The major differences between fossil fuel and renewables as sources of energy can be found in two words: reliability and exhaustibility. Fossil fuels are controllable and readily available, but not inexhaustible. However, renewable energy, such as biomass, sun, wind, and water, is somewhat unreliable because we don’t control the energy to be generated, but they are inexhaustible.
Nigeria’s power generation is currently dominated by fossil fuels – petroleum products, coal and gas. According to the country’s Department for Petroleum Resources (DPR), more than 81 percent of the total energy consumed in Nigeria is produced using petroleum products and gas, while hydropower generates just 17.59 percent.
The country, despite its abundant renewable energy resources, still generates less than 5,000 mega watts of electricity for its more than 180 million population. Yet, Nigeria is not totally running on unclean energy, as the country currently has four hydroelectric power plants generating power alongside fossil fuel plants. However, energy experts are of the view that in order for developing economies, like Nigeria, to meet their ever-growing energy needs, they must diversify their renewable energy sources to encompass solar, water, wind, and even biomass as their developed economies counterparts have done.
The advantages of utilizing the different forms of renewable energy cannot be overemphasised, especially where population growth far outstrips the country’s capacity to generate power and its industrial sector needs are rising; with the attendant consequences of environmental pollution.
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The most common form of renewable energy used in Nigeria is biomass, but it is used unconventionally. With about 70 percent of Nigerians living in rural areas with little or no access to conventional energy resource, biomass, which includes trees, are cut down and used as fuelwood.
According to experts, this is more harmful to the environment as it causes deforestation and air pollution, which is exactly the opposite of what the promotion of renewable energy is about. It continues to be grossly underutilized, especially waste materials.
Samuel Adaju, Project Manager of Bank of Industry (BOI)/United Nations Development Project (UNDP), Access to Renewable Energy Project, said that “we have adequate biomass resources for biomass energy in Nigeria because there are waste like sawdust, wood chips, rice husk and corn stalks, which should not waste away. We can convert them into energy and at the same
time also, biomass sources like the waste.”
Also, solar energy continues to be the fastest growing source of electricity in the world, but Nigeria is yet to harness this powerful resource especially for off-grid places. Since most Nigerians live in areas with little or no access to power grids, but there is plenty of sun, solar energy generation is only logical, renewable energy experts say.
Solar energy generation is more promising in the Northern part of the country given its high level of solar radiation. According to the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, (NIMET), the nation receives 4909.212 kilowatts of energy from the sun which is equivalent to about 1.082 million tons of oil daily.
Though wind energy generation is limited in the world as it produces 2.5 percent of the world’s energy and even more so in Nigeria, and hasn’t gained ground yet, it is China’s fourth largest energy provider. Strong winds have been recorded in the middle belt and hilly northern parts of the country in places like Katsina, Zamfara, and Sokoto and are yet to be harnessed to complement solar and other forms of energy used in the country.
As renewables advocates are clamouring for diversification in the use of renewable energy, given that they are not controllable and thus limiting efficiency when relying on resources outside of human control, many experts say now is the time for Nigeria to take advantage of the opportunities and, especially, the decreasing cost of building renewable energy plants as scientists keep making discoveries to make renewable energy more efficient and cost-effective.