It has been almost two years since I arrived in Abuja to serve as the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Nigeria. During that time, I had the pleasure of meeting many government officials and business people. We discussed ways to achieve mutual development and to expand cooperation between our two countries. From those discussions, I have seen many progress, but one area still troubles me. That is, the electricity sector of Nigeria. In modern society, electric power is a public good and, just like the air we breathe, it is a necessity. As much as we cannot live without air, modern society cannot survive without electricity.
On my first day of mission, I saw two strange machines I had never seen in Korea: power generators for self-generation. It was an utter surprise to learn that most factories and buildings run such equipment, costing a total of $13 billion every year across the country. If electric power is produced and consumed privately from individually owned generators, electricity becomes a private good that is no longer public. This leads to the point where active involvement by the Nigerian government is required.
The history of economic growth in Korea is often referred to as the “Miracle of Han River.” In truth, it was the growth of electric power industry within the country that enabled this miracle. Despite the difficulties in the early days of economic development in the 1970s, the Korean government adopted American technology to build the country’s first nuclear power plant to supply electricity for economic activity. In 2018, 56% of electric power produced in Korea was used for industrial purposes. Without electricity, which is the cornerstone of our national economy, economic growth would be impossible.
Korea’s population as of 2018 is only a quarter of the Nigerian population. Yet, thanks to our continued investment in energy, Korea has power generation infrastructure with a capacity of 119GW, ten times greater than that of Nigeria. Also, Korea produces 487TWh of power, fifteen times larger than the amount produced by Nigeria. In addition, Korea has recently made big strides in power generation from renewable sources, including solar and wind power.
Korea also boasts world’s leading electrical generation technology and operational capabilities. As of 2018, transmission and distribution (T&D) losses are at a meager 3.6%, while average power disruption is less than four minutes per year. A stable, high-quality power supply has also been a key driver behind Korea’s success in industries dealing with precision parts and materials including semiconductors.
This renowned Korean power technology is exported to countries all over the world. KEPCO, the country’s leading electricity generator, is undertaking 40 projects in 27 countries as of 2018. KEPCO also took part in the project of operating and maintaining the Egbin power station, Nigeria’s largest power plant, from 2014 to 2016. Through this project, KEPCO played a crucial role in making Egbin the best power plant in Nigeria.
Compared to Korea, which is a nation that made huge progress in the electric power industry even without oil, gas and other natural resources, Nigeria has an unmatched abundance of resources that can be used to develop its power industry. Nigeria’s oil and gas productions rank close to top ten in the world, and the country also has plenty of coal reserves and sufficient sun. Despite the abundance of such resources, most energy production in Nigeria is dependent on privately-owned generators, resulting in slower growth of the national economy. In my view, no single entity can be held accountable for this reality. Electricity is a “grid industry.” Generation, transmission and distribution needs be maintained in a way akin to how water flows through a pipeline. If a problem occurs in any part of the grid, the entire system breaks down. Groups that hold the gas pipelines hostage, individuals stealing electricity, and the government in charge of operating the power grid are all accountable.
On November 21, my embassy organized the Korea-Nigeria Infrastructure Seminar in Abuja. Many Korean businesses participating in the event expressed their interest in building power infrastructure in Nigeria, while the Nigerian government and businesses showed interest in the participation of Korean companies. As our two countries celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations next year, we Koreans stand ready to support Nigeria’s growth, building upon our decades-long bilateral ties.
As a member of the diplomatic corps, I find myself a part of the community of the host country of Nigeria and am therefore responsible for promoting the development of the host country. It is with this sense of responsibility that I propose we start thinking seriously about the problems the Nigerian power industry faces today and what measures can incentivize Korean businesses to make investments. My sincere hope is that a high-quality power industry would boost Nigerian economic growth and eventually make the country, already the richest nation in Africa, a true leader on the continent that can supply its electricity to its neighbors.
In-tae Lee is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Nigeria