Building code and electricity use

Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

With the near collapse of Nigerian’s electricity supply system, leading to virtual national power blackout, the plan by the government to introduce a new building code for efficient use of electricity is simply laughable. Government, should spare itself the grand-standing and concentrate on providing the much-needed electricity first.

Service of any kind must first be available before anyone can talk of how to use it efficiently. The Muhammadu Buhari administration should not allow itself to be distracted by a needless new building code when the extant code is not even enforced.

Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, recently, at the 13th Distinguished Electrical and Electronics Engineers Annual Lecture in Lagos, said that Nigerians need to adopt more efficient ways of using energy, even as generation remains low.

He disclosed that his ministry was drawing up another building code as new guideline for electrical and construction engineers to promote efficient use of electricity in the country.
The new code, he said, would promote the construction of glass buildings to use daylight illumination, artificial lightening, more windows and use of materials that are capable of keeping the building cool in hot weather.

According to Fashola, these can help the nation conserve between 1000 and 2000 megawatts (MW). He noted that the Federal Government was vigorously pursuing the power roadmap and working to ensure that the Mambilla hydro power scheme is completed to benefit Nigerians.

To start with, the Minister spoke as if Nigerians were wasting too much energy. This may well be comforting conclusion to draw by those who have failed to fulfil their promises of making power available to Nigerians. But the fact on record is that Nigerians are energy-starved and without power from privately-owned generators, the country would be in total darkness.

Therefore, working to complete the Mambilla hydropower is encouraging as hydropower development is one energy source that should add to Nigeria’s energy mix.

Unfortunately, the contribution of hydropower to Nigeria’s energy supply is minimal. As a matter of fact, the three existing large hydro power stations at Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro are underutilised due to gross mismanagement.

However, the announced plan for glass houses needs serious interrogation. Whereas, the electricity situation could be reversed with the right approach and framework, a policy on glass building, if enforced, may turn out counter-productive.

Without adequate ventilation, glass buildings will induce greenhouse effects, whereby the entrapped heat cannot escape. Granted that a glass house will enhance daylight illumination, the energy trapped inside the building will generate heat and such buildings in a tropical environment would be most uncomfortable, particularly, at night.

Also, given the high level of poverty and the fact that majority of Nigerians still live in squalor, it would be difficult to enforce a new building code just like the extant one has been largely dormant. The government should instead promote the use of local building materials with less dependence on imported materials. At any rate, electricity supply should come before a building code.

From available records, it is scandalous and highly regrettable that the per capita electricity consumption in Nigeria is a meager 12 watts, which is among the lowest in Africa, just above Ethiopia’s with 6 watts and Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC and Tanzania with 9 watts. South Africa has 495 while Ghana has 29 watts.

The prolonged energy deficit in Nigeria has stifled all meaningful social and economic development in the country with faulty planning coupled with unbridled corruption being at the root of the problem.

The magnitude of this problem demands that government thinks out of the box and chart a course for a lasting solution.

It may wish to engage experts from within and outside the country for a solution. People like Professor Bath Nnaji, whose short stint as power minister, made much difference, should be brought in to help. Nnaji’s template under the Goodluck Jonathan power reform programme remains an acknowledged masterpiece that the Buhari administration could consider implementing. Nigeria needs to get its energy supply right by all means.

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