Oil and gas players need to understand how renewables will affect their industry, because it’s time for clean energy

A whole new industry has emerged from the conversation happening around sustainable energy. This industry is clean energy technology, but Nigeria is still fighting the inevitable as it continues to focus more on the oil and gas industry, while the world looks ahead to the future, a future towards clean energy. STANLEY IJEOMA, chief executive officer of Schrodinger Greentech Ltd, in an exclusive interview with business a.m.’s BUKOLA ODUFADE spoke about renewables being the future and that the elusive “economic growth” Nigeria is looking for would not be achieved if the country does not address its environmental issues. PHOTO CREDIT: JAYEOLA ISAAC

As an expert with knowledge ranging from renewable energy and climate change to capacity building, can you walk us through what your business and the organisation you represent, World Council on Renewable Energy, is all about?

Let me start with a proper introduction. I’m the country representative for the World Council for Renewable Energy (WCRE). WCRE is a Bonn, Germany based non-profit, non-governemntal organisation, dedicated to the advocacy of 100 percent renewable energy powered world, because we believe that that is the smartest way to get billions of people out of poverty and empower them. Most of these people are economically disadvantaged and that is what the WCRE does. I joined them in 2011, I was nominated by Professor Peter Droege who is the president of EuroSolar and general chairman of WCRE. Since 2011, I have been able to influence them to pay a lot of attention to the lower south, especially Africa, because this is where our energy infrastructure is still in infancy, our energy industry is not fully developed, based on fossil fuel, unlike what they have in Europe and America. This is where we stand a better chance of building an energy infrastructure that is renewable energy based and we have been trying to retool the organisation and get more resources to be able to focus here and make more impact in Africa. I’m an enviropreneur; most people ask what that is, and I say that enviropreneurs are the businessmen of the future, businessmen of the fast emerging, global low carbon economy. If you notice, you would see that there is a lot of attention on decarbonisation, and as an enviropreneur, I promote technologies, products, services, projects, programmes, and initiatives that are climate compatible. They must have environmental benefits or at least, they must be climate neutral, for me to get involved. This is what would be mainstream in the post Paris climate agreement era because most people don’t know that the way we are going to deliver energy and our way of life has changed, both the government and private, so enviropreneurs are the businessmen of the future, the future even for corporate organisations is not going to be just about financials, but they would be mandated as a matter of law to show their environmental impact. Damaging the environment, like cutting trees, is negative growth to the economy; it is growing the economy that is basically what WCRE is about.

For Schrodinger GreenTech, as an enviropreneur and the chief executive officer of Schrodinger GreenTech, it is a private consultancy, and it is a full spectrum climate change consultancy and with climate change, there is mitigation, which is where renewable energy comes in, adaptation, resilience building, international climate finance, climate change governance and capacity building, and knowledge building, so it is a full spectrum of services that we offer, it is different from what I volunteered for, my position as the country representative of WCRE.

Looking at the energy supply imbalance in Nigeria, it is a thing of concern for everyone; in your view, is renewable the way to go in solving the energy imbalance in the country?

Yes, it is. At my presentation at the recently concluded Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE) conference, I made it clear that it is the way to go, it is common sense, it is not rocket science. Fossil fuel, hydrocarbon based energy has failed Nigeria, the amalgamation of Nigeria happened in 1914, so Nigeria is about 104 years old now, and in 104 years, we have not been able to generate more than 7,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity. 7,000 megawatts of electricity that a county or local government should be using, we have 774 local governments. Out of a conservative estimate of 100,000 megawatts that we need, Nigeria has generated just 7000 megawatts. So our best option is renewables. There are many reasons why that has happened but fossil fuel and grid electricity by their nature are complicated and have longer gestation periods. It requires drawing lines, and other technologies. An example is the Kainji Dam. From Kainji you have to draw power lines to Damaturu, to Sokoto, to Calabar, and that could take 20 to 30 years to achieve. So you are saying that for 20 years, the economic activities in that area would be at standstill.

Renewable energy offers an advantage, it is an alternative, it is plug and play. By their nature, you buy it; if you need electricity from solar energy today, you can get it today. We have seen how the nature of fossil fuel affected global geopolitics, U.S. had to invade a lot of countries to get access to cheap hydrocarbons, and that created some problems. Now, nationally, locally, we have the oil industry cabals, but with renewable energy, nobody can appropriate or privatize the sun, it is energy democracy. If we are promoting democracy as the best form of government, then it is fitting for us to also adopt renewable energy as energy independence. As long as you can get a solar panel and put on your roof, nobody is going to tell you about the landing cost of petrol.

We don’t have time as a country, we have almost 90 million Nigerians that don’t have access to modern energy, so you can imagine what would happen if we are going to use renewable energy to power those 90 million people. It is going to positively impact our GDP; it is also going to reduce health problems that are associated with fossil fuel use. For example, the soot problem in Port Harcourt, we are saying let us take a deep breath and think again, it is an economic model driven by capitalism that encourages the West, it is a linear economic model that we have seen in the last 100 years that has been driving the massive emissions, including the industrial revolution.

We cannot divorce or separate ourselves from our environment so we are talking about our public health, someone is telling you to take care of your health and you are concerned with making profit instead. That is our message from the WCRE in a nutshell.

I’ve immersed myself with oil and gas players in the last couple of years and some of them said that maybe it is not green house emissions that are causing climate change, that maybe it is a natural phenomenon, but I said let’s not look at the cause of climate change but rather the impact, which is where adaptation comes in. everyone acknowledges that we are having freak weather, so why should we still be arguing about the cause or causes, and be more concerned about the effect and impact and how do we cope with these impact and build resilience of communities and our citizens on how to deal with these issues. As a matter of fact, I’m also having an ongoing discussion with most of the companies at the NAPE conference, and they said they would like me to look at their corporate social responsibility (CSR), and help them start addressing issues of climate change and adaptation, resilience building and maybe solve the problems. So that conversation is ongoing.

Fossil fuels in Nigeria have to be gradually phased out because the development that the oil and gas industry has seen over the past decades has not been seen in the renewable industry, it is a relatively new industry, it can’t compete with the oil and gas industry now, don’t you think?

There are misconceptions when people say renewable energy is just coming to the scene; in Nigeria it might be relatively new but not globally relatively new. We know that at least in the last 50 years, renewables would have been mainstream but the potentials of renewables were suppressed by the promoters of cheap hydrocarbons. Their scientists knew 50 to 60 years ago that we generated electricity from the sun. If you follow what is happening globally, some of the big oil companies have been sued by the citizens of various countries for hiding reports about their activities. They had a big lobby group that held down the government of the U.S, and most of Europe, so they were influencing public hearings and the public in order to sell what they were producing, while destroying the ecosystems, lungs of people, and now that the planet we have abused is reacting and throwing back things at us, it is forcing us to rethink.

Scientists have been saying this, decades ago, the government of the world knew but refused to act. But the climate change impact are very obvious, and in 2015, the countries came together to adopt the Paris agreement, and I was there in Paris when it was adopted and you could see the relief, that finally the global community on the platform of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, that we recognize that we have been on the wrong path.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of citizens who are enemies of the state, they see the state as an enemy, there is no connection, and they have been exploited by the state and abandoned by the state. So we have to take all of these things into consideration together if we are designing a pathway out of our present predicament.

We have drawn a pathway to go back. The Paris agreement said we must reduce global temperature well below 2 degrees, anything above 1.5 and 2 degrees, nobody can predict what would happen. The consequences would be unimaginable, because everything on earth is interconnected, in ways we don’t know. It is actually an effort and a wake-up call to save ourselves, but a few months ago, the intergovernmental panel on climate change assembled scientists to review, because we have seen that maybe we underestimated the impacts. There was a report launched recently that said we don’t even have the luxury of the 2 degrees, we have to keep temperatures well below 1.5 degrees, we may act to decarbonize the global economy and that is where we are now.

We don’t seem to understand that oil mighty countries, like Saudi Arabia, have seen that crude oil relevance is dwindling and that they need a master plan on how to get a hold on renewable-energy technologies, because it is the country or person that had the technology that would reap the advantages because the future is not crude oil but renewable-energy. The future is sustainable energy; it doesn’t depend on what President Trump thinks or what President Buhari thinks. And countries that are proactive and know where the world is going have quickly keyed into development and research. So saying that this is not to Nigeria’s advantage, will Nigeria end if crude oil finishes, the answer is no. Why are we insisting on using everything below the ground when people would still be here 500 years to come.

But Nigeria has no other source of revenue?

It is lazy thinking. Our comparative advantage is in agriculture. Our government is supposed to be a thinking government. Over the years, looking at the manifesto and the blueprint of the people handling and struggling to take over power, these issues are not even on their agenda. About 50 percent of the security and economic issues we have in Nigeria has some of its roots in environmental problems. You saw one of my slides on Lake Chad, the pastoral herdsmen crisis is partly fueled by environmental changes; because that crisis is a problem of water and grass. Lake Chad, a miracle in the Sahel, 25,000 square kilometers body of water providing livelihood for millions of people in the four countries surrounding it, all of a sudden, it vanished, so the young people in those communities are susceptible, now it is a coincidence that the so called Boko Haram crisis is also affecting the four Lake Chad countries.

Like I said, Nigeria has what I call three dimensional extreme exposure and high vulnerability, in the north, where there is desertification, drought, there are a lot of climate refugees already, people who are leaving those areas because of the insecurity triggered and fueled by the loss of livelihood, so for the herdsmen, where Lake Chad used to be some of kind of buffer, they find water and grass for their animals, so they don’t have to bother coming down south, but now that option is gone, and the only way they can get this is movement towards the south.

Over the years, these people have always been moving and these clashes have been within manageable limits, but within the last decade, the movement feels like an invasion. For example, as a farmer, if you are used to seeing five herdsmen in a year, at least you can identify them and even build some kind of relationship with them, but in the last 10 years, you are seeing 200. For people who don’t understand what is happening, they see it as an invasion, and as long as you allow these cattle to move, they would destroy crops because they can’t differentiate. The Middle Belt has been an ugly theater of violence, increasingly ugly violence, people are being displaced in the south, there is sea level rising in the south and communities are being displaced. Nobody is really tracking these events, the government is not tracking them so there is displacement in the south and north and everyone is moving towards the middle where there is a violent struggle for food, fuel and fibre.

Despite the fact the country is already facing severe consequences of climate change, why has the conversation failed to garner the necessary attention and how is your organisation fighting to bring the conversation to limelight?

It is by engaging petroleum industry stakeholders and the government. We also need to invest a lot of money in what I call strategic climate change communications, and take it to the street level. For instance, if everyone knows about the herdsmen issue, politicians always move in to use some of these issues to create problems and chaos, to win votes and so on.

The media has the responsibility to actually dissect these issues and put the proper information out there for the people. If you ask me, I would say the media has failed in this regard because what the media has done or are doing is to continue to allow the government set the agenda or the politicians to set the narrative, the tone and depth of the conversation, it should be the media setting the agenda, and that is why we are having this problem.

I also told the organisers of the NAPE conference that for maximum impact next time, because what was discussed was the citizens and what affects them, so the people need to follow the conversation, so the least they can do is to make it a live event that can be streamed or broadcast, so that millions of people can follow the conversation.

These conversations are going on, but in hotel halls, conference centres, where you have 100 people, everyday there are 100 people here and there across the country talking about this but hundreds of millions of people are unaware.

I’m calling for more investment in strategic climate change communications and that means anywhere we are going to be having these conversation, it has to be live, there has to be a deliberate allocation of resources where people can follow.

You are also into climate change data generation and validation, and data generation and validation is a key problem in most industries in Nigeria; inadequate data is a leading problem of most failed decisions, so how does your company achieve this?

Climate change data generation and validation is actually a complex exercise, but because of technology and expertise we have now with our partners, it is easier to get that. But it is now for the off takers, the government, to open themselves to engagement to get this data. There are hundreds out there generating data but these data also have to validate from the grassroots, what is really happening on the ground, maybe from Nigerian meteorological agency, the indigenous knowledge from the local people. We are trying to mobilize the local people to also tell their experience with climate change and see if the universal data from the satellite fits into their experiences, so with climate change, we have indigenous knowledge and technology.

Recently, we have improved on data gathering, the Nigerian government has tried, there is an improvement in the department of climate change under the ministry of environment because I reviewed two of their latest document that they were supposed to submit to the United Nations framework convention on climate change and for the first time, both documents had raw, organic data, biennial update reports.

The National Bureau of Statistics is getting involved and other relevant agencies are getting involved, and taking data generation very seriously. For that, I’m aware that we have improved but we need to do more, and I think they are also working on getting a national climate change database, which can inform decision making for companies and organisations.

Data gathering and validation requires large amounts of investments, to get the right and relevant information, how does your company go about this, do you fund your projects alone or do you have partners that provide financial support?

We have partners who have expertise in that, so what we do is to harness that and if we get off taker partners, and off taker partners for these data could be national governments, departments or agencies and most especially the sub-national governments, the state governments, because on this climate change conversation, the state either out of ignorance have not really been part of this, and I can tell you that out of the 36 state governors, we don’t have up to three that have an adviser to the governor on climate change, or a well resourced department on climate change, and with what happened in the U.S., Donald Trump said the country was pulling out, but the people say they were in it. So that is the good thing about the United Nations framework convention on climate change, because they understood that environmental issues are issues that affect the people no matter what the political authority thinks. So they created a window for sub-national governments, to participate.

There is a whole new industry that has come out of all these conversations, it is the clean tech industry and it is the country that has a handle on this, who is leading on this that would be the global leader in the coming years, and you can see what China is doing in that space, electric vehicles, while we are here saying how do we move forward out of crude oil, countries are announcing that we want to end internal combustion engines.

We run a mono product economy, we are hoping on people to buy our crude, and those people are building electric vehicles. Is that not enough to get us thinking, on how to diversify our energy mix and our economy, on how to invest in the clean energy technology? The tragedy we are seeing is that we would end up importing these technologies, instead of investing in research and development so that we can generate and develop our own technologies, because that is the future. This is the time for clean energy, there is no stopping an idea whose time has come. And my message is that first, oil and gas players need to understand how these changes will affect their industry, then based on that, you would begin to know how you are going to adapt because the industry must adapt, if you wave it away and say it doesn’t matter, then you are sitting on quick sand.

Concerning the council you represent in Nigeria, it works on renewable energy in various parts of the world; what kind of support do they offer, financial, technical or managerial, and how do they offer it?

The first thing we do is to bring the stakeholders together to have the conversations, to build stakeholder consensus, political leaders, bureaucrats, technocrats, industry players, bringing everyone together. For states or governments that are willing, we provide advisory and technical services. The other one is through consultants, where we are able to do project delivery. What the council does is awareness and consensus building and advisory services to government and sub-governments. We don’t offer financial help on the council, because we don’t have the resources to give, but like my consultancy, we can lead you to get financial support, called international climate finance.

Talking about human and technology capacity in Nigeria, how much of a deficiency are we looking at because human capacity building and technology development are the country’s strong suit, because we don’t have much investment going into this?

There is what is called research and development and we as a people and our government over the years are not bothered about it. To know how serious we are is to look at what government is spending on education. ASUU is currently on strike and it means that the Nigerian government over the years has not realized the value of education, and that progressive societies achieve and attain that status because of their investment in education, innovation and creativity. So it is an entirely new conversation, on how do we empower our citizens, our researchers? Looking at what senators are earning, in comparison with what a professor is earning.

We have talented citizens, it is for us to harness this. Every day you see kids, Nigerians displaying what they have designed, but they end up there. The best people do nowadays is to do a twitter thread, write on social media and that is it.

There is no serious effort to harness these talents. It is for our government to invest in research and development and that is not happening. Nigeria used to be lobbied, people used to come to lobby in Nigeria to get our crude, four, five decades ago but now, we go to market crude oil.

Renewable is making economic sense; it is no longer about supporting the environment. I did a research nine years ago, and the problem has always been an initial cost, but these technologies, once you acquire them, after 5 years, you have recovered the cost and they have a lifespan of 20-25 years, so imagine you make an investment and in 4-5 years, you have recovered your cost, so for the next 20 years, you are on free electricity, so if it is aggregated, you would see that it is far cheaper.

We have not also internalized the external cost of fossil fuels. How many people in Rivers State, for instance, with the soot epidemic, have died, how many lungs have been destroyed? And like I tell everyone, environment is our common denominator, the elites of this world and the commoner, it is the same environment, the difference is that they have the power to change what is happening.

We need holistic approach and we also need to change the mindset in government that we can’t do without crude oil, it is frustrating to see government after government having that mindset.

Since the government is making the necessary efforts needed, how is the private sector keying into research and development (R&D) to build clean energy technologies in Nigeria?

Everything rises and falls on leadership, in this energy transition, or in this global change management, the role of the government is key. If you are talking about R&D, the government has to create this. What the private sector is doing is to import. I know private sector players who have developed this locally, government has not gone to promote them and even when those programmes are available, there is a disconnect between those who need and those who are offering. There are a couple of them but not on the scale we would like to see. Go to our research institute and see the gap in funding, see their talents, but they don’t even have access to good roads. These are the people that are supposed to be the backbone of our economy. We don’t have accessible road to the Federal Research Institute at Enugu. It is not in the campaign manifesto of the popular political parties too. You can’t grow beyond the thinking of your leader, whether it is your boss. This energy transition would not be successful if we don’t get the buy in of the government and getting the government to do the right thing takes us to political economy and what the people should be doing.

We have a population that is largely ignorant and we have political gladiators who know about these issues and can do something about them, but have tied themselves to this business as usual pathway, and the few voices we hear here and there are drowned off. That is why I said the best government we have had on climate change has been since Buhari came in; the facts are there, at least we know that President Buhari has been showing up anywhere global political leaders are gathering to discuss climate change and he has gone there with the problem of Lake Chad, and other climate change problems we have.

The Lake Chad problem has been here, since the last 19 years, what did Obasanjo, Yaradua, Jonathan do? In 2015, the best thing President Buhari did was to appoint Amina Mohammed, because the truth is, if you go to the states, many of the commissioners for environment don’t even understand. I’m not saying this in a derogatory way. I’ve interfaced with them, I’ve been in this space for the last decade, actively interfacing these people, the corporate stakeholders, in most of the states don’t understand it, the only time that we have had a minister of environment that understood that the environment is much more important than the economy, that the economy is only a sub-set of the environment, the economy draws from the environment, and Amina Mohammed understood that. Even though her stay wasn’t up to two years, the foundations were laid. It gladdens my heart that some of the things we have been pushing for, she came and Nigeria is one of the few countries, I think the first in Africa to issue a green bond, I think the second tranche would be issued this December. But how about the states, who are the commissioners for environment in each states, are they following up on these issues, do they know that it is the environment that drives the economy?

I met the governor of one of the North-east states at an event last year and I commended him on what he was doing in his state, but asked that since his state has high exposure to the impacts of climate change, what was he doing about climate change and how to adapt and build resilience? He said what is climate change? I’m not making this up.

Can you tell us some of the projects your company is looking at for 2019?

For 2019, we are looking at harnessing indigenous knowledge. We are going to map the experiences and expertise and bring it into the mainstream. We are also setting up a platform to say how do we bring the academia to solve some of these problems? We also have a programme that seeks to mobilize the local climate change developers, bring them on a platform and get some kind of international support for them. These are some of the plans we have for next year.

Also, operating a business in Nigeria is very hard, but for a sector like yours with limited exposure, it is harder, what are the major challenges you are facing and how do you go around them?

The biggest challenge is meeting political leaders who don’t understand this issue. There are ministries in Nigeria today who don’t believe in renewable energy and state governors who don’t know what the conversation is about, so how are we going to make progress?

So it is either you are talking to a deaf and dumb man, or you are talking to a man who is not even interested and this is someone who has the power to empower millions of his citizens using renewable energy. This is why it is very important for us to continue to provide the platform and continue to engage and build consensus, and get the decision makers to move forward. And this goes for corporate organisations. Our appetite for innovation is very low, both in public and private sector. So, again we are open to working to create a platform for this engagement and to also strategically change communications, and get as many Nigerians to follow the conversation.

Do you have any other thoughts on Nigeria, renewable energy and climate change?

Yes, this energy transition has become an idea whose time has come and it is either you jump on the train and get to your destination or you get crushed, if you are standing in the way. So it is in the best interest of Nigeria to embrace these conversations.

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