Why unreliable power keeps poor countries poor

Why unreliable power keeps poor countries poor

By | Nigeria | No Comments

Chimago Nnodim is a young entrepreneur based in the state of Imo, southern Nigeria. He’d always dreamt of building a business and providing jobs for the young people in his community. Three years ago, that dream became a reality when he used a bank loan to set a factory producing sachet water. Buying a truck for distribution, he took on ten local young people to run his operation.

Demand for purified sachet water is high, but like millions of business-owners in sub-Saharan Africa, Chimago hasn’t been able to expand. The culprit is Nigeria’s disastrously unstable power supply, dubbed “epileptic power” by locals. The result is that Chimago has to spend the equivalent of tens of thousands of pounds on an expensive and dirty diesel generator.

“The deplorable power situation forced me to use generator always”, he says. “In fact, we get electricity about two times a week, if we are lucky. Even when there is electricity, it does not last more than two hours. Worse still, it fluctuates, as there is low voltage. Consequently, there are leakages in our production. That is our predicament in this community.”

Imagine trying to build and grow a business with only two hours of power each week. It’s why reliable, 24/7 electricity is so essential to solving Africa’s poverty, and why intermittent renewables can’t do the job on their own. To create the jobs that are needed to secure his country’s future, entrepreneurs like Chimago have to be able to access low-cost reliable power.

If it fails to solve its energy crisis, Nigeria could become the world’s next big security risk

If it fails to solve its energy crisis, Nigeria could become the world’s next big security risk

By | Nigeria | No Comments

Nigeria has half the population of the US but generates only 1 percent as much electricity. This is despite the fact that Nigeria has 3 billion metric tonnes of coal in the ground and some of the world’s largest gas reserves.

And it gets worse. Nigeria’s population is growing. Around 2045, the country’s population is set to surpass that of the United States, meaning tens of millions of new Nigerian consumers and job-seekers needing even greater amounts of energy.

One estimate puts Nigerian national power demand at 213 gigawatts by 2040, yet on current trends the government is likely to fall way short. Today Nigeria produces just 4 gigawatts, while a UN initiative is focused on generating 45GW from renewable energy by 2030: way below what is needed.

As development expert Dr Todd Moss told the US Senate recently, the implications of this are incredibly serious:

“The specter of a Nigeria that cannot come close to meeting its growing population’s demands for jobs and modern lifestyles—all underpinned by high volumes of energy—should be alarming.”

Without massive amounts of additional energy in the system, economic growth and job creation can’t possibly keep up with population growth, meaning a jobless and poverty-stricken future for tens of millions of young Nigerians.

The populous West African country is a vital partner in the fight against terrorism, disease and international criminal networks. We simply cannot afford for it to become a failed state like Afghanistan. Yet that’s exactly what will happen if it fails to solve its energy crisis.

Economist: Africans consuming less electricity now than in the 80s

Economist: Africans consuming less electricity now than in the 80s

By | Developing Countries, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa | No Comments

According to the World Bank, the proportion of Africans with access to electricity increased from 19% in 1991 to 37% in 2014. But as a recent article in the Economist points out, this is nowhere near as impressive as it seems.

More people than ever may be connected to the grid, but they are not consuming more electricity. In 2014 each African consumed, on average, just 483 kilowatt hours (kWh). That is less than in the 1980s.

By contrast, Americans use 13,000 kWh each on average. Indeed, in the West, a typical family fridge consumes several times more power than a whole family of Nigerians.

As the Economist says:

“Some greens may hail such frugality. They should not: the alternative to electricity is often filthy, dangerous charcoal stoves and kerosene lamps. Besides, if utilities are unable to sell enough electricity to cover their costs then they cannot invest in maintaining or modernising their grids.”

Worldwide, power consumption is strongly correlated to GDP. The more electricity you use, the richer your country is likely to be. Yet this is not the case in Africa, where many countries use less power than their national incomes would suggest.

According to the Economist, this is because Africa has so little of the world’s manufacturing and heavy industries, who are the biggest consumers of electricity. In turn that keeps demand for power low in the rest of the economy. Without industrialisation and the good jobs it brings, ordinary Africans just can’t afford more electricity.

It’s why an approach to energy access which stresses small-scale solar powered solutions – while the ignoring the needs of industrial consumers – is unlikely to do much to alleviate poverty. To power Africa, all forms of energy will have to be used.

On International Migrants Day let's remember what's driving so many people to migrate

On International Migrants Day let’s remember what’s driving so many people to migrate

By | Developing Countries, Nigeria | No Comments

“In Nigeria there is nothing, we have nothing. There is no money, there is no food, there is nothing. Even work. Even if you finish university, there is no work.”

Alima, 23, interviewed at a migrant detention facility in Misrata, Libya

If you arrived in a slum and had no work or money, a family to support but not enough to eat, would you stay put? Or carry on moving?

Earlier this year the European Union published a report which finds that lack of access to modern energy is one of the root causes of “irregular” economic migration to Europe.

This is not surprising. Without electricity, people can’t stay healthy or improve their lives. In rural areas electricity is needed to power crop irrigation systems. In cities and towns, it’s essential for job-creating businesses. In hospitals it can mean the difference between life or death.

Yet with 1.2 billion people still without access to power, millions are now on the move – ready to risk everything in search of a better life. This is putting huge pressure on the transit countries on the route into Europe, fueling tension and instability.

In a recent speech to the G7, the head of the African Development Bank Akinwumi Adesina compared the young people drawn to undertake the dangerous journey to Europe like moths drawn to a flame:

“Even insects migrate from where it is dark to where there is light. No wonder Africa’s youth – our assets – take huge risks migrating to Europe, looking for a better life. The future of Africa’s youth does not lie in migration to Europe; it should not be at the bottom of the Mediterranean; it lies in a prosperous Africa. We must create greater economic opportunities for our youth right at home in Africa.”

But we know what the solution is. The EU report points to evidence from Latin America, showing that when rural areas received electricity, internal migration slowed and even began to reverse. With affordable, reliable power, the world’s poorest countries can offer their citizens a better life, without forcing them to leave or fight to find it.

Nigerian butchers say lack of electricity is holding them back

Nigerian butchers say lack of electricity is holding them back

By | Developing Countries, Nigeria | No Comments

Reliable electricity is essential for jobs and livelihoods. Just ask the butchers who work in the town of Mararaba, north central Nigeria.

They’ve been petitioning the government to connect their abattoir to the power grid. The community has drilled three boreholes, but electricity is needed to drive the pumps and ensure a steady supply of water. Without electricity, in other words, they can’t keep their abattoir clean.

The butchers also say they have no way of preserving the meat that isn’t sold on the market each day as they don’t have power for the necessary refrigeration facilities.

The plight of the Marabara butchers shows why a grid connection matters, and why small-scale solutions like off-grid solar can only help so much. In a busy abattoir, the fridges need to work 24/7, not just when the sun is shining.

Sadly though this story is not uncommon. 42.1 percent of businesses in the least developed countries currently cite electricity as major constraint on economic growth, according to recent UN research.

But it’s not acceptable. Sub-Saharan Africa needs to be creating millions of jobs each year to provide for its huge, young and growing population. Yet without a decent power infrastructure it’s not going to happen.

By helping developing countries access all their energy resources, we can build a more secure and prosperous world. If we fail, we risk a near future of conflict, social unrest and further mass-migration.

So why should we care about energy poverty?

Why should we care about energy poverty? Todd Moss explains.

By | Developing Countries, Nigeria | No Comments
Unreliable energy a major cause of polio outbreak in Nigeria

Unreliable energy a major cause of polio outbreak in Nigeria

By | Nigeria | No Comments

Nigeria has seen a resurgence of polio caused in part by the lack of reliable power.

Polio is a potentially fatal virus that attacks the nervous system, and was global pandemic until vaccines was introduced in the 1950s.

In 2016, Nigeria was one of only 5 countries globally that reported cases of the illness. On 12 August 2016, Nigeria’s minister of health announced a polio outbreak, following two children being paralysed by the disease.

Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) revealed that only 37 percent of children are partially vaccinated, with a shocking 40 percent are not vaccinated at all.

The World Energy Access report recently highlighted that only 6 percent of Nigerians have access to electricity, leaving 171 million without any access. According to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the lack of electricity is hindering the government’s efforts for store vaccines against deadly viruses.

“Nigeria has electricity challenges, We have infrastructure problems in the supply chain of our vaccine supply in the country”, said Lawal Bakare, the NCDC’s spokesperson.

Vaccines must be stored at low temperatures, between -21°C (-5.8°F) and 4°C (39.2°F), if they are to keep their potency. Nigeria is a hot, tropical country that on average experiences temperatures of around 27°C (80°F) all year round. Regular power outages mean that refrigerators are unable to maintain the required temperature, leading to the spoiling of vaccines.

The problem is further compounded by the worsening security situation in the north of the country, where Islamist militants, such as Boko Haram, are making it increasingly difficult for health workers to reach those most in need of vaccination.

There is no excuses for allowing children to be at risk from diseases such as polio. Nigeria is a country blessed with huge natural resources wealth which should ensure that its country has access to 24/7 power. A poor electricity supply means that 80 percent of Nigerian children are currently at risk from various diseases preventable using vaccines.

Nigeria cannot protect its most vulnerable unless it has reliable and secure power supply. Electricity is not just a product of development, it is the key to its success.

Nigeria has abundant natural resources, yet half the population languish without power

Nigeria has abundant natural resources, yet half the population languish without power

By | Developing Countries, Nigeria | No Comments

Despite being home to Africa’s largest reserves of natural gas, Nigeria has suffered from chronic power problems for decades.

Over half the country – around 100 million people – still have no access to electricity, while those that do consume just 30th of the power of the average South African. Although it’s one of the world’s most populous countries, overall Nigeria generates less electricity than the Republic of Ireland.

How to explain this paradox? The problem, according to Nigeria’s Oil Minister Emmanuel Kachikwu, is that Nigeria has historically prioritised the development of oil over gas. (Unlike gas, crude oil is extremely expensive to use in large-scale power generation and instead is refined into petrol and diesel).

“Look at what’s happened with Qatar – imagine if we had gone down that route,” Mr Kachikwu says, referring to the wealthy emirate which has become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

In Nigeria, by contrast, a significant amount of gas – some 12 percent – is simply burnt off because the country’s oilfields lack the technology to capture it. Elsewhere, gas production is held back because poor infrastructure means it can’t be stored or transported to households or power stations.

“Right now there is a lot of stranded gas that is not even getting to the market,”, according to Mr Kachikwu. “The infrastructure gap is huge.”

To tackle the problem, the Nigerian Government now plans to ask the international oil companies operating in Nigeria to provide expertise and funding to develop the country’s gas.

Mr Kachikwu says the need to invest in gas is especially important as global demand for oil is expected to peak in the next 20 to 30 years, as the electric car revolution gathers pace. In addition, Nigerian ministers have also said that they want to use the country’s largely unexploited coal stocks to provide up to 30 percent of the nation’s energy mix.

With abundant natural resources, Nigeria is in an enviable position. But to solve its energy poverty crisis once and for all it has to act now.

No-one should have to give birth in the dark

No-one should have to give birth in the dark

By | Developing Countries, Nigeria | One Comment

Electricity isn’t just about powering fridges, TVs and smartphones. For many families in Africa, it can mean the difference between life or death.

Edith Jibunoh, a senior official at the World Bank, tells this story from her own childhood growing up in a power-starved region of Nigeria:

“I considered myself extremely lucky to be part of a family that could afford to have a back-up generator, which meant we could treat ourselves to television shows at night. No electricity did not seem like a big deal, until my cousin had a car accident. He was bleeding and needed immediate surgery.
We went from hospital to hospital, but everywhere was pitch black. Finally, we found a clinic with a functioning generator. But we had to go find diesel fuel to power up the generator. His life was spared because we could afford to source fuel quickly.”

But not every story ends like this.

“Not long ago,” Edith continues, “I received news that an old friend had lost his wife because she had to have a C-section without electricity, in the dark.”

An estimated 1 billion people around the world depend on healthcare facilities that lack reliable power, meaning standard procedures like delivering a baby are fraught with danger and difficulty. Every day 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to the WHO. 99 percent of these cases occur in the developing world.

We are campaigning for reliable power for all. Because no-one should have to face a C-section in the dark.

Nigerian steel manufacturer forced to produce its own electricity

Nigerian steel manufacturer forced to produce its own electricity

By | Developing Countries, Nigeria | No Comments

Nigeria could become a steel-making power house if the country had access to reliable energy, according to a prominent Nigerian CEO.

Uche Iwuamadi, Executive Director of Africa Industries Group, believes that Nigerian steel manufacturers struggle to produce at full capacity due to unreliable power.

The company recently took matters into their own hands and decided to build their very own gas power plant to provide electricity for their steel mill.

It now produces over one million tonnes of steel each year, accounting for 33 per cent of all steel consumed in Nigeria, and is looking export to other countries in Africa.

Iwuamadi believes that if firms were able to produce at full capacity, Nigeria would be able to save over $650 million a year by producing cheaper steel which could be sold on the domestic market.

Developing countries need access to baseload power in order to fully industrialise their economies. Heavy industry, such as manufacturing, provides well-paid skilled jobs, and produce high value products that can be taxed and used to pay for education and healthcare.