World / China-Africa

Power given back to the people

By Li Lianxing in Abuja, Nigeria (China Daily Africa) Updated: 2014-07-25 08:50

Power given back to the people

China Machinery Engineering Corporation Nigeria Development Limited specializes in operating, managing and maintaining power stations in Nigeria. Provided to China Daily

Rundown Nigerian electricity plants given a new lease of life

Over the years a lack of power generation has severely hampered Nigeria's industrialization process, and the country's people are often given a sharp reminder of that when blackouts deprive them of electricity.

But Nigeria could overcome its shortage of power by concentrating on what it already has, says Liu Hao, marketing manager of China Machinery Engineering Corporation Nigeria Development Limited.

CMEC works chiefly in the power industry, having come to Nigeria in the late 1990s when its main business was selling machinery, Liu says.

Power given back to the people

The company reckons that the country's power stations built before 2000 are not used to their fullest because of mismanagement and poor maintenance, and in this the company has an opportunity to develop its business.

"We specialize in operating, managing and maintaining power stations," Liu says. "The basic equipment is there and ought not be wasted, so we make sure that happens by ensuring proper repairs and maintenance are done."

The shortage of professional skills education in Nigeria is particularly problematic for the power industry, he says. So China as an investor with a great degree of know-how has a lot to offer in this regard.

"In recent years, people here have become increasingly aware of the importance of gaining more skills, and we should do our part to help. In our current contracts we normally send local employees to China for a month of training and then get them to work with Chinese technicians in Nigeria."

After the training courses are completed and an on-site teacher-student relationship is built, most of the local employees make clear progress, but still need more time and experience to master skills. Since 2009, CMEC has sent more than 100 Nigerian workers to China for training.

This year, the company has invited a specialized group from China to evaluate power stations that are not operating or are underperforming.

After the evaluation is done and a course of action is decided, the group will start to work with contractors to refurbish the stations.

Power given back to the people

"At the moment we give top priority to technological training and management skills," Liu says.

If Nigeria wants to draw on the full potential of its power stations, it needs to do much more in promoting maintenance and management skills among its labor force, in which Chinese companies have a huge role to play, Liu adds.

"Nigeria actually doesn't lack power stations. The crux of its poor performance in power supply largely relies on its ill-established transmission network and lack of energy to generate power."

In big cities there is limited capacity to transmit power, and because of that and the unstable flow of power there are outages, he says. In addition, because of harsh natural conditions in remote areas, some people have no power at all.

Another impediment to the country's power industry, Liu says, is the nature of deals between oil and gas companies and power generators, which mean that "energy companies are highly reluctant to supply their products to power generators at a lower price designated by the government".

"They are more likely to sell to factories at a higher price to make more money."

Electricity simply cannot be generated if there is no energy, he says, but Nigeria is well endowed with oil and gas.

CMEC's first power station project in Nigeria, in Ondo state, was completed in 2007. The company was responsible for designing, building and equipping the station, a gas-fired plant with a capacity of 325 megawatts.

However, just two years after the station was completed and handed over to a contractor to run, only three of eight power units were still working as a result of a lack of management skills and proper maintenance, Liu says.

"Initially there was no provision or a separate contract for after-sales services, so we had to go back to this project to get the machinery working again. Many local staff then took part in the process to acquire the skills and techniques needed to keep it running."

That work was completed last October with four power units being repaired and upgraded, adding up to 500 megawatts of capacity.

"We upgraded the gas turbine with more advanced products from General Electric," Liu says.

Power given back to the people

Liu says that because CMEC acted as an energy, procurement and construction contractor, there were many subcontractors on the project, all chosen according to strict bidding rules. Nigerian contractors attach great importance to price because obtaining finance can sometimes be difficult for them, he says.

CMEC now has a research institute and can provide highly professional design proposals, all the while offering a choice of equipment at different prices, he says. So when it bids for a project its prices are competitive.

"But if Nigeria could develop its own talent in this industry, the cost would be a lot lower."

Nigeria's power industry is being privatized, and CMEC regards this as a good chance to further its business in various fields in the sector, including in new and green energy.

"We have won a 100 megawatts' solar power project in Bauchi state in the north and are now discussing details with the contractor."

Chinedu Nebo, Nigeria's minister of power, said this year African countries should adopt solar energy as major source of power generation in the future.

Africa has a huge abundance of mineral resources such as coal, gas and wind for energy, but solar should not be overlooked, he said.

"I don't believe that solar generated energy is too expensive. In the next couple of years it will gain parity with gas and coal."

But Liu says this is just the beginning of the industry in Nigeria and people should be careful about how suitable and sustainable solar energy industry could be. But CMEC is striving to work out the most suitable proposal to better serve the country's power needs, he says.

(China Daily Africa Weekly 07/25/2014 page20)

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