|Fig. 1: The gates of the oil refinery in Port Harcourt. Representative of the various oil refineries located in Nigeria. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
One of the greatest challenges faced by Nigeria is its energy sector. Nigeria is an oil-rich country, and it comes as no surprise that almost all of Nigerian energy consumption comes from non-renewable energy sourcescoal, natural gas, and, most importantly, oil. Akuru and Okoro postulate that one of the reasons why the Nigerian energy sector is highly vulnerable to shocks is due to its overdependence on fossil sources.  They continue to claim that bad policies and unprofessionalism in the current energy administration leads to greater challenges: The resilience of the Nigerian energy system is weak as climate change, bad governance and widespread poverty intensify the vulnerability of the energy economy.  The challenges of energy security and access are compounded by inefficiency and poor environmental governance, while side effects such as oil pollution and gas flaring have continued to damage agricultural land and marine ecology irreversibly. 
Oil accounts for about 20% of GDP, 95% of export earnings, and 85% of budgetary revenues.  While oil plays a large role in the Nigerian economy, energy poverty is still rampant in the country. About 85 million Nigerians - representing approximately 60% of the population - have no access to electricity services.  Of the 40% of Nigerians who have ready access to electricity, less than 20% of them are located in rural areas. In all, the electricity consumption per capita is about 100 kWh - which compares poorly with 4,500 kWh, 1934 kWh and 1379 kWh in South Africa, Brazil and China, respectively.  The Nigerian government has begun programs increasing the capacity of the electricity supply industry. This is expected to double the generation capacity from fossil sources.  Though some efforts are beginning to be made in renewable energy, it is a small portion of public-sector energy investments.
As Newsom remarks, renewable energy has considerable potential in Nigeria, and could bridge the major energy gaps in rural areas.  The growing opportunities for renewable energy in Nigeria are becoming more evident as new grid technologies, like concentrated solar power, are emerging as in competitors with conventional, oil-based power generation.
Nigeria possesses the world's sixth largest reserve of crude oil, an estimated 36.2 billion barrels.  Additionally, Nigeria has an increasingly important gas province with reserves of nearly 5,000 billion m3 (Fig.1). Its coal and lignite reserves are estimated to be 2.7 billion tons. Its tar sand reserves represent 31 billion barrels of oil equivalent.  With vast fossil fuel-based reserves readily available in Nigeria, making a switch to renewable energy may be difficult. Moreover, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria's 1985 estimate, Nigeria consumed about 180,000 barrels of oil per day, a number that has only increased since then.  However, with only 60% of Nigerians on the current power grid, relying solely on fossil fuels is not enough to meet the energy needs of the country. Renewable energy alternatives may increase the energy capacity and availability in Nigeria.
Solar energy refers to the energy stemming from the light and heat harvested from the sun through photovoltaic cells or solar thermal concentrators. Onyebuchi estimates that the technical potential of solar energy in Nigeria with a 5% device conversion efficiency is about 1.50 × 1018 J of useful energy annually.  This equates to about 258.62 million barrels of oil equivalent annually, or 4.11 × 1010 liters of crude oil - which corresponds to the current national annual fossil fuel production in the country.  This also amounts to about 4.2 × 105 GWh of electricity production annually, or about 26 times the recent annual electricity production of 16,000 GWh in the country. 
Renewable energy in the form of wind energy uses the airflow through wind turbines to generate electric power. While I have not detailed the data in this article, (1) Adekoya and Adewale's analysis of wind speed data from 30 stations in Nigeria, (2) Fagbenle and Karayianni's 10-year wind data analysis from 1979 to 1988, and (3) Ngala et al.'s statistical analysis of the wind energy potential in Maiduguri, Borno State - and cost benefit analysis using wind energy conversion systems for electric power generation and supply in the State - all indicate that Nigeria has vast opportunities for harvesting wind for electricity production.  This is particularly true in northern states, the mountainous parts of the central and eastern states, and in offshore areas, where wind is abundant throughout the year.
John-Felix Akinbami, Professor of Energy Planning, Management, and Climate Change at the Centre for Energy and Research Development, estimated the total hydroelectric power potential Nigeria to be about 8,824 MW with an annual electricity generation potential in excess of 36,000 GWh.  This consists of 8,000 MW of large hydropower technology, while the remaining 824 MW is still small-scale hydropower technology. This means that only 24% and 4% of large and small hydropower potentials, respectively, in Nigeria have been exploited. 
Researchers have established that renewable energy is available in Nigeria. However, to wean from an oil-based economy, policymakers must create incentives for the renewable energy sector. In 2003, the Nigerian government introduced renewable energy as part of its national energy policy. The 2006 Renewable Energy Master Plan (REMP) commits Nigeria to short-, medium-, and long-term goals of development and implementation of renewable energy resources. Successful implementation should result in the installation of enough wind, solar PV, solar thermal, and hydroelectricity sources by 2025 to provide the equivalent of the entire grid capacity in use in Nigeria today.  The master plan also stressed the need for exploring renewable energy in quantities, and at prices, that promote equitable and sustainable growth.
While Nigeria possesses an abundance of access to renewable energy sources and a master plan for renewable energy, the country is still behind in renewable energy development and usage. This may be attributed to the cost of renewable resources when compared to costs associated with fossil-based fuels. Increasing the amount of renewable energy requires that exploiting these resources be made economically attractive. Interests in shifting renewable energy to mainstream sustainable development are recently growing, due in part to the expanding commercial markets for renewable energy that are shifting investment patterns away from traditional government and international donor sources toward a greater reliance on private firms and banks. 
Switching to renewable energy resources in Nigeria has led to positive contributions to rural development, lower health costs (linked to reduced-air pollution), energy independence, and climate change mitigation.  While renewable energy still cannot compete with fossil fuels on price, the margins are narrowing: major improvements in energy efficiency and renewable-energy production costs have decreased the amount of capital needed for key applications. There is still a need for capital investment, but costs have often fallen by more than 75% in the last five years.  Because Nigeria's fossil fuel-based economy will undoubtedly come to an end, searching for alternatives early is of utmost importance. With an abundance of renewable resources and growing government support, the ability for Nigeria to incorporate renewable energy into its power grid is ever increasing.
© Gigi Nwagbo. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 U.B. Akuru, O.I. Okoro, "Renewable Energy Investment in Nigeria: A Review of the Renewable Energy Master Plan," J. Energy South. Afr. 25, 3, (2014).
 C. Newsom, "Renewable Energy Potential in Nigeria: Low-carbon Approaches to Tackling Nigeria's Energy Poverty," International Institute for Environmental Development, 2012.
 S. O. Oyedepo, "Energy and Sustainable Development in Nigeria: The Way Forward," Energy Sustain. Soc. 2, 15, (2012).