The use of power generators by Nigerians to provide domestic electrification has become a common and acceptable practice in a country that possesses over 30,000MV worth of electrical generation capacity, and supplies about 25 percent of neighbouring Ghana’s gas power. Records show that over 60 million Nigerians actively use electric power generators, and spend a staggering N1.56 trillion ($13.35m) to fuel them annually. On the average, a residential consumer in Nigeria will spend a minimum of $100 each month per flat to power and maintain their generators; more than enough reason to keep the citizenry in penury, as the United Nations’ itself has reported that over 80% of Nigerians purportedly live below $1, a claim negated by the popular polling site, NOI Polls, owned by former Finance Minister and World Bank veteran, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
According to data from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Nigeria’s power generating capacity has increased only by 1,883MW between 1999 and 2015; that is from 3,000MW to 4,883MW. Over 44% of Nigerian households do not have access to electricity – 16% in urban areas and 66% in rural areas. While South Africa, a country with about 53 million people, produces more than 40,000 megawatts of electricity, Nigeria produces just over 6,000 megawatts – according to an article by Premium Times and a speech attributed to the sectors’ apex government official, Babatunde Raji Fashola – for a population of about 180 million people.
Given the above statistics, it is not surprising that domestic generators have played both useful and harmful roles in Nigeria’s history. This situation has forced many households, institutions and businesses to invest heavily in electric power generators, which has improved the living conditions of Nigerians and provoked a boost in their businesses.
Unfortunately, the power generators also pose a negative threat to the health and natural environment of Nigerians. The fumes released by generators are toxic to human health. Carbon monoxide (CO) – a major gas in generator fumes replaces oxygen in the body tissues, and when oxygen is displaced in the body it could lead to unconsciousness and death in less than three minutes. Also, exposure to moderate and high levels of CO over a long period of time has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease. Furthermore, CO poisoning in pregnant women may also cause abnormal foetal development.
On a daily basis most generator users experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, and nausea. It was observed that indoor air pollution from fossil fuel combustion have claimed more than 1.6 million lives and left over 38.5 million disabled worldwide as of the year 2000. Surveys suggest that the prevalence of Asthma among Nigerian adults increased from 5.1–7.5% in 2003 to 13.1–14.2% in 2006, and outdoor pollution was self-reported as an important risk factor by surveyed participants. This can also be attributed to the constant running of generators in our surroundings today.
While a review by the National Environment Quality Standards (NEQS), set the limit for noise in residential areas at 55 decibels during the day and 45 db during the night, power generators continue to generate 88db to over 95db of noise. Usually, sounds above 85dB (decibel) are harmful, depending on duration and frequency of exposure.
The noise pollution associated with generator use may result to auditory, non-auditory and mental effects such as hearing loss, cardio vascular disease, non-auditory effects stress, and other mental impacts such as insomnia, extreme emotions, lack of concentration and even accidents in cases where noise masks important warning signs such as sirens of impending danger.
While state power in Nigeria is primarily hydro-powered, unregulated amounts of fossil-fuelled generators remain the mainstay for domestic power generation in a state with sporadic power supply. This remains a critical source of carbon pollution to the air and water around us, and resulting in direct and indirect causes of death to the citizenry.
Can Nigerians enjoy constant electricity in good living conditions?
The answer is yes. It is common shop talk that powerful business people play a strong contributory role to the non-committal approach to key arms of government, especially the senate, to rectifying the power situation, as a result of the vast sums of money being made on the sale of various capacities of power generation systems.
However, in the absence of immediate communal solution to power supply, there is opportunity for investment in the supply of infrastructure for renewable energy, especially solar energy. Looking beyond the initial purchase and installation cost of renewable power systems, they are far cheaper in life cycle cost than fossil fuel powered generators. Although generators are characterised by lower purchasing cost, they have very high operation and maintenance costs unlike solar power that has higher initial cost but very low maintenance costs. A study on “Cost and Reliability Comparison Between Solar and Diesel-powered Pumps”, by Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), revealed that solar systems range from one tenth to one fourth the Net Present Cost of diesel options..
Unfortunately, whilst forward-thinking governments are incentivising the citizenry towards adapting more eco-friendly sources of power, a governor in one of the south-western states in Nigeria in September 2017, donated 120 (5KVA) fossil-fuelled generators to police stations across the state ostensibly to enable them work optimally, whereas the resources for such acquisition could have proactively been used to facilitate the installation of solar energy systems.
It is imperative that federal and sub-national governments focus on tackling the problems that lead to the need for generators, which is poor power supply. Such solutions, in addition to renewable energy, include optimal implementation of the recent reforms on privatisation of electricity generation and distribution in the country and harnessing of the 1.6Tcf of gas that is being flared annually by building more gas fired turbines.