On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo unveiled a 7.1- megawatt solar hybrid power plant at the Bayero University, Kano (BUK).
The project, which was adjudged to be the largest off-grid power plant in Africa, is meant to ensure uninterrupted power supply on the campus in a safe, economic and reliable manner.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the university spends over N4.5m monthly to power its learning and research facilities and offices at the old and new campuses, from the national grid.
Unstable supply from the national grid and the high cost of running diesel generators have, over the years, placed the university in a tight noose as it is forced to underutilise some of its resources for practical training of students.
Some of the students who spoke to our correspondents claimed that instability in power supply from the national grid had limited their hours of exposure to practical experiences in the laboratories.
The project, which has an initial budget of N5.6billion, is meant to benefit thousands of students and other members of the university community, and to enhance teaching and learning in the institution.
Unveiling the plant, Osinbajo explained that the project would also empower the girl-child and provide job opportunities for the youth, in line with the objectives of the President Muhammad Buhari administration.
The project, which will also power 2,850 streetlights in the campus, will lead to a substantial cut in the cost of power consumption in the institution. The vice chancellor of the institution, Professor Muhammed Yahuza Bello, said the immediate consequence of the project would be an improvement in power supply to the university. He said the station would enable the university to save about N4.5 million monthly electricity costs.
When our correspondents visited the site recently after the official commissioning of the project, a series of activities from relevant certification agencies were in progress.
Explaining how the project would help the university in its academic and research activities, the lead technical engineer for the project, Dr Muhammad Buhari, from the Department of Electrical Engineering said, “First of all, this project is off-grid, solar, hybrid plant. So the plant is both off-grid and hybrid. The solar part has three main components: a total of 10,680 solar panels, each with 320 watts and 3.5 megawatt capacity peak; solar PV section, where we have string inverters, a total of 52 spread all over the plant; and a small sub-station, which has a common box.
“When the panels collect the solar power, it goes through the inverters, where it is accumulated and sent to the sub-station at 400 kilowatts voltage. At the sub-station, you have a transformer which steps up the voltage to 11 megawatts, and from sub-stations it goes to the central sub-station, from where it is transmitted to the university.
“Apart from the solar part, we have the battery section. This section also has three central inverters. Lastly, there is the diesel generator section, and this section is what makes it a hybrid plant, otherwise, it is just an off-grid solar plant if it were to have only the solar and battery sections.
“Now, if you combine them you have 3.5 megawatts of solar, 8.1 megawatts of storage hours of the batteries and 2.8 megawatts of diesel generators; that is what makes this plant the largest in Africa.
Buhari explained that the project was sponsored by the Federal Government of Nigeria through Green Bonds, adding that this plant is the second to be commissioned using such fund.
He said the power plant would cover 60per cent of the power consumption need of the new campus, adding that the project site parameters equals the size of three football pitches put together.
“At the peak of its power demand, BUK’s new campus requires about 5mw of electricity. The plant can guarantee 3mw, and that covers about 60per cent of the campus’ power demand. This fact dispels the insinuation that the plant is capable of powering the whole campus and some neigbouring communities.
“The good thing is that all our academic sections, including the laboratories, teaching rooms, theatres and what have you, will not be more than 3mw. It is only our peripheral loads, staff quarters, student hostels and the likes that you would accumulate and have that high demand. But we will be able to manage them as some of the buildings like that of the CBN will not be running 24 hours,” he further explained.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that BUK’s new campus relies on diesel generators as the campus gets only 2 to 3 hours of power supply from the Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO). The generators could not serve all at a time; as such, they are rotated every 2 hours to other buildings; hence the importance of the solar plant.
While the Federal Government funded the project through Green Bond and the Ministry of Environment managed the fund, the Rural Electricity Agency (REA) is executing the project since the ministry could not handle a power plant project.
Buhari said, “The REA has a team of consultants who are responsible for the execution of the project, so they came with their engineers. But for a reason best known to them, they contracted the project out to a Greek company known as METKA. This company also has its own team of engineers, and that is the second group.
“We are going to take over the project a year after commissioning as METKA will operate and maintain it for a complete year, which is part of the contract. We have a technical team that has eight members, including four engineers, with me as the team leader, and four others who are handling the administrative aspect of it.
“So, any time METKA engineers do their design they will share it with the REA, which will share it with us to confirm or pick out any hole, after which it will be returned to the METKA through the REA for execution.
“Also, the Energizing Education Programme (EEP) is the umbrella under which the REA is executing the project, and there are four components. The first component is the building of the power plant itself. The second component is to upgrade the existing distribution network of the campus to be able to utilise the plant. The third component is the training of 20 female students, who were chosen by the managing director of the REA. The fourth component is the construction of the training centre, which has reached an advanced stage.
Buhari said, “What happened on Tuesday was the political commissioning of the project as there are few things to be put in place for the proper technical commissioning that will hopefully take place in two weeks.
“We have already drafted the curriculum for the training centre and given the female students the theoretical aspect of the training, as well as how they would undergo the practical aspects with site engineers. One big plus for the BUK is that the curriculum drafted for the training was adopted for seven other universities where the training was done simultaneously.
“Similarly, we have contributed in validating their plans by picking some holes and making other inputs. We have also taken part in upgrading the transmission system. For instance, I designed the sub-station, which is yet to be implemented, as well as the interface, through which you can connect the university with the plant.”
The project started sometime in February 2018 and was commissioned last Tuesday.
On how cost effective the plant is going to be, Buhari explained that the university had two sources of electricity, namely, KEDCO and diesel generators. “Because of the epileptic power supply from the KEDCO, we rely heavily on our diesel generators, which means that we release too much carbon dioxide, which is not environmentally friendly. Another problem is the noise pollution from these generators.
Typically, an academic area is supposed to be silent, but in some lecture halls, you have to close all the windows and rely on fans for you to be able to deliver lectures. So, with this development now, we will have huge relief from those disturbances,’’ he said.
On utilisation mechanism, Buhari said, “There are proposals, and if followed with due diligence, the plant would be utilised to its optimum capacity, and that means that at least 40 per cent of spending on power supply is saved. This is a very good example set for industries to follow. By using generators they are spending much on power supply, but if they can incorporate this solar power, it means their cost of production would reduce drastically, with a minimum of 40 per cent. And that means they would be able to engage more workers and boost their production. From experience, I have realised that some companies are spending about 60 per cent of their production cost on power supply.’’
Central Substation at BUK Solar hybrid power project He advised the government to utilise talents at home instead of contacting some foreign nationals or companies that are not actually better than local engineers in some cases.
“When I was in Manchester, we were sent to Thailand to execute their 36mw solar plant. How less is 3mw that we cannot do here? If the government would utilise our people here, much will be saved and we will improve ourselves rather than empower foreign countries.’’
He also advised government to provide regulations with regard to the solar power system. Buhari also advised industries to stop resisting changes when they come. “When ATM and other cashless policies were introduced, people resisted them, but now everyone has embraced them. Same thing will happen to this solar power system,” he said.
Also, Mustapha Olajide Zulqarnain, 300Level Chemical and Petroleum Engineering student, who was actively involved in the project from the onset, expressed delight, saying it would help improve the hours of laboratory practical sessions.
“Our hours of practical exposure at the laboratories are limited because of instability in power supply from the national grid, but with this we are guaranteed a 24-hour power supply in the labs. This means we can have enough hours of practical exposure,” he said.
The project is expected to provide electricity for 55,815 students and 3,077 members of staff of the university.
The managing director of the REA, Damilola Ogunbiyi, said the EEP, a Federal Government initiative under the REA, was aimed at developing off-grid capacity power solutions. She added that the EEP would provide street lighting for illumination and safety, as well as a world class renewable workshop and training centre for each of the benefitting universities.
Our correspondents also gathered that the projects would power not less than 11 kilometers within the campus at the new site, with streetlights that would result in decommissioning hundreds of generators on the campus.