Pursuing a viable energy development plan in Africa has many obstacles, and what I learned at the 2012 Energy Africa conference is that many who work in the field have experienced similar challenges. There are complications, such as lack of regulatory and legal consistency to encourage investment, and difficulties addressing development of energy sources without infrastructure. Yet governments need the financial resources that come from energy development to build the infrastructure. Many here hope to find energy solutions that closely mimic Africa’s amazing leap forward in telecommunications, allowing them to bypass completely the infrastructure development path followed by western nations. But what is clear is that each nation must find the best fit for its people. In Nigeria, there is a push to address the lack of regulatory structure with a plan to develop its abundant natural gas resources while advancing infrastructure development. The Gas Master Plan is a roadmap that will hopefully spur investment by creating a stable legal environment where investors can feel more confident about risking their capital. According to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), “The Master Plan is a guide for the commercial exploitation and management of Nigeria’s gas sector. It aims at growing the Nigerian economy with gas by pursuing three key strategies: 1. Stimulate the multiplier effect of gas in the domestic economy. 2. Position Nigeria competitively in high-value export markets. 3. Guarantee the long-term energy security of Nigeria.”
The current governor of the River State, Rotmi Amaechi, was kind enough to give ICOSA an exclusive interview at the 2012 Energy Africa event. Currently, it is estimated that 51 percent of Nigerians have access to energy. When asked how quickly they may be able to get that number to, say, 80 percent, Governor Amaechi told me, “It depends on how successful the reforms are. Reforms will encourage investors, and when you have investments, we can then deal with the challenges of delivering energy to the urban and rural areas. I think that with investment, we may be able to reach 80 percent by 2016, possibly 2018. Because what Nigeria needs now, without major industries, is about 8000mw.” Governor Amaechi also noted that the lack of infrastructure is a great challenge, but micro-grids and many renewable energy solutions don’t help them develop energy infrastructure in the urban and suburban areas of Nigeria.
Governor Amaechi illustrated Nigeria’s current situation in this way: “Currently, there is no infrastructure for gas. So what the Master Plan does is address the absence of infrastructure. So what it does is bring gas to areas that do not have access to it currently. I think the most important thing for government is not (to address the energy need) in the rural areas first. We are looking at urban and suburban areas and the importance of industrial development. You have to address poverty and employment and the role of industrialization. So if you need to address poverty and unemployment, then you have to focus on developing technology and industrialization. When you give power to industries, companies and technologies, you create employment. That would then extend to the rural areas.” While renewable energy solutions do work well in more remote areas of the country, bringing energy to the masses is the first priority.