Professor Dickson Enuma Ozokwelu

NERC Is Like A Football Game Without A Referee – Prof. Dickson Ozokwelu

Professor Dickson Enuma Ozokwelu, a world renowned expert in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is a fellow of American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and Nigerian Society for Chemical Engineers (NSChE), a licensed professional engineer in the State of Tennessee, USA, has a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering and an MBA degree with concentration in Planning and Management. His professional experience includes over 15 years in the US government working, with tenure as Lead Technology Manager in the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and significant leadership roles in reshaping US national energy policies.

Prior to US DOE, Ozokwelu held senior engineering positions in BP North America and Eastman Kodak Chemicals Company. Ozokwelu is also the director and founder of Bestech Energy Corporation, where he pioneered the design, development and manufacture of ultra-energy efficient solar powered air-conditioners, heat pumps, refrigerators, light bulbs, light tubes, and related technologies.

Bestech Energy is an Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EE&RE) company with offices in USA and UAE. Bestech Energy champions the new concept that Energy Efficiency is the key to affordable Renewable (Solar) Energy Installation. He has a broader mission to provide high quality Modular Distributive Green Energy Solutions (MDGES) to both advanced and developing countries. Bestech Energy’s heat pump/air conditioner was recently certified by the US Government’s Energy Star Program.

Ozokwelu has over 40 years of diversified engineering and management experience, spread almost evenly between entrepreneurship, government, industry and academia, with extensive experience in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies like solar electric, solar thermal, wind, and micro hydropower.

In this interview, he posits that fixing Nigeria’s intractable energy crisis is a possibility, saying such could be made possible through Diaspora expertise intervention. Excerpts:

“Since this administration came into office about one and half years ago, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission has been run by a single person, who is also the Acting Chairman. There are supposed to be seven members of the Commission, consisting of one member from each of the six geopolitical zones and a chairman”. 
What is the secret?
The generation, transmission and distribution functions are managed very well by the right professionals and according to all the given guidelines and regulations.
Is this scenario possible in Nigeria?
Yes, if we create enabling environment to make the newly privatised power entities in Nigeria to work more efficiently and play by the rules. This should be the job of a focused National Electricity Regulation Commission managed by competent energy related technocrats and professionals. There have been arguments by labor that the sector shouldn’t have been privatised.
Do you think the sector could have been better handled by the government?
No. The sector is better handled by the private sector any day which by nature is always more efficient than the bureaucratic public sector. The problem with Nigerian privatisations is corruption where senior government officials in power bought the assets being privatized and created inefficient monopolies. Billions of dollars have been spent to stabilize the energy sector, but it seems things are not going the way they should go.
What is your opinion about this?
Corruption.
Are there political solutions to this?
Yes. The major political solution here is to appoint leaders in the power sector, particularly the NERC (Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission) chairman and power minister that have the kind of profiles discussed a priori in this interview. Not doing so will perpetuate the status quo in the power sector and eventual collapse of the sector.
Can investment in electrical power infrastructure development help Nigeria recover from recession?
The electricity industry contributes to economic growth in two ways. First, electricity is an important sector of the economy that creates jobs and value by generating, transmitting and distributing electricity throughout the economy. The electricity industry directly affects the economy by using labor and capital to produce electricity. This role is particularly important when economic growth and job creation are such high priorities around the world.Second, electricity underpins the rest of the economy as an input for nearly all goods and services. As a result, tariff increases and supply interruptions can shake whole economies. For countries like Nigeria that face chronic electricity shortages, continuing disruptions take a heavy toll on the whole economy. As an example, in 2012, the Conference Board of Canada reported that an investment in electricity infrastructure in Canada from 2011 to 2030 with total estimated cost of $347.5 billion, will add an average of $10.9 billion per year to real GDP and create an average of 156,000 jobs per year. Stated in another way, for every $100 million (inflation adjusted) invested in electricity generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure, real GDP will be boosted by $85.6 million and 1,200 jobs will be created.

Also, according to US Energy and Employment report on Construction and Installation in 2015, of the 6.8 million construction jobs in the nation, roughly three in ten workers (27 percent) support the energy industry through generation and fuels, transmission, wholesale trade and distribution, storage, and energy efficiency technology construction. Of these, 1.8 million workers, over two‐thirds (68 percent) are employed by energy efficiency firms.

Lastly, University of California Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education reported recently that small-scale solar can be more equitably distributed than it has been to date and create better jobs than large or utility scale solar (greater than 20 megawatts).

According to international Energy Agency and CNN news of April 1, 2016, 600 million people, or better said, 70 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa currently lack access to electricity. Half of all businesses say that the lack of reliable electricity is a major constraint. Power outages cost African countries an estimated 1 to 2 percent of their GDP annually.

Based on the aforementioned discussions, there is no other better place for Nigeria to invest for recovery from recession than electrical power, particularly small sale distributed wind, solar and micro-hydro power systems. What is needed is a technology that circumvents transmission since 60+ percent of African population including Nigeria are off grid.

Such approach is labour intensive and will therefore create lots of jobs leading to poverty alleviation during implementation. Right after the early part of its implementation, these power systems will begin to usher in energy use related jobs particularly in the rural areas and hence help to pull Nigeria out of recession.

One critical step in the process is implementation. Let the dreamer implement the process. Very often, once we get some idea, and it sounds simple, we think we can do it only to bastardize the whole process, resulting in dismal failure. What is described here is best done by the dreamer, if best results are expected. Let the dreamer implement the entire process. One of the major promises of the present administration in Nigeria is to ensure stable electricity across the country. But that has not been so.

What do you think is the problem? Can you proffer solution to this seemingly intractable problem?
The problem with sustainable generation and distribution of electricity in Nigeria is ridden with many problems. I will attempt to discuss them under the following subheadings:

The absence of well constituted regulatory commission: Since this administration came into office about one and half years ago, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission has been run by a single person, who is also the Acting Chairman. There are supposed to be seven members of the Commission, consisting of one member from each of the six geopolitical zones and a chairman.

To drive the point home, this is like a soccer match going on without a referee. Any of the players can even score goal against his side because there is no competent referee to enforce the rules; hence, so many mistakes are being made in the power sector.

Yet the power sector is the most strategic sector for development of the country! The absence of well trained, qualified, and experienced personnel in leadership positions in the power sector. Because of the technical nature of this sector, we need technocrats with competency in the sector to provide leadership in the sector.

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Being a professor or having a Ph.D does not guarantee competency. We have seen that some academically brilliant fellows sometimes have problem applying their knowledge. So, being a professor, or having a Ph.D is great; but we need those, who, in addition, have relevant experience as well.

It is shameful that we have excellent technocrats of Nigerian origin scattered all over the world whom we congratulate when they are employed by different reputable agencies around the world, instead of getting them home, particularly when we need their skills to solve our national problems. The Nigerian power sector needs emergency attention, and we need well experienced Nigerians in Diaspora to come home and assist us to fix the sector. We need people with not only technical qualification and experience, but also policy experience in the energy sector of advanced countries like USA, people, who have experience working with people from diverse background, good people skills and enough international contacts to attract international technical and financial assistance as needed.

The nominee for the Chairman of NERC, particularly should have the profile presented above, plus passion for helping his country Nigeria.

The answer for this subheading will not be complete without mentioning the Indian experience. In an address by Mr. Yashwant Sinha, once Minister for External Affairs of India, he said, and I quote: “Distinguished Members of Parliament from India and abroad, and ladies and gentlemen, it is my most pleasant duty to welcome all of you here for the ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’. January 9 is a very special day. It was on this day that Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa. The choice of this date for the celebration of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is, therefore, most appropriate. Just as the Mahatma changed the course of Indian history, after his return, I am certain, overseas Indians will play a major role in building a glorious future for India and for the world. An eminent predecessor of mine had outlined India’s vision towards overseas Indians. He declared at a seminar in New Delhi, and I quote: ‘The subject of overseas Indians is one which is very dear to our hearts. Everyone of Indian origin, overseas, is a representative of India and retains many aspects of our cultural traditions and civilisation. Though our sons and daughters have gone abroad to work or to reside there, India will never disown them or fail to appreciate and respect their essential loyalty to the culture and heritage of the mother country.’ These words were spoken 25 years ago by none else than our respected Prime Minister. We have amidst us today entrepreneurs, scientists, economists, scholars, writers, social workers, public figures and national leaders. The Indian diaspora has made a distinctive impact on every one of the countries in which they live by virtue of their loyalty, dedication, hard work and success. Each one of you, who has maintained and at the same time is maintaining your commitment to Bharatiyata or Indianness has done India proud. Every one of you here is an achiever in your own right and as you succeed, India succeeds with you. The love and affection with which the Indian diaspora regards India, its people, its culture, and its concerns, is something which strikes everyone who comes into contact with members of the Diaspora.” Unquote.

Indian technocrats were paid the same emolument as British and America experts, and they went home in droves to develop India. Today, India leads the world in several economic sectors, including health, electronics, auto manufacture, energy, agriculture, and you name it!

Nigeria should emulate India!     The current sector structure is faulty. Current structure has three separate entities, namely generation (Gencos), transmission, and distribution (Discos). This created a problem, where Gencos sell to the Discos through a bulk trader, who does not promptly pay the Gencos. This inability of the Gencos to control their revenue is the major reason why it is difficult for the Gencos to get loan to maintain or expand their operations.

Furthermore, some users of electricity, including government offices have not been paying the Discos and the Discos are citing it as reason for not paying the Gencos through the bulk trader. This needs to be resolved ASAP (as soon as possible) because it is not sustainable. This makes the government to be part of the problem and not the solution. It makes the argument that privatisation is the problem – a weak one.

Transmission lines are not many and they are old and dilapidated to the extent that most of the parts are no longer being manufactured. Some of the power plants recently built do not have pipelines to supply gas to them nor do they have transmission lines connecting them to the grid. As a matter of fact, we do not have adequate transmission lines to evacuate power from some of the generating plants, making the transmission lines the critical factor to deal with, if we are going to have sustainable power.

Typically, in Africa, including Nigeria, about 60 percent of the population, who are in the rural areas are off the grid. Yet any meaningful development should be in the rural area where the productive industries like agricultural processing, farming and manufacturing are or should be.

Absence of energy efficiency in the Energy Policy: Nigeria can save up to 50 percent of the power that is currently being generated, if it introduces a workable energy efficiency policy. This will enable the operators to extend electricity supply to about additional 50 percent of current clients with the current level of generation, subject to availability of the grid to these clients.

This policy, if well implemented, will also reduce tariff, which is so high now, and, therefore, help with curbing inflation and part of the solution to economic recession.

So, in conclusion, what is required is careful planning and participation of experienced Nigerians from any part of this earth, who already have the experience and expertise in the different strategic parts of our economy. Electricity generation and distribution is the most strategic sector for the economic development of any country, Nigeria included.

Everybody knows it. Yet for the past decade we have been leaving this most important sector in the hands of mediocre to manage. How can we be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? We should bring home our experts, especially those, who are capable and willing to come home and help solve our problems in this and other technical sectors. For example, in order to significantly improve state of electricity generation and distribution in Nigeria, a competent NERC chairman should be able to lead a thorough assessment of the status quo in the sector, and work with his team or energy council to develop a good plan to fix the sector.

Next, he will tap from his wealth of experience and international contacts to organise resources for regulation, generation, transmission, and distribution. Resources should be organised along the lines of financial resources, physical resources to include transmission lines, gas pipelines et cetera and human resources to include individuals with expertise, training, qualification and relevant experience in the subject matter space.

Of course, the nominee for the NERC chairman must have good people skills to work well with the Power Minister and other members of the NERC Commission and Energy Council to implement the plan for the sector. If necessary, a state of emergency could be declared in the power sector to circumvent bureaucracy and expedite implementation.

Lastly, based on the definition of management, he should set up measurements of the sectors accomplishments after implementation to know whether his goals are being met, and, if not to tweak his plans again to drive towards his measurable goals.

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