Abundant natural resources in and around our planet have been the secret behind the survival of our species for millions of years. Some resources that are known from the antiquity, specifically iron and coal, paved way for industrial revolution as the foundation for the modern development.
Then comes the almighty petroleum and natural gas consolidating the industrialization and dominating world economy and politics. Many countries, including Nigeria have benefitted immensely from these resources.
Petroleum, gas and coal, which are grouped as fossil fuels, have not been very friendly with the environment. Land pollution from oil spillage and global warming from greenhouse gas emissions are no longer news to us. Despite the ill effects, their discovery is still celebrated for economic reasons. The Nigerian government recently directed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to search for oil in the northern part of the country.
Utilizing a valuable resource for economic gain is what countries do, but solely depending on it can be costly if sustainability is not factored into the equation. This becomes more relevant on energy resources because there are mounting evidences fossil fuels are not for the future.
How sustainable are fossil fuels? To answer this question, we compare the total reserve available to the amount being exploited on a regular basis. As of 2015, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reported that Nigeria has a total of 37,062 million barrels of crude oil and 5,284 billion cubic meters of natural gas proven reserves.
These are undoubtedly significant figures which place the country among the top ten countries with largest reserves in the world for both resources.
Nigeria is also among the top exporters. It is the largest oil producer in Africa and the sixth in the world. NNPC puts the maximum crude oil production capacity at 2.5 million barrels per day and that of natural gas at about 130 million cubic meters per day.
Assuming the production rate remains constant, the country is going to run out of crude oil in about 40 years and natural gas in about 110 years. Even if an equal amount is to be discovered elsewhere in the country, there is not going to be petroleum to fund our oil dependent budget after a century.
These estimates are not far off the global estimates. Experts on world economy posited that if demand for fossil fuels continues at the current rate, world’s oil reserve will run out in about 50 years while natural gas will last for 70 years. Coal stays much longer, for about 150 years.
The reason why fossil fuels can be exhausted is their non-renewability. They are formed at a very slow rate from dead plants and animals deep in the ground. What is being used today was produced millions of years ago. They are therefore finite and cannot easily be replenished after been used up. Not in the next hundreds of centuries at least.
Many countries understand this shortcoming of fossil fuels and have been taking measures to reduce their reliance on them. The move is not only influenced by the future of oil reserves, but also by the imminent danger from global warming being triggered by the burning of the fuels. Many believe that the climate change will cause a forceful halt to oil and gas production before the reserves are even exhausted.
What would then happen to Nigeria, who relies on petroleum to finance almost 80 percent of its budget? Electricity generation in the country is also largely dependent on fossil fuels as 80 percent of the current generation plants is thermal (natural gas) based.
Because the electric power supply is erratic and less than 50 percent of the population is connected to the grid, most households and industries rely on fuel-powered generators for their energy. Basically, if we are to run out of oil today,the country may come to a standstill.
Do we have to wait for that to occur before looking for alternatives? Those in charge of running the government may be no more when that happens, but young people who may live for another 50 years may eventually have to answer that question. That is if we don’t care about what we leave for the generations to come.
Fortunately, there are many avenues to seek for a solution. With the country’s large population and vast fertile land for farming, agriculture can be made to be the major source of revenue. The government and private sectors should also focus on building industries for internal revenue generation.
Nigeria is also blessed with verity of renewable energy sources which can replace nonrenewable for energy generation. Being close to the equator, the sunshine distribution is evenly distributed throughout the year. The average solar radiation is estimated to be about 19.8 MJ per square meter per day and sunshine hours can reach up to nine hours.
According to a study by Charles Adebayo of Global Energy Network Institute, if one percent of the country’s land area is to be covered with solar collectors, it is possible to generate 1,850,000 GWh per year, which would be over 100% of the current electricity consumption. There are also prospects for wind, geothermal, and biomass power generation.
After benefitting from petroleum for decades, it is high time for Nigeria give other natural resources a chance for a better future. The same way, revenues from other resources were used to build petroleum infrastructure, let the oil money be used to industrialize the nation and develop a sustainable energy source. The government has to be commmended for initiating various programs aimed at diversification, we still expect to see more on energy.
Written by Sada.
Sada Haruna is the IT strategist at Green Habitat and a contributor to the blog. He is a PhD student in the department of Environmental Engineering at the University of Ottawa. His current research focuses on safe disposal of toxic mine wastes and remains an ardent advocate of environmental sustainability. He enjoys reading and programs at his leisure time. Follow him on Twitter @H_Sadah