The Nigerian Power Problem: Deaths, Generator Fumes and Engineering ResearchBy Isa Kolo
Published on 1 May 2015
The pursuit of an uninterrupted power supply has haunted the nation for years. Offshoots of this problem such as hindrance to the success of small and medium-sized enterprises easily come to mind. The cost of fueling generator sets have become commonplace in the overhead costs of Nigerian businesses the largest market for diesel and gas generators in Africa.
According to Vanguards newspaper article, the import of generator sets is expected to reach $950.7 million (N151.16 Billion) by 2020. However, a relatively underrated yet grievous issue is the fatalities that occur in the search for power supply. Nigeria recorded up to 10000 deaths due to generator fumes between 2008 and 2014Furthermore, it was recently reported that a couple was killed in Ogun state by generator fumes. A bricklayer provoked to fury also ended his neighbour’s life in a clash due to generator fumes which the deceased deemed unbearable. The use of ad hoc generators for electrical power is gradually unveiling a number of negative externalities. Worse still, even though gas generators are on the rise, diesel generators which are more susceptible to emitting fumes dominate the Nigerian household power generators market.
As students, researchers, thinkers and concerned citizens, is there anything that we could do other than blame the government for inadequate power supply? Amy Smith is a Senior Lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. As a child, she was exposed to the extremely poor conditions in India which left an indelible imprint on her. She grew up to be an inventor devoted to designing technologies for the developing world and founded a vibrant lab dedicated to this very purpose – the MIT D-Lab. Similarly, Amy Bilton, with a background in Aeronautics, established a research lab committed to devising water and energy solutions for the developing world. The list does not stop as another Amy – Amy Banzaert – wrote her PhD thesis on the investigation of the viability of waste-based cooking fuels for the developing world. These cooking fuels provide an alternative to the more hazardous wood-based charcoal.
Would it be possible to study various fuels and their effects with more depth? Could deeper probes be made into associated poisonous emissions such as carbon monoxide, an inconspicuous yet deadly gas? What fume and particle dosage would ensure safety with regards to small-scale generator usage? Why have gas generators which are less hazardous not dominated the Nigerian market? What about other power sources like solar energy? How do these compare with generators as alternatives for power supply?
Despite the connection with MIT and Mechanical Engineering, the lives of the three Amy’s embody exemplary measures. These ladies sincerely strived and keep on striving to improve the lives of the less privileged proving that researchers could make a difference in their own way. We need to do less of pointing fingers and more of action-oriented reflection on how to proffer real sustainable solutions. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
By Isa Kolo