What Really Is Wrong With The Power Sector

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There is just one thing wrong with our power sector. 

image: alearningsystems.ng

Imagine what it would be like if there were only public schools in Nigeria.
Imagine what it would be like if there was only NITEL (no MTN, Airtel, Glo, Etisalat, Visafone, ...)
Imagine what it would be like if there were only only general hospitals (no private hospitals).

Think of the current state of Nigerian Railway Corporation. I'm sure none of the senior staff of NRC take trains to work. The HQ is fast becoming a museum. You will see buildings relatively untouched since they were built in the early 1900s. Even the trains are older than Nigeria. But because we have other alternatives in form of road transport and air transport we don't bother much whether NRC exists or not.

Do you know the easiest way to travel back in time to the 1970s? It is easier than you'll expect. Just go to any community secondary school and you will see the 1970s. But again, we don't care much as long as we can afford the private schools that are everywhere.

We are considered one of the countries that skipped landline telephony straight to GSM telephony. Do you know the magician that made that happen? It's NITEL. If not for Obasanjo's telecom reform we will still be waiting for when someone close to us will travel to our village to be our telephone line to our grandparents. We have never benefited much from NITEL. 

So let's get to PHCN. Why can't there be power always? Well, it's the same reason NRC is not functioning, the same reason NITEL never really functioned and why our public institutions are horrible. 

I studied Electrical Electronics Engineering in the university. I tell you, power is one of the easiest infrastructure to set-up and maintain. I'm sure you know more self-made electricians than accountants or programmers. The rules that govern power systems are very simple and straightforward. In my final year, everyone believed that you pick power option only if you want an easy final year project. Even when I was battling my home automation control system design project, my supervisor advised me to pick a simpler (power-like) project. 

Have you ever thought about it -- you have a transformer for over 10 years and it is still working. In fact, you can have a transformer for 50 years and have no issues with it. It doesn't require servicing nor does it expire. Even the power distribution lines have been built and left unrenovated for over 40 years. And they are still working fine. Go try that in some other industries! That's why NITEL never really worked. They thought they could leave the infrastructure exposed to the elements for decades without changing them. Power systems are very fault tolerant. Rather than stop working completely when things are wrong, it will brown out (low voltage supply) or go off and on. Even when you load a transformer meant to serve 100 houses with 500 houses spread across 20 streets it still works with occasional trip offs. A power station, especially the hydro-powered ones and steam turbine ones we use, are some of the most maintenance low big systems in the world. They require very little work after installation. Even the distribution systems people put most of the blame on is not that they don't work well anymore, it's that our population has grown astronomically in places the initial design never planned for. That's why Lekki will probably never have a good power supply unless some massive re-planning is done to the power system.

On the surface, what is wrong with our power sector is the mentality of build once and leave it alone. They expect that the same infrastructure than supported us when we were a population of just 60 million people should support us now that we are over 150 million and own more power gorging appliances, without even renovating the old infrastructure.

But at the core the problem with our power sector is the government. The same way they run everything they handle into the ground (public schools, NRC, NITEL, ...) they have run the power sector into the ground too. They are a genius at making even the simplest things not work. How hard can it be to run a school, even uneducated rich folks own and run schools. But our government make it look like some extremely hard thing. Our public schools look like remand homes, prisons for young minds. 

It is the government that is doing our power sector.


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