• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Petroleum engineering professor urges Nigeria to explore opportunities in energy transition

Petroleum engineering professor urges Nigeria to explore opportunities in energy transition

As more threats against oil/gas economy emerge with recent divestment deal signed by 25 countries with some global mega banks, a Nigerian professor of petroleum engineering and former vice chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, Joseph Ajienka, has urged Nigeria to rather explore the many opportunities in the energy transition.

Ajienka, who is renowned for setting up the famous Total E&P-backed Institute of Petroleum Studies (IPS) in the UNIPORT said at the Professor Walter Ollor 71st birthday celebration in Port Harcourt that though the world is developing technologies for renewable energy production and utilization, but that the energy mix which includes fossil fuels will remain until well over 2050.

Ajienka spoke as guest lecturer at the 2nd Walter Ollor Colloquium on Sustainable Development titled: The Transition to Renewable Energy: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development at the Africa Hall for the Performing Arts, Walter Ollor Center, Walter Ollor Layout, East-West Road, Akpajo, Port Harcourt.

The petroleum engineering professor said the policies propagated by developed economies would have severe implications for developing countries that are not even energy-sufficient and thus do not enjoy energy security. “Developed countries are making policies to cut back investments in international oil companies (IOCs). Already radical environmentalist groups have reportedly sponsored members into the boards of international oil corporations (IOCs) and are clamouring for divestment in oil economy.

Ajienka, now Pro-chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council of proposed Walter Ollor University pointed to what he calls a big shock that took place at the recent international conference attended by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, in Glasgow. This was when 25 countries and public finance institutions announced their commitment to end financing overseas fossil fuel energy projects by 2022. “They pledged to shift their attention to clean energy. A statement jointly released by these parties, including the U.S., the EU, UK, and Canada, noted that the action was informed by the mission to align their international public support towards the clean energy transition. The statement was also backed by five public banks, including the East African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank with a plan to mobilise $17.8 billion a year for the clean energy transition and keep the Paris Agreement of 1.5°C warming limit alive.”

He said the implications of this development for Nigeria as with other countries in developing economies that rely mainly on fossil fuels are obvious. “These countries may be prone to financial challenges and divestment in the oil and gas industry in the coming years. Oil drives Nigeria’s growth as it accounts for about 65 percent of government revenue and more than 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings.

“The World Bank reported that Nigeria was highly vulnerable to the global economic disruption caused by COVID-19, particularly due to the decline in oil prices. Oil accounts for over 80 per cent of exports, a third of banking sector credit, and half of government revenues. In 2018, Some 40 per cent of Nigerians (83 million people) lived below the poverty line, while another 25 per cent (53 million) were vulnerable. The number of Nigerians living below the international poverty line is expected to rise by 12 million between 2019 and 2023.”

He recalled that Nigeria and indeed sub-Saharan Africa suffer from low energy access, high cost of cooking gas forcing people to use fire wood thus causing deforestation. “Nigeria has been facing pervasive security challenges, unemployment and the burden of debt servicing. So how do we fund our infrastructural development with divestment in the oil industry?”

Reviewing what Nigeria did at the conference, Ajienka said: “At the recently concluded United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, President Muhammadu Buhari told the global conference that the desertification in the North, drought in the Centre, pollution in the coastal areas are enough evidence for all to see.

Read also: COP26: PUTTRU releases discussion paper on sustainable energy transition in Africa

“The president said Nigeria targets 2060 to achieve net-zero emissions; That Nigeria has an Energy Transition Plan which requires $1.5 Trillion in 10 years to bridge the infrastructure gaps for transition; That gas will play an active role in our national energy transition up to 2040.

“To achieve this target, Nigeria must curtail gas flaring which the country does not have the political will to do since 2005 when gas flaring was outlawed but is still prevalent.

The toxic fumes from gas flaring cause acid rain, health problems, and increase the risk of global warming. Besides gas flaring, the Niger Delta has been devastated by oil pollution. Anyone who visits Ekerekana Community in Okochiri, Okrika, would see the environmental devastation caused by the Refinery effluent water. There is also the current challenge of illegal artisanal refineries causing unprecedented air pollution with a blanket of soot and massive environmental damage; a problem which seems to defy any solution because of the suspected collusion between the barons and security agencies.

“On the presidential pledge at COP26, the Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ebonyi State, Professor Chuks Okereke, in an interview with Premuim Times said it is good news that President Buhari pledged a plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 but the question is where the numbers came from. He said the details are not in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) submitted by the Nigerian government.

“In the private sector presentations at the COP26, Billionaire Jeff Bezos announced The Bezos Earth Fund, a 10 billion US dollars fund, to be allocated to projects dealing with climate change. Other world leaders such as the UK Prime Minister and the US President announced financial commitments that would support activities in deforestation in countries like Brazil and South Africa to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030.”

Examining the global energy demand forecast, however, Ajienka noted that the regional, African, and global energy supply mix forecasts up to year 2040 show that fossil sources of energy such as coal, oil and gas will continue to be dominant. “There will be declining demand for oil and coal with increasing prominence of gas and renewables. Data from Africa Energy Outlook 2019 published by the international Energy Agency (IEA) illustrated the severity of the challenge.”

The expert said petroleum is not only needed as fuel for transportation, it has many other uses. “Thus demonizing petroleum as a source of environmental concern is solving the problem by half. The demand for petroleum products will be with us for some time particularly for developing countries that depend on fossil oil and gas resources for economic development.

On power supply, he went on, Nigeria the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, has the potential to generate 12,522 MW of electric power from existing plants, but is only able to distribute about 4,000 MW, which is insufficient for a country of over 195 million people. “The Nigerian power sector experiences many broad challenges related to electricity policy enforcement, regulatory uncertainty, gas supply, transmission system constraints, and major power-sector planning shortfalls that have kept the sector from reaching commercial viability.”

Ajienka noted that there are consequences for transgressing against any aspect of nature. He stated that it is known that such phenomena had taken place in world history. “Many may have heard faintly about the lost continent of Atlantis. This took place when the moon came so close to the earth and with a lunar pull, sucked the waters up. The cosmic happening was connected with the failure of mankind to live in harmony with the perfect Will of The Creator. The consequences of our many and repeated transgressions invite cosmic harvests when The Creator sends Comets as Harbingers of His Justice.”

Focusing on what he called the two faces of the green coin: Energy Transition and Climate Change, the guest lecturer chose to dwell on Energy and Environment plus Education that he said could bridge the two. He relied on the Nobel Prize Winner Richard Smalley who in 2003 listed the ten major global challenges for the next 50 years as energy, water, food, environment, poverty, terrorism/war, disease, education (access), democracy, and population.

To emphasise the long term importance of oil and gas, Ajienka pointed to Nigeria’s fuel supply, saying the country is still a net importer of refined products thus suffering from self-inflicted economic underdevelopment despite the nation’s four non-producing refineries. “We are all looking up to Dangote refinery for rescue. Dangote refinery is a 650,000 barrels per day (bpd) integrated refinery and petrochemical project under construction in the Lekki Free Zone near Lagos. It is expected to be Africa’s biggest oil refinery and the world’s biggest single-train facility. Upon completion hopefully in 2022, this project will contribute to refined product supply security and save Nigeria from the economic strangulation of fuel subsidy.

“As part of the energy transition agenda, many developed countries are switching to electric cars and so will divest from oil refining. Thus the Dangote refinery will play a major role in supplying refined products to the African market.”

He said the Niger Delta States that depend on 13 per cent derivation from oil revenue and allocations to intervention commission for development must brace up for the consequences of the impact of energy transition as it gains global momentum. He listed oil corporations in Nigeria that are changing their names to energy companies.

Saying every challenge is an opportunity, Ajienka stated that the consequence of energy transition throws up opportunities. “The higher educational institutions as think-tanks of society if properly motivated should come to the rescue just as former British Prime Minister (Theresa May) had boasted that their universities would provide solution of BREXIT failed them. “Nigerian universities and research institutes should engage in productive research to find solutions to climate change and energy transition. Higher Education Institutions should play in the premier league of the new global knowledge economy.

“With the energy transition, change is taking place in petroleum engineering departments all over the world. Petroleum Engineering Schools are redesigning their curricular and changing focus.”

He however, quoted one of the foremost professors of petroleum engineering, Farouq Ali, who said coal, oil and gas would be around for another 1000 years, and that the belief that these energy sources would be replaced in 20 years by renewable energy was not true. Ali had said despite the Covid pandemic with only eight per cent reduction in oil use, the prices crashed big time, showing that solar energy should not be expected to replace fossil fuel overnight.

Ajienka, who agreed that energy transition refers to the global shift from fossil-based energy production and consumption — natural gas, oil and coal — to renewable energy sources which are becoming dominant in the energy supply mix, however, submitted that energy transition will continue to gain momentum as investors insist on factors such as environmental, social and governance (ESG) to make investment decisions. “Thus, energy transition is a pathway towards the transformation of the national and global energy sector from fossil-based to zero-carbon by the second half of this century through the use of low-carbon energy system and greening technologies.

“At its heart is the decarbonisation of energy-related systems to limit global warming to 2 degrees C. Temperature rise beyond 2 deg C would lead to apocalyptic climate change. Already, we are experiencing the catastrophic crisis of climate change in the melting of polar ice causing rising sea levels and flooding in coastal areas, desertification, disastrous gully erosion and wild fires in some countries; besides what are now called Armageddon diseases.”

He said there has been chronic air pollution from gas flares and illegal refineries in the Niger Delta resulting in an unprecedented atmosphere of soot. (We cannot breathe!).

He went on: “Africa needs resilient infrastructure and sustainable energy to drive the infrastructure. We need strategic national commitments to achieve energy security. However, Nigeria and many other oil-producing nations are at the cusp of economic and financial crises due to global campaign for low-carbon energy system development and utilisation. Many nations are now transiting to low-carbon and zero-carbon energy utilisation and serious pressures are put on the developing nations to follow the path of energy transition. Nigeria has committed to many international agreements such as the Paris Agreement, to reduce its carbon emissions.”

He pointed out that every transition throws up challenges and challenges are opportunities for research, creativity and innovation. Every transition must be orderly, otherwise, it could lead to more chaos, confusion and crisis. The speed of transition is also important, he stated.

Showing sources of carbon dioxide pollution since 1880 that amounted to 34.1m tonnes, he pointed out that the highest is oil/gas, followed by coal, then land use or bush burning. He listed top 10 global polluters as China 10m tones 10m, USA 5m, India 2.5m, Russia 1.5m, Japan 1m, Germany 0.5m, Iran 0.5m, South Korea 0.4m, Saudi Arabia 0.4m, and Canada 0.35m.

On gas pollution, he said Nigeria is in the big league with 11 per cent of global share, next to Russia with 26 per cent and followed by Iran with 9 per cent, Iraq 7 per cent and Algeria 4 per cent. The other minor gas polluters contribute 43 percent.

“Every Age is driven by a predominant source of energy. The old sources of energy do not just disappear but are downgraded or their dominance is diminished by cleaner sources of energy in the new energy mix. The new Age of Sustainable Development also requires a source of energy to drive the infrastructure.

Commending Ollor, the founder of the colloquium, Ajienka said he loves celebration and milestones. “Over the years, Prof Ollor turned grey with experience and wisdom. His experiences in academics, Industry and politics, in governance and community leadership make him appreciate the Triple Helix of academics, government and industry partnership as a developmental model for higher education institutions striving for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

“He is very remarkable. A celebration with tributes, food and drinks is to him pedestrian. We must seek to draw attention to things that bring lasting values.”