Standstill

Ifeoluwa — By Ifeoluwa from Nigeria

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity, in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

When I wake in the morning, inside my room in Ibadan, Nigeria, my eyes quickly dart to the electrical socket on the wall opposite my bed. After confirming with this involuntary action, that there is indeed electricity, then comes the rush to plug my laptop and phone for charging because the availability of electricity determines my capability to work and earn. Without electricity, my life and career as a freelance writer come to a standstill. This is very much the case because I have weaned myself off the paper and the pen. Gone are the days when I could not write straight up on my laptop and scribbled first on a notepad. By way of adaptation to the absence of constant electricity, I have had to learn to write full stories on my smartphone. The 4500mAh battery capacity of my phone was the most important factor in purchasing it.

In Nigeria, petrol and diesel generators are the common alternative sources of electricity. At night, the loud noises of generators sync with the natural sounds of the environment. In my house, we have two petrol generators. When there is no power, we use the higher powered generator to run the pump which supplies water from the deep well into the house while the smaller generator serves to provide lighting and to charge phones and rechargeable lanterns. When the generators give up on us after continuous use for weeks, I often wield the spanner trying to clean the corroded plugs. When that fails, we need to look for a technician to fix the generator. This sometimes means staying without electricity for several hours.

generator
Generators: the only reliable source of electricity.

During the hot months, which tend to be longer than the wet and cooler months, with no electricity to operate the fan I experience night sweats and sleeplessness spurred by the combination of the heat and noise from the loud generators operating in the environment. By morning, I often wake weak and cranky with a heavy head, reducing my level of productivity throughout the day. Things get to a head during periods of petrol scarcity when there is unsteady electricity supply and we cannot purchase fuel for the generators. The foods in the fridge start to go bad; when I boil and fry the frozen turkey, it tastes funny like roasted bush meat. I comfort myself with the idea that it is a new acquired taste and push away thoughts of diarrhea induced by food poisoning; I am reluctant to throw away food bought with my hard-earned money.

On the days when there is continuous electricity supply for 12 hours non-stop, I stare at the bulb with a sense of foreboding slowly settling over me. The usual pattern is electricity becoming steadier for about one or two weeks followed by a protracted lack of electricity thereafter. The typical culprits – a fault in the transformer, vandalisation or theft of cables, and felled cables as a result of heavy rainfall, not so common but tenable – highlight the biggest problem in the power sector: lack of sustainability. Unstable electricity supply has become so deeply ingrained in my daily life that I almost consider it a norm. Where do we go from here?

On January 22, 2017, when the Transmission Company of Nigeria announced that the nation’s power generation capacity had dropped to 2,662 megawatts, I knew the electricity situation had just taken a nose dive because that power capacity is supposed to cater to an approximate land mass of 910,770 sq. km. In 2013, I had conceived some hope when the Nigerian government decided to privatise the electricity generation and distribution companies with an aim towards improvement. We now have one transmission company, six generation companies and eleven distribution companies. However, to my disappointment, the names just changed but the system remained the same. This notion is strongly supported by the refusal of the public to adopt the use of the new companies’ names – everyone still refers to them by the former government-owned name – NEPA (National Electricity Power Authority). That acronym has acquired a popular different meaning – ‘Never expect power always’.

Some of the problems ailing the distribution companies include lack of maintenance as the facilities develop faults incessantly and the maintenance fees being paid as part of the electric bill seem to be misappropriated. I am projecting that the privatisation failed to change the situation for the better because the restructuring only resulted in a decentralised system and did not leave room for healthy competition. We are still constrained to use a particular distribution company according to the location one resides in. I believe if we have the freedom to choose from the distribution companies available without being restricted by our location, we can trigger better service delivery as each of the companies will step up to the risk of losing their consumers. I realise the kind of structure I am proposing may not be as simplistic as it sounds, but it can be achieved with proper provisions being made.

At present, the major concern in the energy sector in Nigeria remains the generation of higher megawatts from hydro/thermal plants to reach the total populace. Apart from the provision of solar panels, which is mostly facilitated by international organisations targeting the rural areas to power the preservation of vaccines and other medical amenities where there is a higher lack of electricity, there is very little research in the area of renewable energy. This is justified partly by its attendant high cost.

Recently, a South African Telecommunications company in Nigeria started offering a Mobile Solar Home System to their subscribers. This at best represents an elite solution to a problem which affects both the rich and poor. In Nigeria, the national minimum wage is 18,000 Naira and this solar system is priced at 26,000 Naira minus the inclusive monthly subscription fee. Therefore, for solar energy to be a verifiable solution to electricity problems in Nigeria, government will have to provide major initial subsidies to make it accessible to everyone irrespective of their social or economic class. There is also a vital need for relevant researches to be conducted on experimental sources of renewable energy. A friend once told me of an individual in Porto Novo, the capital city of Benin, in West Africa, investing in the conversion of gases derived from animal wastes to generate electricity. I was at once captivated by such an innovative idea which can easily be adopted in Nigeria with its dominant agrarian cultures.

For most Nigerian youths, we have been conditioned to think government has to do everything for us because of the lack of an enabling environment riddled with corruption and ineffectual governance. However, we need to accept that we all have a part to play. Whether through demanding accountability from our government to foster the right solutions and develop a sustainable program or facilitating more academic and field researches on the possibilities of renewable energy, we just need to start and do something.

As I type these concluding lines, I can hear children in my neighborhood, squealing in delight – ‘Up NEPA!’ a welcoming herald of electricity being restored in our homes. I look forward to that day when 24-hour electricity becomes a reality in my country.

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The Epileptic Power Situation in Nigeria

 — By Lovelyn from Nigeria

Some of the most heart wrenching experiences of my life even from childhood are in some way related to the epileptic power situation in my country, Nigeria.

My first experience was at age 5. I was only allowed to partake in minor house chores, some of which included arranging my room, sweeping and a few other tasks in the kitchen. On one of the days, my mum needed to have a warm bath, and at this time, there had been a long period of power outage, and so to heat water, my sister had to use the cooker, instead of the electric heater. I was at the corner picking palm kernel seeds with which my mum was to make ofe-akwu (a local eastern delicacy). My sister lifted the boiling kettle, and before she could get hold of its handle as it flew off in a split of a second, the kettle landed on my back, emptying its content. The next thing I remembered, I was lying face down on a hospital bed.

Lovelyn1

My second experience was even more painful. In 2002, I lost a dear friend in a fire incident that occurred in his home. A very talented teenager, who had a bright future ahead of him. On this day, I had spent time with Akeem, talking about the future we saw, as he had just been admitted into the school of his dreams, University of Lagos, and by the evening of the same day, my friend was dead. Fire gutted his house as everyone went to bed. His 7 year old twin sisters lit a candle stick for their night studies, as there hadn’t been power supply in the area for months. And so while the candle burned, the girls dozed off, as the melted wax flowed into the mattress on the floor.

There have been more of such occurrences, not just for me, but for other 169 million Nigerians in the country. Homes, businesses and even relationships suffer. Everyone is affected directly or indirectly. Once at the University during my degree program, students took to the streets in protest, as a result of a long period of power outage in the area, the school generator had to be turned off at a specific time, and that meant that the students could not study for long hours or even be able to charge their phones.

For several decades, local and at times even nationwide power outages have been the norm instead of the exception. Current electricity generation is primarily from either gas-fired or hydro power plants, with natural gas the main fuel source for power generation in Nigeria. According to McKinsey in 2013, the power generation potential from domestic gas reserves in Nigeria was greater than 10,000 MW, which is relatively higher than the potential from domestic gas reserves in other African jurisdictions, but still falls significantly short of meeting the needs of its over 170 million inhabitants.

The power sector in Nigeria has had eight ministers in five years, yet there is no end in sight to the perpetual darkness that Nigerians have been subjected to.

Lovelyn2

According to the report by Thenewsnigeria, big companies that were employing thousands of Nigerians and paying billions of naira in taxes have either left for neighbouring countries such as Ghana and Ivory Coast or have shut down their operations outright because of corruption in the power sector that has impacted the real sector negatively. For instance, Dunlop Plc, a major tyre manufacturing company had to relocate to Ghana due to the rising cost of production that was traceable to the energy crisis in Nigeria.

Another major tyre major company that left the country as a result of the power crisis was Michelin. The company said it left the country because it could no longer generate enough electricity on its own to power its production.

Many of the companies that left are yet to return and the country is the worst for it. According to a report by the World Bank, Nigeria’s per capita electric consumption is 142 kWh which puts the country in the league of countries like Nepal (128kWh per capita), Sudan (159kWh), Togo (148kWh) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (110kWh). These are countries with much smaller populations and smaller requirements than Nigeria.

At home, the story is not different; my younger ones are forced to complete their homework under the strain of candle light or rechargeable lanterns (which most times are not well charged for the same reasons). Most nights, I have to consciously force myself to get some sleep as the sound of the neighbours’ generators blaring by my window made my head ache.

As though this is not enough trouble already, one is faced with monthly electricity bills, this is regardless of the fact that the service for which these high costs are furnished are never rendered.

On July 7, my Facebook friend, Gift Nwachukwu posted on Facebook thus: “Dear Enugu Electricity Distribution Company- EEDC, I have allocated 10,000 for your monthly upkeep. This is not for services rendered as you rendered none. It is simply for your upkeep as you are now my beneficiary. Enugu Electricity Distribution Company- EEDC kindly take note of this new arrangement.”

Lovelyn3

Nigeria’s power strategy is based on the use of natural gas which is abundantly available in Nigeria, is relatively cheaper than using diesel and other fuel oils, and burns cleaner. However, the ineffective security of the critical infrastructure for transmission, as well as questionable politics in the South-South region, has exposed these critical infrastructure to sabotage.

All of Nigeria’s natural gas comes from the South-South region, and in order for it to get to power plants around the country, it must be transported in thousands of kilometers of pipelines that run from the South-South region to the power plants that utilize the gas. In the process, the gas pipelines get vandalized which often times result to blackout.

If I were the minister of energy in Nigeria, one of my first tasks would be to tackle the security issue in the South-South bring an end to the vandalisation of the gas pipeline and ensure electricity is effectively managed in the country, even to the rural areas and also maximize available sources of renewable energy for the benefit of all.

Nigeria’s electricity challenge like many other challenges that the world faces can indeed be overcome if the youths of the nation are willing to take responsibility to change the current situation, rather than wasting precious time blaming the government. We are indeed the change that we have long desired and waited for, which is why a few of my friends and I came up with an initiative #WakeUpSouthEast, to awaken Nigerian youths especially in the South Eastern part of the country to wake up and seek ways to make positive impact.

Indeed, a healthy and efficient power sector is critical to arresting growing unemployment, reducing crime rate, achieving economic diversification and rebounding the economy for sustainable development.

Electricity Generation in Nigeria: Problems and Likely Solution

franklin — By Franklin from Nigeria

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity, in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

It’s the 21st century and it’s okay to say the importance of electricity cannot be overemphasized. When you come to think about it, electricity is used in every form of life: we use electricity to power our devices and stay connected with friends and family, we use electricity to preserve food using the microwave and freezer amidst many others, and we use electricity to make our work easier while sweeping with the vacuum cleaner or washing with the washing machine. All of these are just simple home applications of the wonder that is electricity. When it comes to its industrial use, electricity is very important. It is important in the areas of medicine, manufacturing, building and construction. Now, with all of this importance and more, think of a world without electricity or with electrical failure: communication will be lost, spoilage will occur leading to wastage, there will be more laborious activities and lives may even be lost. To avoid these problems, electricity has to be a constant to allow for the smooth running of day-to-day activities.

I live in Lagos, Nigeria and generally, in Nigeria, power is either hydro-electric or via thermal or fossil fuel, which make use of coal or natural gas. Here, power is first generated, transmitted and distributed to our houses. For each of these stages, there is a company attached to handling it. Now as of January 2017, Nigeria generates about 7,200 Megawatts of power. On the average, 1000 homes need about 1 Megawatt of power for constant electricity. What this means is that only 7.2 million homes can be powered with the amount of electricity that Nigeria generates. This estimate does not include companies and industries which require a very large amount of power. With a population of about 200 million, one can clearly see that the amount of power generated is way too low to allow for the constant supply we desire. If I were in power, one of the first things I’ll do is seek out other means of power generation. For a country that has sun every other day of the year, it’s surprising that Nigeria doesn’t make use of solar energy for power generation. There is also an abundance of gas in the country: little wonder we are the number 9 country in the world with the highest gas reserves. These other means of power generation should be looked into. This will further make the country’s power similar to the USA where power is distributed amongst various means like coal, natural gas, hydro, wind and solar, in that order.

Unfortunately for Lagos, which is the most populated city in Nigeria, the electricity is largely unstable. That’s what you get when the power generated is not enough. On some days, there’s power supply for six out of twenty-four hours, some days more, and some days even less. The truth is half of the people in Lagos, Nigeria rely on fueled generators for electricity. Aside from the noise that this comes with, they are pretty expensive to maintain and also fuel regularly. Some of the times, this power failure is due to poles and transformers spoilage, especially during the rainy season, and this may go on and on. In some parts of Lagos and the country as a whole, tax-paying individuals living in these areas affected by transformer issues have to rally around to contribute and fix these items. All of this happens when there’s a sitting government and it should not be. The government needs to work actively on her maintenance culture, protecting pipelines and poles and attending to them in cases where attention is required.

In addition, rotten eggs need to be flushed away from the power sector. In a sector where a lot of work needs to be done, it is funny to note that a lot of individuals working in this sector are interested in personal gains solely and have no business whatsoever with the state of the industry they’re in. These individuals do all within their power to siphon the funds being given to this industry in the name of greed.

With all these put in place, the problem of low power generation will hopefully be a thing of the past and constant power supply will be the new trend because honestly, that’s what we need right now.

My Electricity Situation: A Journey Through my Mind, Life, and Reality

Picture1 (1) — By Gugulethu from Zimbabwe

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

There is nothing that can explain the euphoria that overcomes me every time I board a bus and I’m headed to that one place I call home – Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. In the purée of my thoughts I’m often engulfed with the numerous activities that I will undertake once I get there ranging from reconnecting with old friends, seeing my family, and having to devour all of my holy grail foods. More times than not these thoughts are watered down by the sudden realization of the harsh realities of the socio-economic injustices in my country, which is often clouded by my aloofness.

The first thought of these inequalities that make my stomach churn is the numerous involuntary candle light dinners that I would have to succumb to, not because my family is too romantic but because the dire electricity blackouts are the order of the day; it has become the norm. As I sit on the bus my mind often flashes back to a time when I was studying towards my O Level exams. I always dub that time as one of the hardest and most intrinsic parts of my existence. Our country was experiencing our greatest economic recession partly caused by sanctions imposed by the West, and when the West sneezed, it meant that the minorities like us would catch the cold.

I vividly remember how I would get home and find that there is a blackout and I would have to aid my grandparents in gathering pieces of firewood if they did not have enough money to purchase it. This would lead to making a fire; in unfortunate times it would either be raining or icy cold. All of this had to be done on a daily basis and I would still have to study with a candle in my most critical high school phase. I like to reiterate how I could have done better, could have got better marks in my O Level if I had a conducive environment to study in. One may argue through an old adage and even quote Beyoncé that when life gives you lemons make lemonade, but the government officials and policy makers have no idea the psychological turmoil which is felt mostly by young people brought about by the lack of electricity.

As a black person living in a third world country, one is expected to accept the status quo, be comfortable with it, and view it as the norm. Flash forward to Zimbabwe’s current electricity situation, the juxtaposition in the economical inequalities in comparison with my current country of residence, South Africa: the difference is quite alarming. Starting off with South Africa, the load-shedding is relative to where one stays.The rich and the middle class rarely empathize with those that live in informal settlements, who don’t experience blackouts because there is no electricity to begin with. What makes the plight of those living in informal settlements saddening is the fact that they live right in the heart of the urban areas where they can make a physical comparison to the wealthy, where a road separates beaming lights from smoke and dust.

Bringing it closer to home, in Zimbabwe, the supply of electricity is still critical, as ‘load shedding’ is used on a routine basis. It still puzzles me to this day that the only way the government can regulate the power generation capacity to meet the demand is to cut electricity for taxpayers and citizens at large for long periods of hours, even days. Instead of seeking aid from international organizations and external funding sources to step in and sponsor alternative, clean, sustainable, and renewable energy solutions like solar energy. Solar energy has fewer carbon emissions and in the process curbs the increase of global warming and climate change. Still, solar energy hasn’t been deeply exploited in Zimbabwe.

People that stay in the rural areas suffer the most as 19% of the total rural population have access due to the prohibitive costs of extending national electricity grids. In addition, no new developments have been made in the country’s generation sector since the commissioning of the Hwange Coal Plant in 1988, meaning all coal fired stations in Zimbabwe are in need of major upgrades. They have numerous and frequent production stops, or to say the least are not producing at all which is one of the key contributors to the longevity of blackouts. Therefore, this has been affecting the economic performances of food industries, hospitals, banks, businesses and households.

Nobody knows when the stability of various industries in Zimbabwe will prevail but I would propose conferences with solutions that have an aim of boosting international awareness and attracting potential funding sources. These dire circumstances have contributed to a lot of brain drain and young people fleeing to other countries for greener pastures. With in-depth analysis some of these solutions would be undertaken in areas like my hometown Bulawayo and the Eastern Highlands which could benefit from the installation of wind turbines as they have the highest wind speeds. With due course, we should ditch the use of coal (which is one of the major energy suppliers in the country) which has the most waste problems of all energy sources like sulphuric, radioactive elements, excess ash and nitrogen oxides amongst others.

On the note of complexities or inconsistencies of electricity supply, I have missed out on a lot of opportunities as a budding journalist and copywriter. I have to be constantly on the global web researching, have my camera handy to document any news that might spring up, have a place to jot down notes and ideas when my creative muse is on my side. We have had to throw away perishable foods when there were long power cuts, which is always a strain financially, and contributes to excess solid waste being emitted.

One of the utmost complexities of the aforementioned juxtaposition of ensuring adequate and consistent electricity supply in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Africa at large is having inept government officials that over-promise in elections and underdeliver post elections. A majority of African political leaders are unscrupulous, lack accountability, and only when the day comes when they empathize, gain insights and foresights, and put people first instead of their reputation and pockets, Africa will steer towards the right direction.

I envision a time when African policy makers having a grasp of understanding that electricity is part of infrastructural development, making it pivotal to economic development. I have premonitions of a time when there would be enough advocacy to show the need that people who live in rural areas of Gwanda in Zimbabwe and informal settlements in Kya Sands in South Africa experience.

Advocacy and profiling of the statistics of relatives of the man who died due to a power cut in Mpilo Hospital in Zimbabwe. Lest we forget an entire family that died when they inhaled carbon monoxide from sleeping with a primer stove in their house in Marondera. To the man who was given a hefty fine for bridging electric wires because it’s just TOO expensive. And lastly, I live to see a day where crime is not perpetrated more on our women, who are raped, abused, and killed because they were 2 minutes away from the light.

I envision a time when I take my next trip to Zimbabwe with a radiant smile. As I leave South Africa with hope. As I put my earphones in to listen to Drake’s album, I want to sincerely sing along and say indeed ‘WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE’ — in Africa.

The Joy in Working With the Youths

Lena — By Lena from Malawi

Growing up in a middle-class family, I used to think we lacked a lot of things which when I grew up, I realised were luxury. Mid-density area, well-furnished house, both parents having modest jobs and going to modest schools, seemed like a way of life and nothing else really mattered. Never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that some lack even the basic needs, let alone school fees, despite how bright and zealous they might be about Education. For someone like me, education was something I had to do because my parents wouldn’t allow me to ditch school and loaf around. Little did I know what others are going through just to attend college.

Working for an organisation that defends the rights of women, youths, children, and people with disability, I am a defender of the rights of these target audiences and in the process realised my dream of empowering the youths. Having thought of helping the youths on some deeper level, of which I haven’t had the opportunity to establish my own organisation or film that is mainly into empowering the youths, I got a job that I enjoy doing.

Having worked for 10 years, I have never felt satisfied on the job like I feel now, and I realise it is because I can finally do what I am passionate about. This feeling of satisfaction made me realise that working should be more than just a pay check.

Within a short time, I’ve realised youths between the ages of 18 and 35 are a bright bunch of youngsters who always have fascinating ideas and positive energy. They are a group of hopeful people who regardless of their backgrounds, lack of basic needs and care, look forward to fulfilling every plan they have envisioned.

Sitting at my desk one morning in June, with a mission to get done with that day’s task which was to finalise reviewing applications for candidates for a youth volunteer programme, I came across an application that caught my attention. From the application, I envisaged a bright boy who made people laugh. Meeting James Samson in a one-on-one interview, I established he was a bright boy who has experienced a tough upbringing but has never given up. Not only did he earn a spot in the volunteer programme, the opportunity opened doors for him to finish his education. Here is what Samson says:

A third born of late Mr. and Mrs. Samson, I was born in Mangochi district, which is in the Southern part of Malawi, in tradition authority Chimwala in Kausi village. My mother is from Mangochi, while my father was from Karonga in the Northern part of Malawi, in the area of tradition authority Kilupula, in Iponga village.

Both of my parents had small businesses. In 2004, my father decided to take the family to his home village where 9 months down the line, he passed away after suffering a minor headache. Way of life made a back flip as my father’s uncle removed us from our house, and took away our family possessions. All this happened because my mother refused to go through a wife inheritance process, which is largely practiced in Karonga.”

A wife inheritance is commonly practiced in Malawi and has been called different names in the different cultures in Malawi:  ‘Kuhara’ ‘Chokolo’ and ‘Kulowa Kufa’ are some of the names used. This practice allows a brother of the deceased to marry the widow. It has of late been a contentious issue in the wake of HIV & AIDS.

“Consequently, in 2007, my mother decided to take us back to Mangochi with the hope of things getting better. Unfortunately, conditions in Mangochi were not friendly either, and we struggled to survive. Amidst such an environment, in 2008, l was selected to Changali Community Day Secondary School, of which I worked extremely hard and scored 13 points in the Malawi School Certificate of Education and was selected to pursue a Bachelors of Education Social Studies at Chancellor College the University of Malawi. I was enrolled under the Government bursary until third year when the school fee was increase by 300% and the Government stopped the support and I couldn’t continue any more and had to temporarily withdraw.

After spending a year at home, things changed dramatically when l was recruited to participate in International Citizen Service Programme on a six-month placement as a team leader. Coincidentally, l was assigned to work in Zomba, a district where chancellor college is located. Through the stipend which l received, coupled with support from one of the lecturers from the college, l had been able to partially resume my studies at chancellor collage and l expect to finish my four-year studies by July 2018. Four years from now, l will be able to fully support my mother and my brothers as well as my community at large.

Life has taught me not to lose hope, as situations that may seem hard and hopeless turn out to be the core sources of next opportunities. Therefore, my message to youths is that they should not lose hope, and they should set more goals, even when everything seems to go against them.”

Nita Ambani says, and I quote, “Education is not a tool for development – individual, community, and the nation. It is the foundation for our future. It is empowerment to make choices and emboldens the youth to chase their dreams.”

Youth empowerment is my passion and am glad to have indirectly contributed to a youth’s success.

The Menchum Fall: Cameroon’s Rural Electrification Power Reservoir

yuh (1) — By Yuh Acho from Cameroon

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity, in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

If I were the President of my country (Cameroon), in order to salvage the power insufficiency all over the nation, I would implement just one policy: that of the construction of a hydroelectric dam over the Menchum Fall which presently has been noted by experts to have an incomparable potential for rural electrification in the country.

LOCATION

Cameroon, fondly referred to as Africa in miniature, is home to this power treasure. The Menchum Fall is specifically located in Menchum Division (20km south of Wum and 30km north of Bafut). The Menchum Division is one of seven divisions of the North West Region of Cameroon. It is a tributary of the Benue River in Nigeria. The North West and South West Regions are the only two Anglophone regions in a Francophone dominated, ten-regioned, bilingual country.

CAPACITY and POTENTIAL

After the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon has the second most abundant hydropower potential on the African continent (with an estimated capacity of 12000MW) and two-thirds of its on-grid installed capacity is powered by hydropower (yet the country is currently harnessing only 5% (721MW) of its enormous hydropower resources through three main hydro power plants namely: Song Loulou 348MW, Edea 263MW and Lagdo, 72MW). Aside from hydropower, the main installed network capacity (298MW) is supplied by thermal power plants.

Cameroon’s currently installed generation capacity stands at 1,475MW. And though Cameroon has a relatively high national electrification rate of 55%, just 17% of the country’s rural regions are electrified while urban electrification rates are as high as 88%.

This makes a special case for rural electrification thus rendering the National Rural Electrification Master Plan even more significant.

The Menchum Dam if constructed should be able to produce an installed capacity of 450MW which would represent a whopping 40% increase in the overall electricity output of Cameroon. This was stated by the Managing Director of Joule Africa, an Anglo-American energy company contracted to construct the dam in March 2012.

According to www.njeitimah-outlook.com/Menchum-Falls/, The Menchum Fall was reputed to be one of the most powerful waterfalls in Africa in the sixties. However, this changed due to deforestation and a resultant drop in water tables.

DIFFICULTIES and PROBLEMS

All the existing dams are all found in the francophone regions of the country thus leaving a bitter taste of a longstanding marginalization in the mouths of the Anglophone community.

Power is below sufficiency even in Yaoundé the capital city as you can hardly go for a full week without power cuts; and that’s at best. Other small quarters of the capital city are counting months and even years of no electricity. It is even worst in rural areas so they have maintained traditional means of lighting (kerosene lamp), wax candles or have adopted alternative sources of lighting such as rechargeable or nonrechargeable battery systems like torches and lamps. Those who can afford have resorted to the moderate solar systems. Large solar panels do exist but that’s reserved to the wealthy.

PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS

As earlier mentioned, the Cameroon government has seemingly awarded contracts a number of times to some energy companies to construct this hydroelectric dam over the River Menchum including Joule Africa in 2012 and CIMA Int’l and ARQ Engineering in 2015. In the beginning of this year there were unverified claims that the contract had been awarded to yet another contractor. Unfortunately as we speak, nothing has been done. As to why nothing has been done so far is a subject for another investigation.

Meanwhile other dams that were started later are very close to completion if not completed. This lackluster attitude by government to follow up on this project is widely perceived as a show bad faith considering that this government is almost absolutely a francophone entity and that the Menchum Fall if constructed will primarily serve the anglophone minority.

Not only are they neglected as a potential power panacea for the country, it is also neglected as a touristic money making machine.

Lambasting the state of this site, Auke VanderHoek of The Vanguard newspaper remarked back in 2009 that, “the Menchum Falls are impressive to see but the long rough ride and the unwelcoming conditions of the site make it not all worth the trouble.” He further says, “Cameroon is the African Continent in miniature. Almost everything that Africa has can be found in this country. Look around and you see it’s a country rich on natural resources and has a huge potential for tourism: impressive, beautiful and adventurous. But what is missing is a good tourism industry.”…and a political will for rapid and sustainable development; I dare add.

OPPORTUNITY FOR INVESTMENT

Cameroon is the most populous State in the CEMAC sub-region and also has the fastest growing population. About half of the total population has access to electricity but less than 25% of rural Cameroon is covered.

However, there are plans to install an additional 720MW of hydropower capacity by 2020 even though experts say amid rising demands from a galloping population and investors, the country will rather need an additional 3GW of energy by the same time. The government is also working on implementing measures to facilitate the introduction of energy efficiency and off grid renewable energy investments.

The government’s Rural Electrification Master Plan aims at electrifying 660 localities through grid by 2030. The potential presented by the Menchum Falls would be a comfortable and reliable power warehouse to this effect as it will level most of the problems of power insufficiency in the country especially in the rural areas. If finally implemented, the Menchum Dam will be the first in the whole of the Anglophone Cameroon and what a relief this will be.

These all culminate in creating a juicy opportunity of investment in the rural electrification domain.

Now the big question is: WHO IS THERE TO GRAB THIS OPPORTUNITY?

The Light Switches That Never Work: Our Electricity Challenge and the Way Forward

Anibe — By Anibe from Nigeria

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

We have been without light for so long that the usual single lit candle is almost too bright to look at. There is a light switch just over the bed I share with my sisters. Only, like others in the house, it hasn’t worked in about five months. The switch is covered in the grease of hundreds of hands that keep hoping it will work.

You see, we have forgotten that these things are supposed to work — switches, water dispensers or even refrigerators. The saddest part for me is how our psyche, as a people, have been adversely affected — we have become as technologically up-to-date as a garden shed.

What more, the once vibrant-coloured walls at the backyard are stained with charcoal from local cooking stoves. Even the neon and white lights that used to flood from Buba’s bar across the road are extinguished as early as 8:00pm. Buba complains of how expensive it is fueling his generators in the current recession.

Recently, to our joy, there have been talks on taking waste management to the next level of reuse: renewable and recycling. Social entrepreneurs and the government talk big on TV about revolutionizing the way waste is treated from the point of generation by involving households and other waste production points in sorting and separation. They tell us how this would also provide health and environmental education to schools.

There have also been alarming reports of nonrenewable sources of energy such as oil, coal and gas depleting and of their contamination of the environment, especially carbon-dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. These reports are partly the reason why there have been calls for the exploration of other sources of energy that are cleaner, continuous and renewable like nuclear energy, sunshine, wind, plant oil, hydro, geothermal, etc.

Evidently, Nigeria has the technology/know-how and raw materials to completely switch to renewable energy. However, our own laws and policies prevent this from happening. Nigeria is an oil-rich country but only a few enjoy our common wealth. The oil industry may stall the development of this move by convincing the government into undermining alternative sources of energy. Apparently, switching completely to renewable energy would upset the comfortable lifestyle of many oil rig owners and marketers.

And so, our government would rather spend billions of Naira on fixing obsolete electricity plants that have refused to work than changing the infrastructure of society to be based on renewable energy. It is no news that we wouldn’t have to be dependent on crude oil for our fuel if we converted, but what exactly is the way forward?

The solution lies in Nigerians rising up to the challenge and understanding that many renewables are pretty modular and don’t have to be applied on a large scale like power plants or nuclear facilities. People can become their own energy producers and this will gradually erode the oil giants’ grip on the society.

Nigerians have to keep in mind that we don’t have to worry too much about running out of our non-renewable sources. Unlike crude oil, new reserves will always pop up and will last us hundreds, if not thousands of years. For us, the idea behind abolishing fossil fuels may just be more than just an approach to the climate change situation, the accessibility and affordability of renewable energy are even more important.

More so, renewable energy systems are clean and free from carbon emissions. Nigerians wouldn’t have to be afraid of the anthropogenic greenhouse effect, acid rain and other negative impacts on health on our environment. Renewable energy has almost no negative influence on health and nature.

We also need local investors who would look forward to investments in renewable energy because it is an investment of value. The kind of investors we need are those with genuine interest in how the product will improve lifestyle and help to reduce negative environmental impact. Here, the growth in terms of money or benefits may not be immediately seen but they will be impacting on social life.

Finally, we need the Nigerian government to start becoming serious about carbon-dioxide emissions, providing subsidized renewable energy manufacturing and incentives for usage (e.g. financial aids for installing solar PV), etc. With initiatives such as these, manufacturing scale will be increased, efficient and cheap for investors and consumers.

With the right awareness, commitment and investments in renewable energy by Nigerians and the government, it is our hope that someday, soon, the light switches would work again.