Forests and Water: Nature’s Superheroes for Sustainable Energy

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As the world celebrates the 2017 World Water Day and the International Day of Forests, attention is again drawn to steps that can be taken to improve energy generation across Africa. Incidentally, the themes of this year’s celebrations align with urgent energy needs of the continent. The International Day of Forests (March 21, 2017) points attention to energy generation from forest resources whilst saving the planet from climate threats. Similarly, the World Water day (March 22, 2017) not only points attention to the importance of freshwater sources and sustainable management of water resources as was done in previous years but also, the importance of wastewater recycling to humans, energy conservation, and the planet.

Forests and Energy
Over the years, forests have solely provided wood and charcoal for cooking but today, the usefulness of forests have far surpassed meeting cooking needs. Forests are now a good source of modern energy, which industrialised countries have begun exploring, in the form of bioenergy, for generation of heat, electricity, and liquid fuels.
Bioenergy is the form of energy derived from biomass – an organic (biological) material that stores sunlight-derived energy in the form of chemical energy, which thereafter can be converted to electrical or mechanical energy through well designed biochemical and mechanical processes for the production of biogas, biodiesel, bioethanol or green electricity. These biological materials include wood, wood wastes, forest slash, cereal straw, manure, municipal wastes and other by-products from forest resources and other agricultural processes.
Although Nigeria’s forest area is just about 9.5% of total agricultural land area, Nigeria is estimated to have a substantial biomass potential of about 144million tonnes per year from a combination of wood waste, charcoal, animal dung, and crop residues – these resources already provide rural dwellers primary energy. US Energy Information Administration posits that 80% of the total primary energy consumed in Nigeria is from biomass from these forests and agricultural resources. It is therefore possible to generate extra and clean modern energy for biofuel (for transportation) and electricity generation from these available resources, to boost Nigeria’s energy capacity.

A research on Finland, one of the global leaders in waste to energy solutions and biofuel technology reveals that 80% of its renewable energy comes from forest biomass. Apart from the fact that Finland is the most forested country in Europe, it has achieved its leading biomass energy status through conscious development of its forest resources. Finland embraces good forest management and conservation practices and also invests in modern technology for renewable energy development. Both the energy-dependent industry and the government have invested millions of Euros in forest energy research, harvesting, and processing. Furthermore, subsidies are provided for investments into wood-based power and heat production. Generally, the Finnish government and its people show strong commitment towards renewable energy and therefore maximise available resources to increase clean energy supply to its people, to boost its economy, and to reduce the threat of climate change on the planet.
Nigeria can learn from Finland. Even though the country is not as endowed with forest resources, it can borrow from Finland’s good practices as it explores other energy sources especially as dependence on oil and gas resources are evidently no longer sustainable.

About 95% of conventional forests in Nigeria are owned by the government yet, these forests are not properly secured and resources not conserved or maximized; approximately 1200km2 of forest is lost annually (Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Sept, 2016). Both the government and the energy industry should take the lead in ensuring that forest resources are properly conserved and maximised whilst biomass research is hugely invested in. In 2011, the Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM) reportedly granted loans to some companies to commence commercial production of biofuel; more private sector players are needed to participate in the development of bioenergy. Moreover, there are incentives in the Nigerian biofuel policy to promote market entry for investors in the sector. The academia should likewise explore more research work into bioenergy development, expansion, and sustainability.
As proposed by experts, present petroleum refineries in Nigeria can be utilised for biofuel production since production of both gasoline and diesel biofuels employ biomass conversion technologies that produce wide, boiling-range intermediate oil similar to conventional refining. The same refineries can be used in converting bio-derived oil to transport fuel (Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Sept, 2016).

Save Water, Save Energy
There is a close connection between water and energy. Water is needed for energy supply and energy is also needed for water supply. On one hand, water is used in electricity production, in form of hydropower and in cool-steaming electric power plants as well as for fuel extraction, refining, production, and cultivation of crops for biofuel. On the other hand, it takes significant energy to extract and treat wastewater; energy is also exerted for household and industrial water use in heating and cooling.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal six and seven (UNSDG 6&7) are about achieving safe and affordable drinking water and ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, modern energy for all, respectively. However, there is no way water and energy can be available for all when substantial energy is ‘wasted’ through the use of ‘vampire’ energy products and inefficient utilisation of water.
Despite the fact that about half of the Nigerian population lack access to modern energy, one of the reasons for the shortage of energy in the country is the lack of efficient energy practices. Unfortunately, the cost of providing energy can be several times the cost of saving it. Since the household sector accounts for the largest share of energy use in the country (in form of cooking, lighting and in the use of electrical appliances), energy efficient measures must be taken by individuals to ensure that the available energy supply is conserved as much as possible and one efficient means to saving energy is by saving water.
For Nigeria to meet up with the Global Goals; adequate water and energy supply for all citizens is required. Nigerians have a duty to conserve and reuse water through basic efficient practices; for instance, checking for water leaks, turning off taps when not in use, installing water saving equipment, and recycling wastewater.

For the 2017 World Water Day, safely managed Wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water and energy supply as well as an environmental protection strategy. By striving to increase and improve water sources and quality, we increase the chances of achieving affordable and clean energy. Wastewater can be reused as drinking water, for industry, agriculture, in the rehabilitation of natural ecosystems, and even for hydropower as explored in Australia and recently in South Africa, to conserve and at the same time increase energy generation. According, to the environmentalist view, 80% of untreated and unused wastewater generated by the society and released back into the ecosystem pollutes the environment. Ultimately, by reducing the amount of ‘excess’ supply of water consumed by every Nigerian, sufficient energy can be saved and access to clean water and energy increased whilst the planet remains protected.

The 2017 celebrations of water and forest days have provided another opportunity to revisit the urgent need to boost energy capacity in biomass, hydropower, and the conservation of water and energy especially by reusing treated wastewater.

References:
http://www.bioenergyconnection.org/article/finn-power-why-finland-leads-forest-bioenergy
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032116301605?np=y&npKey=857d09eaf75a318d49c67ec05cf64c127a621a1f6b2920fd005453c51b2401cd
http://www.greenfacts.org/en/forests-energy/
http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/deforestation/forest_publications_news_and_reports/living_forests_report/energy_forests/
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/2251-6832-3-11

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