How You Can Latch on FG’s Agric Revolution to Boost Electric Generation

By Idika Agwu Aja

With recession biting hard, life has become so difficult and opposite of what it used to be.  The Federal, State governments, corporate organizations, individuals, etc. are adopting several strategies to survive and overcome the situation.  From the center, the Federal government is focusing more on agriculture to diversify the economy via various schemes.  One of such schemes is rice farming revolution.  It is encouraging to note that the CBN has opened a finance access window for States willing to go into rice farming to tap into.  In 2017, the Federal government through the CBN launched “Rice Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.” with over N23 billion expended under the scheme across States.

Apart from the CBN initiative, corporate organizations are equally working in same direction to ensure self-sufficiency in rice production.  Companies like Olam Nigeria Limited, Dangote, etc. are working towards achieving self-sufficiency. Olam Nigeria Limited has a rice farm located at Ondorie in Nasarawa State with a total farmland of 12,920 hectares.  Already 4,450 hectares are under cultivation, with a further 3,000 hectares targeted for 2017/2018.  Even some known rice producing States like Ebonyi, Abia, and of recent Anambra have all increased their production capacity.  In 2018, the Ebonyi state government banned the sale and consumption of foreign rice in the state as part of the state government’s move to support rice farming in the state.

Albeit this spirited intentions of the CBN and other stakeholders towards agricultural/rice revolution, one potential environmental threat that poses great challenge, just like any other sector, is power. Ebonyi State – one of the major producers of rice in Nigeria, resonated, this energy challenge. According to the State, less than 50% of the 425 mills/industries operating in Abakaliki, especially within 300 square-meter area, are connected to the grid. Even those industries connected, receive only around 4 to 5 hours of electricity per day and so utilize diesel generators for the remaining period of time to meet their electricity needs.  This increases operating cost, and as well the price of the product in the market.  Apart from the energy problem, the rice husk constitutes environmental hazard, if not utilized. Just like the Abakaliki rice cluster which has not been put to any meaningful use since the cluster started around 1963. The husk mountains catches fire during dry season and burn through months and people fall into it and get burnt.

In order to achieve and sustain this initiative as well as overcome the inherent environmental challenges and threats, urgent attention should be given to using agricultural waste to generate electricity. Apart from seeing to the sustainability of the FG agricultural revolution, it will as well curb the problem of massive undersupply of power, currently being experienced in Nigeria and de-emphasize the much dependence on fossil fuel generation.

Good enough, the platform has been set as the National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy 2015 has set a target for Nigeria to achieve 16% of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2030, compares to only 0.8% renewable energy consumption in 2012.  So, the Ebonyi state government initiative, to build a 5.5 MW Biomass energy plant for the rice cluster using the risk husk as feedstock is commendable and should be encouraged. 

Though Renewable Energy is new in Africa, but the prospect is growing. Even David Donnelly of Mazars LLP shares same opinion.  According to him, “the prospects for renewable energy in Africa can only be understood in the context of the massive undersupply of power in most of the continent. Renewable energy investment is viable only when projects are implemented as part of a coherent plan to widen access to affordable electricity and improve the reliability of its supply”

The good news is that now in Africa, renewable energy sector has taken great strides. Clean Energy Africa Finance Guides in its 2016 edition rates South Africa, as the most advanced African renewables market, accounting for approximately 50% of all large-scale installed capacity across the continent. In April 2015, the South African government announced plans to procure an additional 6.3 GW through the highly successful Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programmme (REIPPPP). Around 13 GW of renewables power was to be procured through the programme. Even countries outside South Africa, where the power shortage is most acute are making strides in renewable energy. Egypt and Morocco established renewable energy programmes many years ago but many other countries have announced ambitious renewable energy targets.  Since the beginning of 2013, 25 large scale renewable energy projects with an aggregate capacity of 2.1 GW have been brought online in Africa. 16 of these 25 large scale renewable plants are located in South Africa The majority of this capacity is located in South Africa, Morocco, Kenya and Egypt.  

Biomass energy is electricity produces from biomass fuels. Biomass renewable energy plant converts abundant agricultural residue, such as maize cobs, rice husks, coffee husks, and cotton stalks; animal products and municipal solid waste into a clean fuel.  

“Biomass-based power systems are unique among non-hydro renewable power sources because of their wide range of applicability to a diverse set of needs. Biomass systems can be used for village-power applications in the 10–250 kW scale, for larger scale municipal electricity and heating applications, for industrial application such as hog-fuel boilers and black-liquor recovery boilers, in agricultural applications such as electricity and steam generation in the sugar cane industry, and for utility-scale electricity generation in the 100 MW scale. Biomass-based systems are the only non-hydro renewable source of electricity that can be used for base-load electricity generation.

Biomass plants could be driven through gasification, pyrolysis or combustion technology. The choice of technology for biomass conversion should be based on demonstrated minimum efficiency of at least 35% or higher.  Combustion based technologies are more profitable over their life cycle than gasification and pyrolysis, despite higher operating costs (Caputo et al, 2005).  It provides overall efficiency of conversion of inputs to power by 85% and is a reliable technology that provides continuous operation and supply of power with minimal waste generation and meets environment standard. Other non-toxic byproducts like fertilizer/soil additive and thermal energy from the starchy water as fuel for cooking and rice boiling can be generated from the technology.

Most modular Biomass Plants have project implementation schedule of about 15 months.  Straight line return on investment could be as low as 2.45 years with tariff of about $.8/kwhr, depending on plant capacity.

Biomass rice husks to power plants, have been installed and in use in places like India, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and other parts of the world.

Biomass renewable energy is a veritable platform for the sustainability of the Federal government agricultural revolution programmes. With the agricultural/rice revolution, the future is bright for biomass renewable energy in Nigeria. The FG, should, through its agencies; Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), CBN, Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) provide the right policy frame work and ensure that finance is provided for the operators in the entire power sector value chain. The muted idea of floating a “Power sector bond” by NBET should be rejigged and implemented as matter of urgency.  With the bond, the limited recourse financing being demanded by the equipment/technology developers, against the normal non-recourse financing for projects of this magnitude, maybe due to the environmental, political, economic, technical, etc. risks peculiar to an emerging/developing market like Nigeria would have been taken off. This is the time to take advantage of this current recession to increase our energy generation through an embedded biomass renewable energy from our agricultural waste.

Idika Agwu Aja, writes from Lagos

E-mail: idikaaja@yahoo.com08034003768