‘We are not the problem’ – Africa insists on gas as transition fuel

By Torinmo Salau
Posted on Wednesday, 17 August 2022 15:29, updated on Tuesday, 20 September 2022 17:01

Men stand near a gas truck during the unveiling of the National Gas Expansion Programme, in Abuja
Men stand near a gas truck during the unveiling of the National Gas Expansion Programme, in Abuja, Nigeria December 1, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Global conferences demand that developing countries hasten their journey to clean energy, but African political leaders are pushing back. They want to develop the continent's gas deposits, in particular, to deliver vitally needed power.

The 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also referred to as COP27, is set to be held from 6 to 18 November 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. It promises to be quite a fight.

African petroleum and energy ministers have reached an unanimous decision to present a common voice at the COP27 for Africa to be permitted to continue to exploit its hydrocarbon deposits for the development of the continent.

“There is no doubt that energy transition will be disruptive to the economies of Africa and producers of oil. The effects of the transition, ranging from revenue losses to underinvestment in hydrocarbon, what I call the transition curse, will ensure that Africa is left behind the rest of the world,” Ghana’s deputy minister of oil, Mohammed Amin Adam, told a conference in Cape Town.

We cannot move at the same pace as the rest of the world because we contribute less than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“African natural gas must be given the status as transition fuel for a longer period to allow gas reserves to be used when replacing a more carbon intensive fuel, such as coal. The transition should not be divorced from the necessity of addressing energy poverty” he says.

Nigeria’s minister of state petroleum resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, agrees. In March, he said: “We cannot move at the same pace as the rest of the world because we contribute less than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. We are not the problem and we cannot be made to pay for the sins we did not commit.”

“In Africa we have over 600 million people without basic energy, so how do we meet their energy baseload? We can only achieve this through gas.”

According to Sylva, it is unfair that Africans should be asked to abandon their abundant hydrocarbon deposits. He believes a multifaceted approach ought to be considered towards adapting to renewable energy.

Nigeria’s gas opportunity…

The global energy landscape is changing and there is increased demand for transition to greener energy sources to reduce carbon emission. In addition, the war in Ukraine has pushed European nations to look for alternative sources for gas.

Nigeria has the most extensive gas resource in Africa, the value of its established gas reserves of approximately 206.53 trillion cubic feet was over $803.4trn.

Amongst the 28 electricity generation companies (GENCOS) in Nigeria, only three are hydro — Shiroro, Kainji and Jebba – while the others are gas powered plants. The remaining 25 GENCOS require constant supply of gas to effectively produce electricity.

In addition, as per the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, the nation is strongly positioned for a restructured oil and gas sector that could sustain the demand for natural gas locally and a high export revenue.

…meets Nigeria’s power calamity

Gas cannot be the only answer, however, experts argue. In July, Nigeria’s national electricity grid collapsed again – for the sixth time this year – resulting in nationwide power outages. Aside from the economic and social loss, which result from the frequent power outages in the country, there are also health risks from the emissions of generators, the most widely used alternative power source by Nigerians.

According to the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), 72% of the households that have access are largely domiciled in urban areas, while 28% are in rural areas. Nigeria is the largest importer of diesel generators in Africa, and approximately $22bn (about N9.053trn) is spent annually to fuel their generators.

Though the power sector was privatised in 2013, to improve power supply to households and businesses, the sector has not seen substantial improvement.

The on-grid electricity demand in Nigeria is about four to 12 times the total electricity distributed on the grid. The current grid network is unable to meet electricity demand for Nigeria’s increasing population. The design of the national grid is to function under controlled limits for stable grid operations. However, when the limits are exceeded, it leads to instability – and collapse.

Diversifying Nigeria’s electricity mix involves the introduction of renewable energy sources: wind, solar, hydro, biomass, and tidal would help boost the energy mix in the country.

The state-owned electric monopoly NEPA was characterised by poor operational performance. The increased power demand pushes the power transmission and distribution networks to their upper limits, leading to shortening of the network’s life span or total collapse.

Amongst the factors responsible for the constant national grid collapse and epileptic power supply include low level of water at the hydropower plants, low supply of gas at the gas power plants and vandalisation of grid equipment.

Kenneth Okedu, adjunct professor at Nisantasi University and researcher in renewable energy systems, says: “Diversifying Nigeria’s electricity mix involves the introduction of renewable energy sources; wind, solar, hydro, biomass, and tidal would help boost the energy mix in the country.”

“The challenges to diversifying the electricity mix include lack of strong renewable energy institutions, no policy for integration or penetration of renewable energy into the existing traditional power grid and lack of technical know-how and skilled workers in modern power grids among others,” he says.

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