6 Billion Watts and 60 Million Morons

Happy New Year, but unfortunately there is still no light! The topic is 6 billion watts of electricity as against 60 million of people connected to the national electricity grid. Why sixty million morons? Well, it kind of rhymes but what do you expect from a moron like me? Those who know how electricity works and distributed would have doubted the attainment of the 6000 megawatts generation by the government with a deadline put at 31 December 2009. As moron, I did not doubt the generation of 6000 megawatts by that deadline. My greatest concern is how to sustain whatever electricity that is generated. One of the greatest drawbacks in electricity is that it cannot be stored economically. Nigerians are mistaken if they believe that the main obstacle to climb is improved generation of electricity, i.e. more power generating stations or more megawatts... Any Nigerian that is not bothered by the mismanagement of the electricity produced is more moronic that I and that is almost scientific.

Now that there is no six-thousand megawatts, maybe we will stop taking things for granted. Nigeria in the near future has two options in terms of electric power as far as I am concerned. The first option could lead to me being lynched for even suggesting it; as pronounced by an ex-senator friend. The second is attainable if the Presidency can summon the political will. The first is to ban the importation of air-conditioners into the country. As I have explained severally in many write-ups, nothing upsets the flow of electricity more than the compressors in air-conditioners partly because of the unpredictability of when the compressors will come on or go off. The compressor is an electric motor and requires about 6 times its rated power just to start, but drops to its nominal wattage after starting thereby creating an upset in the flow of electricity. Until we can generate enough power to absorb the upset created when the compressors go on and off, we may as well ban its use. The very many interruptions in supply of power we witness on a daily basis are occasioned by the air-conditioners due to collapse of the electric system.

The second option, and which I greatly favour, is to disconnect all the heavy industrial complexes from the national grid. In doing so, there will be enough electric power to supply every home even with the less that 4000 megawatts currently generated. This will include the homes of factory workers when they close from their diesel powered production lines. The question is how the heavy industries will survive in terms of cost. That is where common sense comes in. As it is, there is no industry without a generating set. Government can subsidise and regulate the price of diesel which the industries will use to fire productions in the meantime as a temporary measure and as generating stations are commissioned and come on line; industries would be connected one by one to the national electric grid as space becomes available. The subsidy could come off their excise duties and government could buy diesel in large quantity for cost effectiveness since only industries and the transport system will require diesel and no longer individuals like me.

PHCN will rely on deregulation of tariff in order to be able to sustain uninterrupted supply of electricity to its users. Furthermore, the affordability of electricity could be achieved by giving each household a much reduced tariff for the first level of consumption that is equivalent to only six lighting points per household. After that, the tariff should rise exponentially so that those of us using air-conditioners should be made to pay a lot more. After all, we create the greatest upset in the flow of electricity through the use of air-conditioners. Those households that only use lighting points will continue to have light at affordable tariff that will apply to everybody. Additional consumption after that flat rate, however, will be a tariff that will compensate the power generating stations for producing enough power to absorb the upsets created by the use of air-conditioners, which in any case could not be stored. Meters sensitive to power surge occasioned by start-ups of compressors are available.

A friend asked what the economy of my suggestions is. The fact is that six thousand (6) megawatts is not enough to fire our industries talk less the households. Since it is a temporary measure, it will satisfy the needs of majority of Nigerians by providing uninterrupted power supply to most households. Excise duty is based on production and the reduced utilisation of installed capacity of industries as it stands translates to reduced earnings for government in excise duties. Moreover, employment can also be generated if the industries fire on full speed. The question is who pays for the uneconomical production of electricity by using individual generators? For now, it will have to be the government for the industries ÔÇô it is not by cash but by deduction from excise duty due to government from the industries. For example, a factory that when on full install capacity utilisation but fired by individual power could have diesel sold to it at N45.00 instead of N110.00. This difference will be paid for by deduction from excise duty. Let us not forget that at full capacity the factory in addition will sustain the labour force thereby helping in social obligation.

The onus will now be on the government to accelerate the building of more power stations without inconveniencing the populace. As the new power stations come on line, industries will be connected back to the grid one by one and those will cease to have concessions. Government will then start selling electricity to those on the grid even with a profit from that business and of course, they will revert to full payment of excise duties. There is need to conserve energy. Slogans for that purpose should start, but differential tariff that encourages conservation is the best slogan and bargain for global warming. It is a weird option according to a friend. I agree, but it is so crazy it might work. May we have light this year!

Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick

Lagos.