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Robots could fuel Nigeria’s energy sector
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Robots could fuel Nigeria’s energy sector

There are many ways that robotic technology could positively impact Nigeria’s energy sector, writes Obinna Nnaemeka Ejide, a 24 year old correspondent from Lagos, Nigeria who explores  some of the ways that robots could enhance safety, improve efficiency and help to deliver cleaner energy to Nigerians.

Imagine you are at your workplace, perhaps in the middle of a meeting, and you receive a distress call or text from your neighbour that your house is on fire, because your liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder at home has leaked away its content. Just imagine that, for a moment. Now, try to think of yourself in the same place again, receiving a call and text message, but this time it is not from your neighbour; it is from a robot, to report that your LPG gas cylinder was just found to be leaking but is being contained temporarily to prevent any danger to life or property, until the nearest end-user is available to address the situation. These are possible scenarios in a future if robotic technologies are explored in the Nigerian energy sector beyond industrial applications to the development of interfaces for man-to-machine interactions in Nigeria’s energy sector.

The above scenario depicts a future in Nigeria where the much anticipated shift in energy sources towards cleaner, eco-friendly energies like the LPG is a reality and a future where robotic technology helps Nigerian companies and households overcome their energy problems.

LPG production is growing fast in Nigeria. The federal government of Nigeria is aiming to have 6million LPG users as part of a national programme to drastically reduce gas flaring by 2020.By so doing the level of electricity generation in the country could be raised to meet national demand. Gas flaring is the burning of excess gasses which are produced when crude oil is pumped from oil wells. Some of this gas can be harvested for household use and to generate electricity.  Having robotic technology that provides safety assurance for LPG consumers at home, as in the scenario above is one way of making LPG a more attractive option.

But this is not the only way that we could see LPG users making use of robotic technology, it’s also possible that  we could see a future where robots have the ability to detect low LPG levels in cylinders and advise on the timely refilling of the cylinders; because some users do not want their cooking to be interrupted when their cooking gas is used up,  they usually store extra cylinder(s) of LPG at homes – posing a safety risk. Challenges may be encountered in marketing such technology, especially to existing users of the LPG in light of the marginal cost of acquiring LPG cylinders, but if the bundle-price method of pricing is employed both LPG cylinders and robots could be sold together at a price lower than their individual prices; and as more and more units are being purchased economies of scale would be attained in the production of the robots, which would consequently drive down the selling price in the market. Hard it may seem, but the picture would become clearer as the technology is being developed.

The LPG sector is not the only one that could benefit from robotic technology, the solar energy sector in Nigeria too could also find solutions to some of the challenges in robotic technology. For example, lack of skilled workers in remote areas, where workers are needed to periodically inspect, clean and maintain solar panels,  could be addressed  by developing remotely-controlled robots to take care of this need in a more efficient way, thus bringing savings in economic costs associated with in-situ maintenance operations.

One cannot claim to be oblivious of the roles robotic technology is now playing in the oil and gas industry worldwide. The industry has seen oil and gas companies take on projects in certain regions in the world that are considered environmentally unfriendly or dangerous. with the help of robotic technology. This, fortunately, is not Nigeria’s problem at the moment. But consider this: $3billion naira has been sunk in what has seemingly been a futile search for oil in Northern Nigeria. Such economic waste and the resulting political wars would be largely reduced if robotics are developed with advanced sensors for exploration to confirm the presence of hydrocarbons in large quantities.

Failed oil explorations is one concern for stakeholders in the oil and gas business in Nigeria, and oil spillage is another. This has led to unrest in the affected regions and has left oil and gas companies portrayed in the media as not being environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Research is ongoing on more effective ways of cleaning up affected areas to reduce the environmental footprints of oil and gas companies, and here again robotic technologies could be developed to map oil spills, determine volume of oil spills, and detect the thickness of oil slicks. Also, we could see robots such as aerial drones being  developed to provide real-time data on the cause of oil spills and to capture evidence that would be used for the prosecution of companies that are in breach of environmental  guidelines.

To conclude, there are numerous ways that robotic technology can developed to help Nigerian companies and households overcome their energy problems. As machines that can be programmed to automatically carrying out multipurpose tasks  robots can help energy companies to improve efficiency in their operations while reducing operational costs, while householders  can benefit from the safety and improved quality of life that robotic controls offer. The future of robot technology in Nigeria’s energy sector is a future towards socio-economic development; all hands must be on deck to develop and utilize this technology. While we emphasize the improvement of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) education at all levels of learning, we should also remember to promote soft skills that robots cannot replace, for instance, empathy. When we lose that, we lose touch with our environment and the role nature has given us – problem solvers. Even robots never lose focus of that.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pixabay

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About me

I have a degree in Biochemistry from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and almost rounding up coursework for an MBA degree at the University of Lagos. I am incoming Research Intern with Shell Nigeria (starting January 2019) in their Social Performance department.

I have an interest in sustainable development studies in Africa. I hope to become a sustainability consultant for NGOs, government institutions, and private firms to make social impacts and investments in Africa’s poor regions.

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