Mark Essien, a Nigerian software developer writes about his solution for fixing the power problem in Nigeria. He originally published this post at Nigerian Progress, a new website that collects user-contributed articles about how Nigeria can be improved, one step at a time.
By Mark Essien
Nigeria faces an electricity crisis, even as millions of megawatts go wasted everyday. In cities all over the country, generators are powered on that are used at 20% to 30% capacity. The remaining 70% could be pumped into the grid, and could supply a lot of people with electricity.
In many countries (like germany), the dynamic part of power is supplied by hydro-carbon based generators. The reason is that the need for power fluctuates over a day, during peak hours, perhaps 20% more electricity is needed than off-peak hours. So there is a necessity for power that can quickly be switched on and off depending on requirements. Nuclear energy cannot be quickly switched on and off, so it represents the stable supply. Coal is faster to switch on and off, so it supplies another percentage, but the most dynamic aspect is supplied by diesel and gas engines. So it’s not an uncommon scenario to power a country with diesel.
My idea is simple: The government invests in a modern distribution system with town based distribution centers. This means that every town has a central energy authority that can collect electricity from various sources, and can distribute this electricity back to different users.
If I own a generator, I go to the center in my town, and I register my generator, and receive a device that I install on my generator and that allows me measure how much power I contribute to the grid. This device communicates wirelessly (via GSM) to the town central grid. On this device is listed the current demand for power, and the current price that is being paid for it.
When the price and the demand is appropriate, I switch on my generator and I start feeding power into the grid. And I immediately start earning money.
The distribution center receives all the power from the various generators and sells it to people who want it via scratch cards. Everyone who buys a scratch-card also has a similar device where he enters the number of his scratch card and sets the amount he is willing to pay for electricity.
The price of electricity fluctuates depending on demand and on supply. When there is high supply and low demand, the price drops. When there is high demand and low supply, the price increases, making it worthwhile for people with generators to power on their generators. They immediately start earning money.
When this distribution mechanism is in place, power will immediately come to all the towns. When the government starts building dams and nuclear power sources, they simply start selling to the same distribution centers, and the price of electricity gets cheaper, and there is then less need for the generators.
Once the technology is in place, there is a commercial incentive for people to connect their generators to the grid, as they then subsidize their costs. There is an incentive for the owner of the distribution system in the town to make sure people are able to buy his electricity, as only then does he earn money (so broken cables get fixed immediately). There is an incentive for the government to start supplying electricity to the distribution centers, as they can earn more money.