Solution: Fixing the power problem by decentralizing power

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.

Post Author: Mark Essien

My name is Mark Essien, from Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State. I’m a software developer, and I studied in Berlin after completing my secondary school at Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene. I run a software company creating and selling mobile software.

3 thoughts on “Solution: Fixing the power problem by decentralizing power

  • CP-Africa.com

    (January 11, 2011 - 10:26 am)

    Solution: Fixing the power problem by decentralizing power http://goo.gl/fb/LtF5L

  • RE4West Africa

    (January 13, 2011 - 4:20 am)

    Solution: Fixing the power problem by decentralizing power
    http://bit.ly/fHy4cO

  • Don

    (January 13, 2011 - 5:17 am)

    Mark Essien makes a great point with his adaptation of the old "feed-in-tariff". A method that many countries (Germany, Spain) have used to great advantage to promote renewable energy. Mark argues for this method to be used with fossil fuels. See Solution: Fixing the power problem by decentralizing power http://bit.ly/fHy4cO.
    And rightly so. Unlike European countries who have more stable energy supply, Nigeria is still gripped by the inefficiencies and inadequacies of that characterizes the entire continent.
    Mark argues for the development (by the government) of distribution network. Were decentralized energy can be distributed (centralized). Nigeria has not had much success with centralized energy generation and/or distribution. In addition such a system is capital intensive and will not reach the rural areas who need it most.
    Nigerians are accustomed to distributed generation (generating and using their own energy).
    We are in favor of infrastructure development in Nigeria. However, we advocate the development of micro- and mini-grids initially. Excess energy generated should be used locally. Distribution is inefficient and associated theft.
    We would advocate spending the money to help these same local energy generators to develop renewable energy (solar, wind and small hydropower) and build smaller distribution networks.

    The advantages of a renewable energy pathway (instead of fossil fuel) are manifold. An obvious one is reduction in greenhouse gases. Over the life time of the renewable energy resource, they pay for themselves despite the high upfront costs. This approach also plays on the strengths of Nigerian namely generating and looking after their own energy generation. A large distribution network requires maintenance. If a small network fails, it is easier to detect and fix and the power loss is contained.

    Don Copperman
    Chieftain Energy and Utilities, LLC

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