Photo source; REA – Arial view of recently commissioned 8.25MW Solar Hybrid Power plant at Federal University of Agriculture (FUAM), Makurdi, Benue State.
Emmanuel Addeh writes that efforts of the federal government, through the Rural Electrification Agency to provide sustainable electricity sources to the country’s universities, may have begun to materialise
Energy poverty remains a major problem, not just in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions, but across the entire facet of the Nigerian society, leaving in its trail unnecessary difficulties in execution of simple tasks and grounding economic activities.
However, it poses even more challenges in the universities where it has become a barrier to effective research, student learning and general smooth running of the tertiary institutions.
For many years, the Nigerian power sector has been in crisis, with the average annual per capita power consumption being only 155 kWh, which is among the lowest in the world.
Indeed, some research suggests that self-generated power, mainly diesel or petrol generators, should be around 6,000MW, while many Nigerians, including students have had to resort to burning candles and kerosene and sometimes, rechargeable lamps, just to get by.
While Nigeria continues to grapple with actual transmitted power of between 4,000MW to 4,500MW for its over 200 million population, in contrast, a country like Brazil generates 100,000MW of grid-based power for 201 million and South Africa generates 40,000MW for 50 million persons.
There’s hardly any university visited today, that is not either partly or wholly dependent on generating sets to power its libraries and laboratories and as expected, this exacts a huge cost on the institutions’ meagre resources, accompanied with the hazards posed by harmful emissions.
To sort out this lingering problem, the federal government recently introduced the Energizing Education Programme (EEP) , to provide sustainable and clean power supply to 37 federal universities and seven university teaching hospitals across Nigeria.
Part of the project includes the provision of an independent power plant, upgrading existing distribution infrastructure, street lighting to improve security within the universities’ campuses, as well as the development of a world class training centre on renewable energy for each university.
Being implemented by the REA and developed in phases, the first phase is expected to deliver 28.5MW to nine federal universities and one University Teaching Hospital, using solar hybrid and/or gas-fired captive power plants.
According to the government, phase 1 of the EEP will benefit 127,000 students and 28,000 staff of universities, 4,700 staff in teaching hospitals (including 819 doctors), power 2,850 streetlights, and result in the decommissioning of hundreds of generators.
Additionally, aside the programme providing an installed 13.23km solar powered streetlights for illumination and safety, as well as a world-class renewables training centre, 20 female Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students have received hands-on practical training under the EEP Internship Programme.
So, in furtherance of this objective, the federal government took the “operation light up Nigerian universities” campaign to Benue state last week where it landed at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi (FUAM) for the commissioning of the project completed under the EEP of the REA.
With the official flag-off of the 8.25MW solar hybrid power plant at the university, FUAM students and teaching staff can now have access to electricity supply round the clock, with many of the hassles associated with unstable power supply now gone.
Other universities in the Phase 1 of the programme, aside FUAM, include: Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University – Bauchi, Bayero University – Kano, Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Federal University of Petroleum Resources – Effurum, Nnamdi Azikiwe University – Awka, Obafemi Awolowo University & Teaching Hospital – Osun, University of Lagos – Lagos and Usmanu Danfodiyo University – Sokoto.
In his opening remarks at the well-attended event in Benue, the Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer of the REA, Ahmad Salihijo stated that the project had undergone the standard processes of design, construction and test-run and therefore certified fit for use.
As part of the trial phase, the university, he said, had received power from the plant for a total of 137 days, and is therefore fully set for operation to deliver reliable power to the staff and students of the institution.
He stated that the reliability of the power supply will not only drive conducive learning, but also boost research and development, which will contribute towards the achievement of the goals set for the growth of Nigeria’s education sector under the current administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
He said: “Under the Phase 1 of the EEP, nine federal universities were selected from the six (6) geo-political zones in Nigeria, with the Federal University of Agriculture , Makurdi being the selection for the north central zone.
“Furthermore, the programme implementation was designed to incorporate gender mainstreaming through the Female STEM Internship Programme. The STEM programme was targeted at training 20 female students per university on the various components in the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) chain of power plant deployment.
“So far, two power plants have been commissioned under the EEP i.e. the 2.8MW captive solar hybrid power project at Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State and the 7.1MW captive solar hybrid project at Bayero University, Kano State.
“This will be the third EEP Phase 1 site to be commissioned, with two (2) others scheduled for commissioning in the coming weeks”.
He added that the Workshop Training Centre (WTC) was designed to train students and staff of FUAM on the theory and practice of renewable energy, towards the greater outcome of increasing the total number of Nigerians with standard knowledge of clean energy solutions as Nigeria moves towards an off-grid renewable energy revolution.
Salihijo stressed that the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant public health challenges had stalled the completion of some minor components of the project as it restricted activities and movement of persons across the country for what seemed like months unending.
“However, we remained resilient towards ensuring that we kept to our mandate of delivering sustainable power and creating the platform for more jobs and knowledge transfer,” he noted.
He lauded the ministry of power for playing a very crucial role towards the successful construction of the plant, noting that they have been the major sponsor behind the entire Phase 1 of the EEP.
Moving forward, the REA boss stated that the agency has secured funding from the World Bank and African Development Bank towards the implementation of Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the EEP respectively.
These phases, he noted, will see the design and construction of captive hybrid power plants across a total of 15 federal universities and two teaching hospitals and will be implemented under the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP).
In his own comments, an elated governor of Benue State, Mr Samuel Ortom, who was represented by the Commissioner for Works, Mr. Alexander Shaapera, noted that the commissioning culminated in the graduation of the STEM participants who received certificates of completion for their technical and practical training on the FUAM solar hybrid power plant.
“This thoughtful project aligns with the rural electrification agency’s mandate and federal government next level agenda to provide electricity access to rural communities, economic hubs, educational institutions and teaching hospitals as well as the entire unreached and underserved areas of the country.
“I am most humbled that such a laudable project was deployed in Benue state at this time, to provide a conducive and safe learning environment for the thousands of young people who are currently undergoing academic training, preparatory to taking over various sectors of society, towards the growth and development of the state.
“It is important to stress that the benefits of clean, safe and reliable electricity will improve the quality of research, technical capacity, and improve productivity of the entire management, staff and students of the institution.
“ Thus, the days of unreliable power supply within the university has come to an end and the students can heave a sigh of relief knowing that their campus environment is illuminated and that they can increase their study time as they prepare for the real world,” the governor stated.
He commended all the relevant stakeholders for providing reliable electricity to the institution and urged both students and management to utilise and sustain the infrastructure to also serve the university in the future.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, in his comments, noted that the EEP has provided a veritable and robust platform for the national assembly to engage and collaborate with the executive in advancing their shared interests of providing efficient, competitive, and sustainable electricity to unserved and underserved people in Nigeria.
“The 9th national assembly is excited to align itself with this project and is committed to continue to provide any and every necessary support to ensure that the resources, enabling environment, and oversight is available to provide efficient, sustainable, and competitive electricity to unserved and underserved areas in Nigeria.
“As Chairman of the House of Committee on Power, I will continue to use my office to ensure that we provide the leadership and oversight needed to enhance and advance increased investments, regulatory compliance, proper governance, and other issues that affect the power sector in Nigeria,” he assured.
Also, the Managing Director of the partnering firm, Sterling and Wilson, Mr Deepak Thakur, noted that the overarching socioeconomic impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the university population that the project will produce was unquantifiable at the moment.
“ The PV plant, backup DG sets and battery size of this project which has a total combined capacity of 8.25MW, has other components of the project which include a world class renewable energy training centre.
“It also involves installation of streetlights for adequate illumination, security and safety within the university, as well as the upgrade of the university’s distribution network. The solar hybrid project being commissioned will serve the entire university with constant electricity,” he said.
Vice Chancellor of the institution, Prof. Anande Kimbir, recalled that the university which was established in 1988, now has a population of about 13,000, including students and staff.
He said that the institution has several faculties and research centres, adding that as the food basket of the nation, FUAM was proud to align itself and serve as the engine that produces and manages the process of the agricultural revolution being birthed in Benue for the country.
“Our engagement with the federal government of Nigeria on this EEP project has been very robust and healthy. It has been one based on mutual interest and benefit which has produced the fruit of what we are seeing today; that is the attainment of this power project, which will impact and influence the delivery of access to electricity that is safe, reliable, and sustainable.
“The Energising Education Programme will no doubt support FUAM’s mission to address developmental challenges in Nigeria, through innovative research, knowledge-transfer and training.
“This is a joyous moment for not just our university, but also for Benue State. I am ecstatic for the expected positive impact this initiative will have in transforming the way we teach, learn, and live on our campus,” he enthused.
Head Project Monitoring Unit (PMU), of the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP), Anita Otubu, reaffirmed the commitment of the federal government through the REA in ensuring increased access to clean and reliable electricity in educational institutions and the entire country.
She thanked the federal ministry of environment which facilitated the Sovereign Green Bond in a bid to promote clean energy initiatives, saying that it was instrumental towards funding the Energising Education Programme Phase 1.
For the dozens of female Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students who benefitted from the training , it was a lifetime opportunity which they would savour for a long time.
That aside, the institution which will now have 24-hour uninterrupted power supply, would now have an edge over other universities which still have to grapple with epileptic electricity supply on a daily basis