The role of renewable energy technologies in Nigeria’s sustainable development

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Renewable energy has an important role to play in meeting the future energy needs in both rural and urban areas. The development and utilization of renewable energy should be given a high priority, especially in the light of increased awareness of the adverse environmental impacts of fossil-based generation. The need for sustainable energy is rapidly increasing in the world. A widespread use of renewable energy is important for achieving sustainability in the energy sectors in both developing and industrialized countries.

Nigeria is blessed with a large amount of renewable natural resources, which, when fully developed and utilized, will lead to poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Renewable energy resources and technologies are a key component of sustainable development for the following primary reasons:

·         They generally cause less environmental impact than other energy sources. The implementation of renewable energy technologies will help to address the environmental concerns that emerged due to greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), oxides of sulfur (SOx), and particulate matters as a result of power generation from oil, natural gas, and coal. A variety of renewable energy resources provide a flexible array of options for their use.

·         They cannot be depleted. If used carefully in appropriate applications, renewable energy resources can provide a reliable and sustainable supply of energy almost indefinitely. In contrast, fossil fuel resources are diminished by extraction and consumption.

·         They favor system decentralization and local solutions that are somewhat independent of the national network, thus enhancing the flexibility of the system and providing economic benefits to small isolated populations.

·         To seize the opportunities presented by renewable energy resources in sustainable development, Nigeria needs to establish renewable energy markets and gradually develop experience with renewable energy technologies. The barriers and constraints to the diffusion of renewable energy should be overcome.

A legal, administrative, and financing infrastructure should be established to facilitate planning and application of renewable energy projects. Government must play a useful role in promoting renewable energy technologies by initiating surveys and studies to establish their potential in both urban and rural areas.

Because renewable energies are constantly being replenished from natural resources, they have security of supply, unlike fossil fuels, which are negotiated on the international market and subject to international competition, sometimes even resulting in wars and shortages. They have important advantages, which could be stated as follows:

·         Their rate of use does not affect their availability in the future; thus, they are inexhaustible.

·         The resources are generally well distributed all over the world, even though wide spatial and temporal variations occur. Thus, all regions of the world have reasonable access to one or more forms of renewable energy supply.

·         They are clean and pollution-free and are therefore a sustainable natural form of energy.

·         They can be cheaply and continuously harvested and are therefore a sustainable source of energy.

Unlike the nuclear and fossil fuels plants which belong to big companies, governments, or state-owned enterprises, renewable energy can be set up in small units and is therefore suitable for community management and ownership. In this way, the returns from renewable energy projects can be kept in the community.

In Nigeria, this has particular relevance since the electricity grid does not extend to remote areas, and it is prohibitively expensive to do so. This presents a unique opportunity to construct power plants closer to where they are actually needed. In this way, much needed income, skill transfer, and manufacturing opportunities for small businesses would be injected into rural communities.

Energy and sustainable development in Nigeria

Sustainable energy involves the provision of energy services in a sustainable manner, which in turn necessitates that energy services be provided for all people in ways that, now and in the future, are sufficient to provide the basic necessities, affordable, not detrimental to the environment, and acceptable to communities and people. Linkages between sustainable energy and factors such as efficiency and economic growth have been investigated.

The energy sector plays a pivotal role in attempts to achieve sustainable development, balancing economic and social developments with environmental protection (encapsulated in the ‘strap line’ for the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development of ‘people, planet, and prosperity’). Energy is central to practically all aspects of sustainable development. Energy is central to the economy because it drives all economic activities.

This characterization of energy directs our attention to its sources in nature, to activities that convert and reconvert this energy, and finally to activities that use the energy to produce goods and services and household consumption. Traditionally, energy is treated as an intermediate input in the production process. This treatment of energy’s role understates its importance and contribution to development.

All economic activities and processes require some form of energy. This effectively makes energy a critical primary factor of production. Given the state of technological advancement in the economy, capital and labor perform supporting roles in converting, directing, and amplifying energy to produce goods and services needed for growth and poverty reduction.

Energy services are essential ingredients of all three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social, and environmental. Economies that have replaced human and animal labor with more convenient and efficient sources of energy and technology are also the ones that have grown fastest. No country in modern times has succeeded in substantially reducing poverty without adequately increasing the provision and use of energy to make material progress.

Indeed, by not ensuring a minimum access to energy services for a broad segment of the population, economic development of developing countries such as Nigeria beyond the level of subsistence has proven to be a real challenge.

At the national level, energy propels economic development by serving as the launch pad for industrial growth and, via transport and communications, providing access to international markets and trade. Reliable, efficient, and competitively priced energy supplies also attract foreign investment – a very important factor in boosting economic growth in recent times.

At the local level, energy facilitates economic development by improving productivity and enabling local income generation through improved agricultural development (irrigation, crop processing, storage, and transport to market) and through non-farm employment, including micro-enterprise development.

As an indicator of local recognition of the importance of energy for businesses, Nigerian manufacturers, who were asked to rank the constraints on their firms’ activities, identified power breakdowns, and voltage fluctuations as their top two problems. Recent developments in Ghana’s energy sector support this point.

Energy has also strong and important links to the environment. Many energy sources are drawn directly from the environment, requiring a sound management for these sources to be sustainable. Furthermore, energy use affects the environment.

Emissions from fossil fuels, for example, reach beyond the local and national levels to affect the global environment and contribute to climate change. The poorest people often live in the most ecologically sensitive and vulnerable physical locations.

These areas may be the most affected by the predictable effects of climate change such as an increased frequency of extreme events, for example floods, drought, rising sea levels, and melting ice caps. The risks facing poor people are often increased by the unsustainable use of biomass resources.

The connection between energy, the environment, and sustainable development is worth highlighting. Energy supply and use are related to climate change as well as such environmental concerns as air pollution, ozone depletion, forest destruction, and emissions of radioactive substances. These issues must be addressed if society is to develop while maintaining a healthy and clean environment.

Ideally, a society seeking sustainable development should use only energy resources which have no environmental impact. However, since all energy resources lead to some environmental impact, an improved efficiency and environmental stewardship can help overcome many of the concerns regarding the limitations imposed on sustainable development by environmental emissions and their negative impacts.

Energy is directly linked to the broader concept of sustainability and affects most of civilization. That is particularly evident since energy resources drive much if not most of the world’s economic activity, in virtually all economic sectors.

Also, energy resources, whether carbon-based or renewable, are obtained from the environment, and wastes from energy processes (production, transport, storage, utilization) are typically released to the environment. Given the intimate ties between energy and the key components of sustainable development, the attainment of energy sustainability is being increasingly recognized as a critical aspect of achieving sustainable development.

Use of renewable natural resources, combined with efficient supply and use of fossil fuels with cleaner technologies, can help reduce the environmental effects of energy use and help Nigeria replacing the existing, inefficient fossil fuel technologies that pollute the environment.

As a complementary measure, careful management of energy resources is important to promote economic growth, protect ecosystems and provide sustainable natural resources.

Thus, energy sustainability is considered to involve the sustainable use of energy in the overall energy system. This system includes processes and technologies for the harvesting of energy sources, their conversion to useful energy forms, to provide energy services such as operating communications systems, lighting buildings, and cooking.

The reform of the energy sector is critical to sustainable development in Nigeria. This includes reviewing and reforming subsidies, establishing credible regulatory frameworks, developing policy environments through regulatory interventions, and creating market-based approaches such as emission trading.

Globally, countries are developing strategies and policies to enable a sustainable development of their energy resources, thus contributing to fuel economic and social developments, while reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The energy sector is very strategic to the development of the Nigerian economy. In addition to its macroeconomic importance, it has major roles to play in reducing poverty, improving productivity, and enhancing the general quality of life. If Nigeria is to take the path of sustainable energy, it is important to accurately and technically model the energy demand and supply scenarios and their impacts on the economy, resources, and society along with the environment, for both medium and long terms. From such analyses, we can derive information that is vital for policy construction and investment.

In order to ensure the sustainability of energy supply and subsequently the sustainable economic development of the country, the government has to intensify the further implementation of renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.

As observed in quite a number of successful countries promoting renewable energy, such as Germany, Denmark, and Japan, a strong and long-term commitment from the government is crucial in implementing any kind of policies which will lead to the development of renewable energies, in particular, and a sustainable development, in general.

Excerpts from Energy and sustainable development in Nigeria: the way forward, by Sunday Olayinka Oyedepo.

Sunday Olayinka Oyedepo is affiliated to the Mechanical Engineering Department, Covenant University, Ota, 2023, Nigeria as a lecturer and researcher