The last few decades have seen a tremendous increase in clean energy use to provide grid and off-grid electricity. The case is not entirely different in Nigeria. However, adopting clean energy solutions in Nigeria stems from an urgent need to provide electricity to the 80 million mostly rural dwellers. While making progress in solar, the off-grid industry seems to have neglected developing small hydropower (SHP) plants for electrification, despite the potential to bridge the electricity gap through embedded generation and decentralised supply.
The potential for small Hydropower (SHP) in Nigeria is grossly underexploited. There are 17 already existing hydro dams and three small hydropower projects recognised and owned respectively by the Federal Government. These power plants were intended to serve the surrounding rural communities, but they are still without electricity today. Such negligence amounts to wasted years of data collection and survey for these sites, favourable heads, flowrates, and other surrounding topographical conditions. These towns are far behind in terms of development and exposure owing to the lack of electricity.
Picking Up the Dropped Balls
It would be antithetical to ignore the potentials Nigeria has to harness SHP for power generation. Both completed or otherwise; previous attempts show that the country has barely scratched the surface in reaping the benefits of SHP for the local economy. The first signs of seriousness to explore SHP in Nigeria would be the Goronyo, Ikare, and Oyan Dam power plants’ revitalisation and operation. There are potentials to refurbish in these areas and include medium to low voltage grids over defined areas. Therefore, the Federal Government should consider involving private sector participants in the financing, development, and operations of these plants as embedded or completely off-grid systems. The favourable terrain and already existing infrastructure indicate possible high-profit potentials from these projects.
Apart from previous attempts, the Rural Electronification Agency, Federal Ministry of Power, and Federal Ministry of Environment should return to earlier identified potential sites and make them available for public-private partnerships for development and operations. Moreover, there is a need to consider exploring further potential sites considering available innovations in SHP. Organisations including UNIDO, UNESCO, and the World Bank have already set the precedence for such explorations; therefore, stakeholders can apply the lessons learned to further attempts. A few of these lessons include the need to create awareness, build capacity and prioritise productivity.
Awareness Creates Possibilities
Associations like the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN), Association of Mini-Grid Developers (AMDA) Nigeria, and the Council for Renewable Energy Nigeria should actively advocate for more research and exploration of SHP potential across the country. Such an approach diversifies the attention of only solar power and creates room for more vocations to relate within the industry. These organisations can also liaise with FMWR, FME, and other relevant government agencies to revitalise interest in SHP.
Further to exploiting the country’s small hydropower development, an urgent need is to establish a centre that will offer technical training for interested stakeholders and investors seeking to venture into SHP development in various feasible localities. Such capacity-building efforts will focus on initial site studies (including geological investigation and water flow characteristics), feasibility studies, development planning, construction, operations and maintenance, and monitoring & evaluation of projects.
Adequate capacity building will positively impact partnerships and bankable project development, which will attract funding to boost industrial growth in the benefitting regions. Capacity-building should also involve proper knowledge management, including creating knowledge repositories, ensuring continuity in learning, and creating a sustainable cycle.
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Attach Projects to Productive Centres for Agriculture, Commerce, and industry
A practical approach to SHP projects’ deployment is to target current and potential commercial and industrial clusters. Such an approach improves the economic viability of undertaking hydropower projects. Besides collecting reliable data on environmental characteristics, such an approach would require proper economic feasibility studies of regions to identify areas with potential for industries and businesses. Research would involve identifying target beneficiaries alongside their needs; it would also be possible to get multiple uses out of the facilities. For instance, in an agricultural community, the SHP plant can provide electricity for processing while simultaneously channelling water for irrigation and processing. In factories, such projects can provide both electricity and water for factory processes.
Innovations: Highway to Even More Potential
Technological advancements in SHP turbines increase the potential to explore more sites while reducing successful projects’ barriers. The innovations provide systems that allow direct relations with nature without destroying the local ecosystems. Moreover, lower maintenance efforts are required compared to the conventional SHP systems, and costs are comparable to other renewable technologies. These innovations also overcome the seasonal intermittency of production, a common barrier to exploring SHP systems. Therefore, SHP systems achieve more efficient power generation regardless of the seasons. Such innovations exist and work in countries like India, Germany, the USA, and South Africa. These can apply to potential sites in Nigeria.
A recent SHP innovation is the low-head, turbulent turbine. While a standard hydropower project requires a minimum head to generate the necessary force to produce power, the turbulent turbine innovation can work for heads that are less than 5 meters. This type of turbine expands the array of flowing water bodies and potential sites for exploration. It can generate up to 200kW per turbine, reaching multiple megawatts as a decentralised group. They also work at a capacity factor of at least 95 percent, making them more efficient than solar systems at 20 percent. Given the Levelised Cost of Energy of 0.04 US$/kWh, they are cost-competitive with other renewable energy technologies. The turbines also present minimal environmental impact and can be used in both rural and urban settings.
Another notable innovation is the hydrokinetic turbine. The hydrokinetic turbine only depends on the flow of water to operate, unlike conventional hydropower systems that depend on potential energy through dams, weirs, and other civil structures. This feature gives the turbine both cost and environmental benefits, as there is no need to build separate infrastructures apart from an anchor point. The small capacity (5kW) turbine also serves as a photovoltaic in a hybrid system, ensuring a stable year-round power supply. Its year-round production ability reduces the cost of technology, below solar photovoltaic (PV) and diesel generators.
The SHP is a critical technology in providing renewable electricity to rural areas in developing countries. The intrinsic economic, technical and environmental benefits of SHPs make it significant in the world’s present andfuture energy mix, especially in the developing economies.
SHP is a potential tool for Nigeria in her pursuit to attain mass electrification. In this respect, Nigeria must double down on its efforts to harness SHP in rural communities. The intrinsic economic and social benefits of SHP make it significant in Nigeria’s future electricity mix.
While Nigeria has barely scratched the surface in terms of its electricity goals, it stands a chance of getting closer while improving its local economies if it explores its SHP potentials. Innovations to ensure reduced cost already exist around the world; the off-grid industry needs to harness those. Additionally, environmental risks are negligible for pico- and micro-scale hydropower projects and can be mitigated with mini and small-scale ones. There is much work to do in exploring further potentials. Efforts by stakeholders at creating awareness and building capacity can cause SHP to outpace other forms of renewable technologies.