Issue #25   •   Quarter 3/4 Edition   •   December 2018


by Clement Inyambe (CP&S)


solar-panel-mastOne of the greatest challenges of the Nigerian telecoms industry is the high cost of energy. Electric power is considered a major driver of economic development growth, and has remained in the front burner of all government initiatives. The seven point agenda of the Yar’Adua’s government and the vision 20:02:20 all made copious references to the need to guarantee adequate, sustained and steady power supply. A target generation of 6000 megawatt was set to be attained in 2009 and 10000 in 2010, but all of these failed to materialize.

While the government is making frantic effort in fixing the problem of the power sector, almost all business organizations have had to depend on alternative sources to meet their power needs. From inception, all the telecom operators depend largely on generators to power their Base Transceiver Stations (BTS), a situation that has increased significantly their capital expenditures (CAPEX) and operating expenditures (OPEX).

A report in THISDAY publication of Thursday, July 30 2009 stated that MTN spent =N=13 billion on generators in eight years of operation. Each base station is powered by two generating sets, bringing to about 10,000 the number of generators for MTN’s 5,000 base stations across the country, as at the time of the report. The report further put the cost of diesel and maintenance of these large number of generators at =N=500 million per month. All other operators are faced with similar fate, and by the time the total cost generating electricity is put together, it will be mind boggling. Aside cost, traditional diesel generators emit greenhouse gases that have detrimental effect on the environment. Given the 15,000 base stations of operators across the country supported by two generators sum up to a total of 30,000 generators emitting such gases on daily bases.

In view of the critical nature of the power challenge and its effects on environment and tariffs rigidity, it behooves on NCC as the regulator saddled with the responsibility of creating and maintaining a conducive operating environment to begin to encourage research into, and use of other cheaper, cleaner and sustainable alternative energy sources for the telecoms industry, or weigh options on how operators can be incentivized to explore alternative sources of energy. Such proactive measures are imperative to forestall business mortality as is becoming imminent with the reduction of operators on the CDMA platform.

There are quite a range of alternative sources of energy, thermal, hydro, wind, coal, biomass, inverter, solar, etc; but this concept paper x-rays a few of these energy sources, examines the experiences of a couple of countries in tackling the power challenge and proffers some suggestions on what NCC can do to ensure cheaper power to the telecoms sector.

Overview of Alternative Sources of Power

Electricity is generated from various sources- fossil or organic fuel, coal, hydro, thermal, wind, solar, biomass, nuclear, etc. Nigeria relies on two main sources- hydroelectricity and thermoelectricity. This concept paper will briefly evaluate a few sources of energy.

  1. Hydroelectricity
    Canada is the largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world, generating over 60% of its electricity using hydroelectric dams. The source of energy for a hydroelectric dam is water. The mechanical energy of moving water is converted into electricity by spinning large turbines connected to electric generators. Some rivers have either a steep enough grade or sufficient water flow to generate electricity as the water passes directly through the dam. Hydroelectric dams of this type are called “run of the river” dams. Other hydroelectric dams require the creation of an artificial headpond or reservoir which raises the water level on one side of the dam by holding back large volumes of water. (Canadian Energy Research Institute)
         Nigeria also generates hydroelectricity from dams and waterfalls, but the volume is grossly inadequate to meet the teeming population and the industrial requirements.
  2. Wind/ Solar (renewable energy)
    • Solar Energy - Solar energy can be used to power telecom towers. Solar energy solutions would be the optimal choice for alternative energy in remote sites that are not connected to the power grid directly, thereby reducing the need for prolonged use of diesel generators.
    • Wind Energy - There are solutions under various stages of development which converts wind energy into electrical energy which could power telecom towers.
    • Fuel cells - One of the widely emerging alternative energy solutions is the use of fuel cells for powering telecom towers. These cells rely on hydrogen and other hydrocarbons and have zero emissions.
    • DC Based Generators - DC generators save a significant amount of energy by reducing conversion losses. These generators come with a variable speed engine that delivers major fuel and carbon options at lower loads.

Renewable Energy Initiatives in India

India adopted a plan with an implementation strategy for the electricity sector to produce 7200 megawatts by 2020. Though India started its renewable energy programme way back in 1981, the government established the full-fledged ministry, The Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources, now called the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), in 1992. The fact that India is the first country to establish such a ministry signals the importance given to renewable energy sources by the government in its future plans to meet energy needs.

Broadly speaking, the renewable energy could be divided into two types depending on the mode of harnessing it. These two types are grid-connected renewable energy and off-grid applications. As the names suggest, the former involves electricity generation from renewable sources where the generators are connected to the electricity grid, while the latter deals with renewable energy generations in standalone mode, such as solar lantern, biogas plants, etc. The Indian government, through several pronouncements of policy measures, has provided a significant push in promoting both forms of renewable energy.

Today, the MNRE has one of the world’s largest programmes for promotion of renewable energy, as a result of which India has established nearly 20,000 MW of grid connected renewable energy capacity and more than 500 MW of off-grid capacity. The renewable energy through solar power comes at the end, with an installed capacity of 37 MW.

The most dominant renewable energy technology has been wind. With more than 70 per cent share in the total renewable energy capacity, it has a lion’s share. The dominance of wind is expected to continue during the least the 12th plan, in which government is planning to install 11,200 MW out of 18,700 MW total renewable energy capacity.

Traditionally, renewable power generation capacity has been set up largely through private sector investment. According to estimates, more than 70 per cent investment in this sector has come from private players. In future also, the private sector is expected to lead investments in this sector. This is going to open huge opportunities for it. Of course, the government will have to put in place strong, clear and investor- friendly legal, policy and regulatory framework.

To Be Continued ...