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The Way Forward for Electricity Supply in Nigeria

In a second article focusing on Africa’s big energy questions, Professor Abubakar Sambo, Chairman of the Nigeria National Committee of the World Energy Council, proposes a plan to secure a diversified and stable source of power for Africa’s largest economy, greatly enhancing the country’s ability to produce electricity for everyone from a wide range of energy sources....

In a second article focusing on Africa’s big energy questions, Professor Abubakar Sambo, Chairman of the Nigeria National Committee of the World Energy Council, proposes a plan to secure a diversified and stable source of power for Africa’s largest economy, greatly enhancing the country’s ability to produce electricity for everyone from a wide range of energy sources.  

The chart shows consumer spending and gross domestic product of Nigeria and a map showing population densities of major cities in Africa, including that of Lagos, Nigeria. Illustration copyright National Geographic Creative.
The chart shows consumer spending and gross domestic product of Nigeria and a map showing population densities of major cities in Africa, including that of Lagos, Nigeria. Illustration copyright National Geographic Creative.

At the time of inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29, the available electrical power in Nigeria was about 2,500 MW. But in less than six months it has almost doubled. The Nigerian Ministry of Power attributes this to enhanced supply of gas to the nation’s newly constructed gas power plants. Many Nigerians, however, believe that’s only part of the explanation. The new owners of the electricity generation and distribution entities that were part of the government monopoly before liberalization of the electricity industry had to sit up in view of the well-known no-nonsense disposition of the new president.

Nigeria’s  National Population Commission reports there are 178.5 million people in the country. Electricity supply of 5,000 MW is grossly inadequate for that many Nigerians. Even though access to electricity is available to only to about 55 percent of the people, load-shedding for rationing electricity is widely practised all over the country — despite the big jump in the supply figure noted above.

Much more than 5,000 MW of electricity is required for the socio-economic growth of the nation. Energy planning experts using modern energy modeling tools estimate that for the Nigerian economy to grow at a rate of 10 percent the country’s electricity requirement by 2020 will be of the order of 30,000 MW, and by 2030 it will be 78,000 MW.

A greatly expanded electricity supply regime for Nigeria will require a detailed assessment of the recent privatization of the nation’s electricity generation and distribution infrastructure. The energy mix for electricity supply will need to be broadened from the current two of  hydro and gas sources to seven sources: hydro, gas, solar, wind, biomass/biofuels, coal and nuclear. Additionally, there will be a requirement for the strengthening and expansion of the national grid along with improvement of distribution systems as well as promoting the development of fuels for gas, coal and nuclear power plants. There is also the need to update both the National Energy Policy and the National Energy Masterplan and pass them into law.

Expansion of the Energy Mix for Electricity Generation

For enhanced security of electricity supply there is the urgent need for expanding energy sources, from gas and large hydro to gas, hydro, solar energy, wind energy, biomass/biofuels, coal and nuclear. The new power plants can be built on the basis of public-private partnerships. The Government would then divest its involvement after some years in line with the current policy of getting the private sector to handle generation and distribution systems. Many advanced countries, along with the International Renewable Energy Agency and the Energy Commission of Nigeria, will guide the development of the large-scale renewable energy-based power plants. The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development would guide the development of clean coal power plants, while the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nigeria Atomic Energy Agency would guide the development of the nuclear power plants.

Projects of the embedded generator type should be vigorously promoted at distribution networks to close the gap in local demand and supply of electricity. One way of doing this is to invite investors to be part of pre-packaged pilot projects in all the distribution companies. State governments should take interest in embedded generation, as is already the case in Lagos State.

It is observed that despite the government’s proclaimed desire to deploy renewable energy sources (RES) in the nation’s energy mix, there is no supporting legislation to support the stated position. Government, rather, advocates “some limited involvement” in financing renewable energy technologies, mainly in the form of differential wholesale tariffs rather than direct capital injections. Government should as a matter of urgency embrace the current trend where many developing and emerging economies are vigorously promoting renewable energy efforts through direct policy initiatives and incentives.

Expanding and Strengthening the National Grid and Improvement of Distribution Systems

The national grid is weak and fragile and cannot manage more than 7,000 MW, on completion of the on-going National Integrated Power Projects (NIPPs), for distribution to consumers. There is urgent need for the grid to be regionalized and privatized to enable the new owners to strengthen and expand the grid in line with the dictates of their respective zones.

A large part of the existing transmission system is old, unreliable and unstable, with limited redundancy, which results in frequent customer outages at the transmission level. Government should facilitate and encourage the private sector to significantly improve the transmission capacity to deliver power to end users.

On distribution, it should be noted that the Federal Government, in line with the stipulation of the Electricity Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005, should maximize access to electricity by consumers. The target should be to ensure that there is a distribution mains supply within a distance of 1 km to any consumer cluster in Nigeria.

Provision of Fuels for New Power Plants

Expansion of the energy mix for new power plants will require special efforts that will call for the development of new gas fields as well as the development of both open cast and underground coal mines. There is also the need for development of both large and small farms for the production, on the one hand, of the feedstocks for biomass/biofuels power plants and, on the other hand, agro-allied industries for processing the feedstocks.

The sustainable way of doing this is to entice the organized private sector through pragmatic policies and legislations. This initiative will lead to the creation of thousands of job opportunities for unemployed Nigerians. It will also promote inter-ministerial cooperation as it will involve Ministries of Agriculture, Petroleum Resources, Power as well as Mines and Steel Development.

Passage of the National Energy Policy into Law

The National Energy Policy, which was approved in 2003, along with the National Energy Masterplan that was produced in 2007, should be updated and passed into law. This is because the two energy planning documents have many cross-cutting issues pertinent to electricity, such as the scenario-based energy demand and supply projections and electricity generation expansion plans. The new legal documents will ensure the mainstreaming of the electricity development plans into the overall national development plans.


It is possible to simultaneously achieve the generation and transmission of a minimum of 8,000 MW within 18 months, from the date of constituting the Federal Executive Council of Ministers. This is because the combined capacity of the old and the 10 new power stations is at least 8,000 MW if sustained. However, the realization of this assurance is largely dependent on having an insight of the internal workings of the power sector and being able to work around the clock to ensure that the existing infrastructure of the generation plants, both old and new, operate at optimal level. Efforts should also be made to complete ongoing construction of new power plants.

A concrete and simultaneous approach to achieve the medium term target of a minimum 8,000 MW of power generation and transmission requires a win-win arrangement for all relevant allied supports, such as ensuring the regular supply of gas from independent oil companies (IOCs) through results-oriented discourse involving the Ministry of Power (MOP), its agencies and the IOCs for an effective cost of the gas, the economic and social cost of the gas supply including security of the pipelines; cost reflective tariff in line with the agencies of the MOP; construction of new gas pipelines; provision of sufficient electronic meters, upgrading single circuit transmission lines to the double circuit; as well as the repair and expansion of the distribution network.

It should be emphasized that:

  1. Government’s roadmap for power should be released within two months of the constitution of the FEC.
  2. The emergency power plants should provide the equivalent of about 4,000 MW within 12 months of constitution of the FEC.
  3. Additional power plants of solar, wind, biomass/biofuels and small hydro could provide 4,000 MW within 24 months of the constitution of FEC. There is also the need to encourage small, medium and large scale farmers of biomass/biofuels feedstock as well as agro-allied processors.
  4. Coal power plants and large hydro plants could provide another 4,000 MW within 36 months of take-off of the FEC.
  5. With the existing plans, nuclear electricity is expected to come on stream in the next 7-8 years, and what Government is required to do here is to continue to support and accelerate the existing plans for nuclear electricity.
  6. It is very important for Government to re-activate coal mining and also to seriously consider uranium mining so that the respective fuels for coal and nuclear power plants are sorted out. The implementation of the Gas Masterplan will pave the way for the sustainable supply of gas to the nation’s gas power plants.
  7. The 3,050 MW Mambilla Hydropower project should be reviewed to remove the impediments to its full take-off.

Prof Abubakar S. Sambo
Chairman, Nigerian National Committee of the World Energy Council

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Meet the Author

Abubakar Sani Sambo
Professor Abubakar Sani Sambo is the Chairman of the Nigerian Member Committee of the World Energy Council (WEC). He was WEC’s Vice Chair for Africa from November 2007 to October 2013. Prof Sambo was the Director-General of the Energy Commission of Nigeria from January 2005 to December 2012. He served as the Vice-Chancellor of Abubakar Tafawa Belawa University from April 1995 to April 2004. He has worked extensively on renewable energy utilization in particular as well as energy planning in Nigeria in general. He is a fellow of eight professional associations, including the Energy Institute of the UK. He is the recipient of the National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) (from Nigeria) and the national honor of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).