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Nigeria's Energy Cry-Seas

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We Nigerians tend to be unique in everything we manage to lay our hands on, be it good or bad. Even in our misfortunes and misadventures, we are quite exceptional. Mathematically, the best way to describe Nigeria now is Yakubu Aiyegbeni, the footballer. The equation is given as follows: If {(Huge) + (Strong) x (Popular) + (Wealthy) + (Talented + Nonchalance)} ÷ {(WorldCup) x (CrucialMatch) + (AverageOpponent) + (SimplePass) x (EmptyNetSquared)} = (MissedGoal) x (KnockOut) + (Y); then find Y.

And if you still don't know why (Y) because the above formula is too complex for you to understand our country; then simply calculate the SquareRoot of (NuhuRibadu ÷ AmosAdamu). Hopefully the denominator is not large enough to nullify the numerator. Meanwhile, I digress, because this essay is not exactly about football so bear with me. I love analogies.

It is like for every forward step we take, we somehow succeed in finding ourselves two steps backwards. I mean, take power (the electric type) for instance. We have been crying seas of tears for so long, as a result of our energy crisis, the whole effort is becoming laughable. The amount of money we have sunk into our power sector over the last 10 years, is probably enough to electrify the entire West Africa, with enough Watts to spare for the Islands of Fernando Po and Principe. We are seemingly getting further and further from our goal because the more money that is spent, the lesser hours of electricity that we see. Just one blinking hour of electricity supply sees many of us scrambling to charge our mobile phones, barb our hairs, iron our clothes, watch TV, check our emails and browse the internet (in some cases, all at the same time).

So when I read from Guardian Newspapers (online edition, Monday 10th January 2011) that Nigeria's electricity tariff would fall by 65% come April 2011, I almost jumped out of my skin in ecstasy. According to the news report, a spokesperson of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP) stated from the N80 (eighty Naira) per Kilowatt hour (kWh) which many of us blow on generator fuel, fire wood and candle, the cost of electric power for the average Nigerian will soon plummet down to somewhere between 21 to 23 Naira per kWh. And this cheaper electric power will not come from generator or candle, eh-ehn. It will come from PHCN, remember them? Power HOLDING Company of Nigeria? The news sounded so good, that I ignored the breakfast in front of me and kept reading. But as I read further, I was comprehensively disappointed (or Yakubu-ed) and lost my appetite after the fourth paragraph or so.

At this stage, it should not surprise any of you readers to learn that three days later, precisely on the 13th of January through the same Guardian Newspaper, the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) denied any such moves to lower electricity tariff. According to the spokesperson, only NERC has been vested with the power to lower tariffs on account of the Electricity Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act of 2005. This time around, I was losing my temper. It is becoming clear that it is not only corruption that stands in our way of progress. Lack of coordination among government agencies and egotistic ambitions bordering on intra-governmental politics and maybe incompetence, are also obstacles. But let us assume that the PTFP statement is true and that tariffs would be lowered this year. Is this enough?

Ordinarily, a reduction in tariff on anything (be it electricity, water, rent, fuel, police 'tax', or wife-allowance) should be worthy of celebration, and in this case there is certainly cause for some joy. But please, let us not be over joyous. I say this because I am convinced that overall, Nigeria is approaching its energy crisis (or cry-seas) in the not-very-proper way. True, there is a 'concerted' effort to revive and upgrade our power generation stations, including dams, natural gas and coal stations. There is also a lot of investment being made or being sought in terms of independent power production, distribution and marketing of yet-to-be-seen-electricity; which is also good as well. But overall, there is a fundamental flaw in the entire effort of providing Nigerians with steady and reliable energy. Let me expatiate more using a small village analogy.

First of all, it is evident that electricity consumption in Nigeria, like in other countries, goes primarily into buildings (houses, offices, factories, etc) and related infrastructure (street lights, telecoms, etc). And the most essential purposes of electricity in such buildings, is to provide lighting and power. For those who may not understand the difference in real technical terms, LIGHTING in this case refers to the artificial illumination that comes from bulbs; while POWER refers to the energy that goes into sockets, necessary for devices like computers and fridges, to work.

Now, imagine that Nigeria's source of electricity (dams, coal, gas) is a stream in your village and that the buildings which require this electricity are a storage tank in front of your grandfather's hut. The distribution system (national grid) can now be represented by village women with buckets on their head, who have to make the long trek to the stream in order to fetch water for their daily chores. If these women are to fill the storage tanks, maybe a few trips every 2 to 3 days should be enough. However, if the storage tank is leaking, then our women folks will have to make more trips to the stream than necessary, every day. As a result they would be wasting precious time and effort which would have been better utilised doing worthy things like frying delicacies, for example. For these women to be efficient in their household chores, therefore, they need to optimise their effort by minimising the time spent running between stream and storage tank. Not so?

Now, what is happening with our energy sector and policy as it stands today, is that our houses are leaking energy so much, that our Megawatt (MW) requirements is actually confusing because it is being under/over estimated (see how confusing it is?). The village women in our analogy, ought to know exactly many bucket-trips to make to the stream, after all there must be time left for cooking, gossiping, washing, frying delicacies...etc. Obasanjo targeted 10,000 MW and failed, some would say woefully and not surprisingly. Today it is 35,000 MW that we need, according to the Vision 2020 people. Meanwhile, a Professor (Ibidapo-Obe) who happens to be president of the Nigerian Academy of Science computed a figure of 150,000 MW (see Daily Trust of August 11, 2010).

So, back to football: it is like (a) we are heading for a competition, but cannot even decide whether it is Under 17 or under 21 tournament (i.e. lower tariff or no lower tariff), which is not surprising, given our age-cheating histrionics. We manage somehow to (b) reach the quarter finals of the tournament, and were awarded a last-minute penalty kick because one of our Yakubus dived (i.e. corruption); (c) nobody among the players seems to know where the goal post is, (i.e. lack of capacity) and some people are (d) already running to shoot the ball into the net, (i.e. bad leadership) so unsurprisingly, (e) we don't score (i.e. natural outcome). We Yakubu-ed the opportunity and we actually have the effrontery to bite our nails and wonder why. How much energy does Nigeria truly need?

Now let us look at it this way: according to Andris Piebalgs, the EU Energy Commissioner: 'Security of energy supply really starts with energy efficiency.” What this means is that for your energy security to be assured, you need to be efficient in how you actually utilise energy at the downstream end. And this starts with optimising the amount of energy that you actually NEED to make things work. To succeed in this, it does not matter how much energy you CAN produce (i.e. the potential) the most critical factor is 'optimisation of demand'. You see, without accurate quantification or estimation of demand, any supply will be unreliable and possibly wasteful. If you did not take (or pass) economics as a subject in your 'O' Levels, kindly ask your neighbourhood 'akara seller' for elaboration on supply and demand.

Back to our village analogy: This means that to have sufficient water in the tank, our women folk would mentally calculate how much water they need for cooking, drinking, bathing the kids, and washing the pots after those delicacies have been eaten. And from this mental data, the women will usually guess how many litres (okay, fine, they are village women so - how many buckets) of water they need to fetch per trip. Based on the size of buckets and the relative distance to the stream, they will also know how many trips are necessary per week. When this information is available to them, they can plan their time and channel effort into other activities (frying delicacies...etc). So, as a result of this scientifically-proven-trial-and-error method of village water reticulation, if there is any unexplainable depreciation in the water level in the tank, the women would notice.

So, one day, on their way to the stream Mama Chioma would say something like: “Come o, Iya Kemi, isn't that storage tank of yours getting empty too quickly nowadays?” Iya Kemi will take a bite at her kolanut, shut one eyelid, and then nod in agreement. They will suspect that someone is stealing their water and they would investigate the 'theft'. As is the way of our people, maybe co-wives and jealous neighbours would be blamed initially. But eventually, they would see the hole in the storage tank and they would fix it. Now, they won't need to make extra trips to the stream anymore, and everyone will live happily ever after. Village life is sweet and simple.

It may be village life analogy, but this is how electric power (its generation, distribution and utilisation) actually works in a sustainable world, minus Nigeria. You start from the bottom and go up. From current and projected demand, you compute supply. Not the other way round. After all, will Iya Kemi peel and pound 47 tubers of yam before she estimates how many hungry mouths are actually in the house?

You can now understand my annoyance about the news on electricity tariffs.

NIGERIA'S Puff-Puff Energy Policy
So, after reading the contradicting Guardian news stories of the 10th and 13th, it was clear to me, that we are still approaching energy matters with faulty logic. It is not that lower tariffs are undesirable. In fact they are long overdue; and we ought to be compensated for paying extra-high tariffs, when the money would have been better spent on kerosene and candles all these years. Raise your hand if you agree. Nevertheless, based on energy demand and conservation principles, it is essential that our experts take one hard, critical look at the current approach with a view to making requisite alterations. They need to revisit the basics of sustainable demand before we can target supply. We should not just announce that we are aiming for thousands of Megawatts because it sounds large enough to make Nigerians happy. How much do we need exactly and crucially, how do we compute this demand. Where do we start from? Let me give some hints using town houses (let us ignore offices and factories for sake of simplicity).

Our last census exercise also included the 'counting' of houses. Thus, no matter how contentious the population figures maybe, we should now have a rough idea of how many houses we have in a typical city or town in Nigeria. Within this information, we can now (following our village analogy) also extract specific data about number of bungalows and high rise buildings in these towns and cities. From this, we can estimate, roughly, the number of rooms in each house. From which we can then analyse the lighting and power requirements (the Wattage) for a typical home. When we also apply this concept to factories and offices, we should know exactly how many Megawatts we need to aim for. See how easy it is to apply village science to national issues? Let me elaborate more.

We also know that most homes in Nigeria use incandescent bulbs. For those who don't know what this means, incandescent bulbs are the yellow bulbs that are used to warm the puff-puff, meat pie and stick-meat in your local super market. The fact that these bulbs are used to keep snacks warm, should ring a bell: They emit heat. And this heat is POORLY converted to light. They are called 'incandescent' because the word means 'something that gives light because it is heated'. Only people who sell puff-puff would require the unnecessary heat from such incandescent bulbs. My house is not a puff-puff bakery and I am sure yours isn't either. Note: as 'incandescent bulb' is TOO long for me to keep typing on my keyboard, henceforth, I will refer to it as 'puff-puff bulb'. I hope you see the connection and you don't mind?

So, due to their design which requires a lot of heat, the average puff-puff bulb needs 60Watts of electricity to operate. On the other hand, if you can get hold of one the new generation compact fluorescent (or CFL) bulbs - i.e. the ones that are twisted or come in zig-zags; you would find that they use as low as 15 to 20 Watts only.

The news gets even better. While a puff-puff bulb actually wastes about 90 percent of the input energy in the form of heat (remember: heat is only good for puff-puff sellers) - in terms of actual brightness (measured in lumens) a puff-puff bulb only gives 15 lumens of light per Watt. A CFL bulb on the other hand is not only 4 to 6 times more energy efficient, (i.e. lesser excess heat); but in terms of brightness, it also produces between 50 and 100 lumens of light per Watt. For the same amount of illumination (lumen) CFL bulbs need roughly one-quarter of the Wattage used by puff-puff bulbs. While the initial cost of a CFL bulb may be higher (could be cheaper if we stop consuming and start producing in Nigeria) this first cost is not a disadvantage because the bulb usually lasts 10 to 20 times longer than a puff-puff bulb anyway. In a nutshell, the CFL bulb is brighter, cheaper and better.

Looks like we have been short-changing ourselves, haven't we?

Although the CFL bulb may not tolerate fluctuating currents as much as the puff-puff bulb, yet, it does not require changing of starters or chokes like the fluorescent tubes of old. Essentially, we now understand that the yellow 60-watt puff-puff bulb is outmatched, outperformed and outpriced by a 20-watt CFL bulb. Do you now also understand why rechargeable lamps are ALWAYS in fluorescent white and NEVER in yellow? Oyibo (and Chinese) get sense! With the information provided so far, I hope you appreciate that we, the long-suffering and infinitely patient Nigerians, don't need to wait for all those independent power plants to take off. You as a person do not have to wait for any lower tariffs before you start acting right. Even if you don't care about energy conservation, what about your pocket? But you can start saving both energy and money today. Every Watt you save is a Watt your fellow citizen could use.

Boycott the puff-puff Bulb TODAY!
A first step is to boycott or ban puff-puff bulbs altogether. Normally, our government should handle this boycott or ban officially. But we can neither wait not trust that the boycott/banning policy will come anytime soon, or that it shall be implemented by those people grey uniform at our ports. Also, how do we know that the puff-puff bulb industry will/has not lobbied some people in government who would want to protect it from being banned - even if we, the people are frying in its heat? Therefore, dear readers, I urge each and every one of you to take the initiative and ban the puff-puff bulb from your house today. Ban it from your office, your stall, your business centre, your workshop, your factory, your school and your mai-guard room. If it is possible, you can also ban it from your torchlight and car headlights as well. Personal choice is not illegal in Nigeria.

When the suppliers and distributors see a dwindling market for puff-puff bulbs, no one will tell them what to stock in their shops. Also, this measure will help to reduce the overall expenditure (the billions of dollars) being budgeted, half-spent, or partially stolen from power projects. It will work because it will reduce the electricity demand for lighting, which means supply will be lower and cheaper, and we should have enough of it, equitably shared by all.

And guess what? Puff-puff bulbs (have been banned and) are NOT being produced anymore and have being phased out in countries like Brazil and Venezuela since 2005. Malaysia, Australia, The European Union, India and even Cuba (with all its sanctions) have all announced bans on importation and utilisation of puff-puff bulbs; or at the very least, a phase-out strategy in the next few years. The UK will implement its total phase out of puff-puff bulbs this year (2011). Meanwhile, we in Nigeria are still focusing on tariffs which would be even much lower IF we decide to phase out puff-puff bulbs from our lives.

ESTIMATED SAVINGS: (A Typical Home Lighting Assessment)

If you are still not convinced, lets us look at an example of the comprehensive savings you can make from a typical 3-bedroom house that decides to switch from puff-puff bulbs to CFL bulbs. A matrix (Table) has been prepared showing a comparative analysis of the number of bulbs you would need using either the puff-puff or CFL approach. This table computes the total wattage that will be consumed by the home; and how much you would spend in total for either the puff-puff bulb or the CFL bulb. The Table can be found in the following web address:

From the comparative analysis, it is evident that the cost in kilowatt-hour (kWh) from CFL bulbs (2,729 kWh) is roughly three (3) times lower than that of puff-puff bulbs (8187 kWh). Remember also that because CFL bulbs are much brighter, the actual quantity you would need per room will be reduced, but this is not done here. I assumed that you have equal number, so that you can better appreciate the difference. Therefore, in reality you could be saving much more, even after you factor in the initial cost of CFL bulbs. Another important factor is that it does not matter whether your power comes from PHCN or from a generator: CFL bulbs would definitely save energy and money.

CONCLUSION (Going Forward)
It is a fact that we actually have a research centre for energy efficiency and conservation in one of our universities (Unilag). In all fairness to the colleagues working tirelessly over there, I don't know what they are doing regarding this particular matter. But again, why must we wait for a white paper research or policy that may never be implemented, when YOU can make your OWN policy and implement it even TODAY?

We are living in homes lighted by puff-puff technology. These homes are therefore (1) wasting energy and (2) wasting money. The puff-puff bulbs are also (3) generating undesirable internal heat, which you are not even able to (4) cool with that abandoned AC of yours because (5) we don't have steady power. I told you, Nigeria is unique in every way - good and bad.

So, go ahead and ban the puff-puff bulb from your life today. If I was in Nigeria and I had the means, I would make T-Shirts, Faze caps, car stickers, handbills, posters and billboards for mass distribution against puff-puff bulbs; and against puff-puff energy policy. I would hire 2Face and P-Square to sing anti-puff-puff bulb songs for our FM stations. I will even convert the songs to mobile MP3 ringtones and share it, just to keep the message spreading. There are many simple but powerful things each and every one of us can do to help Nigeria, so stop waiting for President Jonathan to solve all your problems in life. Haba!

Still, I sincerely hope those in executive arms of government (including States) will get some ideas from this essay and do something on behalf of the common man. I expect some action governors to take the lead in this battle. I hope state governors (like Fashola), are listening and will leave good legacies in this particular regard. If you didn't hear your name and you are a governor, kindly sit up and you will be noticed. I expect those in legislative arm of government to come up with Bills that will officially declare the puff-puff bulb, a persona non grata in every State of Nigeria. No government office or building should be caught using these bulbs, at all. Let each of us carry a placard in our hearts that denounces puff-puff bulbs. In fact, as the 'so-called' most religious country in the world, let our Christian brethrens declare a Pontifical and Ecclesial decree against these bulbs, while the Muslims declare a Fatwa on it as well!

But before 'The Puff-Puff Bill' eventually comes out and is used for badminton exercise between Aso Rock and National Assembly, I hope that the relevant NGOs will commence urgent mass mobilisation for the 'de-puffication' of our homes and our offices. I believe NGOs can play a crucial role in the war against these bulbs. So the NGOs should please help take this message to the grassroots of Nigeria; from slopes of Olumo Rock to the peaks of Obudu Ranch; from the shores of Lake Chad to the gravels of Lake Kainji. If every Nigerian can lower the cost of lighting his home by up to 75%, (even without lower tariff) isn't that a worthy cause to be pursued?

Members of the organised private sector, that are serious about corporate social responsibility programmes can help sponsor the posters, the stickers and the radio jingles mentioned earlier. Where are the GLOs, the MTNs, the Etisalats and the Zains/Bhartis-or whatever? Step up and be counted: the GTBs, the First Banks, the Zenith Banks and the UBAs. If the National Orientation Agency (NOA) is looking for something worth their while, well, how about sponsoring some TV adverts and debates about energy efficiency in Nigeria? Haba, must Oga President do everything?

What many of us fail to appreciate is that development actually starts in the mind. In essence, things like democracy and physical infrastructure are simply outward manifestations of enlightened spirits. So, while we seek comprehensive development in Nigeria, we should also realise that there is so much that we can all do as individuals, to help bring about positive change in our country. Positive change is indeed something many of us have not seen in a very long time. But hopefully, we can see that simple personal choices about lighting our homes can have profound positive impact on the economy of entire country. Let each and every one of us begin to do something about making Nigeria a better place than we met it. Maybe I (or someone) can even start a web-campaign:, or something like that. Now as for you, the reader, what will you do?

I thank you for reading anyway. Now spread the word about puff-puff bulbs and stop using them, please!

Zulfikar Aliyu Adamu
Loughborough, United Kingdom.
[email protected]
(SMS only): +44 757 031 7950

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Zulfikar Aliyu Adamu and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Zulfikar Aliyu Adamu