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Nigeria Needs Light

ID 54612819 © Woravit Vijitpanya | Dreamstime.com

Nigeria desperately needs a better grid. Home to the largest population on the continent, this west African nation has been getting hyped up as a future economic powerhouse for sometime now. The excitement isn’t completely baseless. Nigeria became the biggest african economy in 2013 when they pulled ahead of South Africa, and they meet many of the prerequisites to keep growing. They’ve got a huge, young population and are currently the 12th biggest producer of petroleum on the planet. However, the country is dogged by frequent power outages that scare off potential investors (domestic terrorism and graft don’t help either).  

In theory, the Nigerian grid is capable of 13,000MW but, according to the IMF, it often only does 4,000MW/hour. Almost all of the generation comes from hydro and gas-fired power stations. There are probably various reasons these stations under perform, but one of the principle causes  is problems with the gas supply they rely on. The IMF estimates that Nigeria’s power woes cost the country about 29 billion dollars a year in lost economic activity. What’s more, the unreliable grid forces nigerians to use generators that often run off fossil fuels. Of course, such units are not environmentally friendly and compound the Nigeria’s pollution problem–Lagos, the country’s biggest city, is very very polluted.

It doesn’t seem like there’s any quick fix to Nigeria’s electric problem. The outdated grid was privatized about five years ago and hasn’t been improved much since. That’s mostly because the companies barely make enough to cover their operating costs, let alone overhaul the entire system. Many would-be customers go with off the grid generators instead, unwilling to pay for shoddy service. Large-scale solar systems could definitely help, but the grid would be incapable of taking out that intermittent supply in its current state. Microgrids could solve this, but microgrids are tough.

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