innovation. This renewable energy source project by the ECN, is basically designed to overcome the inadequacies of oil and wood energy sources in favour of solar, wind and other sources of energy which are environmentally friendly and adaptable within any locality. The NYSC boss also used the occasion to call on individuals, organizations and international agencies to collaborate with the ECN and the NYSC on this project, which address two Millennium Development Goals (MDG) i.e ensuring environmental sustainability and eradicating extreme poverty.

He announced that in an effort to combat the problem of graduate unemployment, the NYSC has put in place a Skills Acquisition Programme. Another aspect of the programme, he said, is the Corporative Ventures Loans Scheme under which corp members that come up with feasible and viable proposals receive loans through the National Directorate of Employment (NDE). The Renewable Energy Project, he added, will boost and add great value to the Skills Acquisition Programme. Gen. Bomoi called on the participants to make the best use of the opportunity to transform the energetic young corp members into great manufacturers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

"This is an opportunity to for you to shape your own future and destiny, to shape the destiny of the Nigerian nation and indeed, to shape the future and destiny of humanity. You must remember; after all, that whatever the human mind can conceive can also be achieved. "Somebody once conceived the idea of going to the moon and that has come to pass. This is your time and opportunity to conceive great things and transform them into reality", declared the NYSC director general. Host of the occasion, the Rector, Kaduna Polytechnic Engineer Danjuma Isah emphasized the need to invest in science and technology enterprise t o sustain Nigeria's scientific progress as an economic and security imperative.

To ensure that Nigeria remains at the forefront of scientific capability in Africa, engineer Isah said, the government through relevant parastatals,must sustain the investments in basic research, thereby enhancing our ability to shape a more prosperous future for ourselves, our children and future generations. He said today fossil fuels provide more than 75 percent of the world energy supply, but researchers expect that in this century there will be development of renewable energy technologies such as wind power, photovoltaic cells and biomass that are friendlier to the environment. He foresaw a situation where these renewable sources will be economically competitive. "Between now and 2050, investments in developing countries in new energy technologies are projected to reach a level between 15 trillion and 25 trillion US Dollars and investments on in energy efficiency are expected to be on the incr ease. "This market also represents a remarkable opportunity for Nigerian businesses, if they are ready with the technologies that emerging economics demand. Federal funding of research to fill the gaps in private sector investment can achieve significant benefits. "Renewable energy technologies have in the past three decades received enormous attention from the world community at large, in view of their sustainability and ability to meet rural energy requirements where grid electricity and other conventional energy sources are either lacking or too costly to acquire".

"Engineer Isah however lamented that the awareness of the populace on the potentials of these technologies to meet basic domestic, commercial and industrial needs is still very low. To address this challenge, the rector called on the Energy Commission to liase with the National Board for technical education (NBTE) and The Higher National Diploma (HND) levels. He said to properly implement the policies of the national economic empowerment and development strategy (NEEDS) and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MGD) there is the need for high quality technicians to speed up the country's economic reform and development. Another question raised by the training workshop is the security implications of depending on kerosene and petrol as the only source of energy. This has been made even more critical by the crisis in the Niger Delta where restive youths have disrupted production and evacuation of petroleum products.

The damage to oil pipelines has ensured that the Kaduna Refinery has not refined any crude for about six months. The result has been long queues in major towns in the North. I put this question to Professor Sambo. "For the security of energy supply it is not wise to rely on one source of energy. In fact I should tell you that already the federal government has long recognized that. The energy policy, approved by the government in 2004 has taken the initiat ive that all viable energy types will be utilized for the development of our country. So it is just a matter of time for the diversification to be fully actualized, but the government has already adopted that policy." Although the ECN has, through its Sokoto and Nsukka Energy research Centres, conducted research into the renewable energy source not many Nigerians are sensitized about this source of energy which remained firmly enclosed in research institutes.

Professor Sambo explains "Renewable energy means energy that cannot be exhausted because they are available on a continuous basis. So the Research and Development the commission has been supporting, is mainly in our two research centres: the Sokoto energy research centre at the Usumanu Danfodio University (UDU) Sokoto and the National centre for energy research at the university of Nigeria (UN), Nsukka has produced a number of devices such as solar water heaters, solar dryers, solar distillers and biogas digesters and s toves, improved sawdust stoves among others. The commission and the research centres Professor Sambo said, have been shopping around for Nigerian entrepreneurs to come and pick one, two or three of these devices to commercialize them. He said it is because Nigerians are meeting the expectations of the commission that they entered into the collaboration with the NYSC.

Mr. Asolo Sikiru Olusola is one of the NYSC members who underwent the training. He said the training has opened his ayes to many possibilities in renewable energy. "I can now produce solar energy device, improved firewood and saw dust stoves. I believe, given the resources I can set up myself fabricating these cheap renewable energy devices, and employing others in my place of primary assignment". Mr. Odi Duke from cross river state says "I have benefited immensely from this training. I can now disseminate the skills I have learnt to members of the wider society who do not know how to make or use these cheap sou rces of renewable energy. "I can make solar panels, biogas digesters and improved saw dust stoves. I can now be an entrepreneur, organize seminars for poor rural communities. And with some loans from the government I can also create jobs for the teeming on employed in our society".

Miss Bola Olorunfemi said before the training workshop she never knew there are such sources of energy to be tapped with such simple and cheap technology. "If many rural dwellers know this they will not wait for the Power Holding Nigeria for light. It is now my duty, with funding from government, to take this innovation to my place of primary assignment, to open the eyes and minds of the people to the viability of renewable energy sources". The corp members who were divided into groups designed and produced solar panels, biogas digester, solar dryer, solar distiller, solar water heater, improved sawdust and firewood stoves which were displayed at the end of the training. Was that what Professor Sa mbo expected of the training participants? "I am pretty happy there were able to produce the systems that were on display here today. It only goes to confirm that the commission and the NYSC is in the right direction. I am happy at the quality and level of what the produced."

Professor Sambo however expressed the only hope that is left to express when he said, "we hope the corps members will establish their own businesses for mass producing and commercializing the renewable energy devices. By so doing they will create jobs and eradicate poverty rather than be jobseekers".

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