From time began, man has always sought means by which to make life and work easier. First he started with using simple tools. Then he began to use Animals. Then he began to make other men use his tools to do his work for him. Fast forward to now, and we have robots doing a significant portion of man’s work for him.
Robots are machines capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer (Wikipedia). Robotic technology meanwhile, is the application of scientific knowledge in the development and production of robots. Robots have proved themselves to be quite indispensable, as they go to work and function in places where man may not be able to continually go, and they perform repetitive functions that would possibly bore the average Joe and push him to a state of near-madness. And it is these features of theirs that makes the Future of Robotic Technology in the Nigerian Energy Sector a gloriously bright one.
As recorded in the year 2011, Nigerians consumed 108 Mtoe (i.e. a Million tonne equivalent of energy- a unit relative to the amount of energy released by burning a tonne of crude oil) of Energy, with Traditional Biomass and waste contributing 83% of the total, while Fossil Fuels contributed 16%, and Hydropower came in with 1% (Wikipedia), making us one of the largest Energy consumers in the world. Though Electricity may not be the biggest form of Energy utilized by Nigerians in terms of quantity, it is the most widespread form of energy and is thus, the major commodity of the Nigerian Energy Sector. It has undergone many changes, from name changes; to changes in the ownership- in summary, we have come a long way. However it is unfortunate that, through all these changes, when you weigh the human and capital resources sunk into the Energy Sector against the reality of what we have on ground, you will realize that the scales are doubly tipped against real results. And there are many factors which precipitate this most undesirable reality we have, but an important one would be the ostentatious lack of a maintenance culture in Nigeria.
There are innumerable projects that have been executed and commissioned, but have fallen into disrepair and disuse thanks to this lack of maintenance. And this is one area where Robotic Technology can come into play. From the point of production of energy, through distribution, till the final point of consumption by the consumer, there are a thousand and one things that can go wrong. When you take into consideration the transport of the raw material needed to generate energy, the thousands of kilometers of power lines crisscrossing the landscape of the country, the electrical installations worth millions of tax payers’ money which dot the Nation, the need and burden for proper maintenance of all these structures strikes you more forcefully. But with the almost inexhaustible versatility inherent in Robotic Technology, these daunting logistics should not cause us to break a sweat.
But how exactly are we to harness Robotic Technology to solve our maintenance issues? The first step would be to encourage ingenious home grown robotic technology, as this home based technology would be more likely to design robots that would be able to work more efficiently in the peculiar Nigerian terrain, with the mindset and culture of the Robot’s handlers in mind.
Subsequently, robots can be assigned to different areas of the country, with the design of the robots enabling them to identify, and possibly fix any anomaly that may spring up, and also be able to send a precise alarm to those in charge in the event that the robots are not able to fix these anomalies.
The kind of design I envision for these robots would make them airborne, with self-recharge made possible by engaging renewable sources of energy, thus precluding the need for them to repeatedly return to base for refueling or recharging, except of course the need for repair or reprogramming arises.
If this kind of idea can be implemented, the Nigerian Energy sector stands to gain a lot of benefits, one of which would be the prompt restoration of Power in the case of a mishap, especially when it is not immediately clear where the fault may be coming from. Apart from rapid detection, robots can also immediately make repairs, even in the most extreme of environments, through preprogrammed instructions that deal with repair of simple faults, or through remote control of the robot. With robots on duty 24/7, any malfunction of electrical installations can be immediately identified, and rectified.
With Robotic Technology, we also stand to gain more, by spending less. At first, the development and production of self-sufficient robots that can constantly and continually patrol electrical and energy installations may look expensive, but when you contemplate the cost of employing humans that may or may not be relied upon, in the long run you would realize that the Energy sector would be saving a tidy amount of money by tapping into Robotic Technology.
There will surely also be a reduction in crime involving Energy and electrical installations, as Robotic Technology would detect a crime and the criminal, and would send such information in real time to the appropriate quarters for immediate action. This would save the Nigerian Energy sector hundreds of millions of naira lost directly and indirectly from vandalism of pipelines that supply power houses and from theft of electrical infrastructure that carries energy to its final consumers.
The Niger Delta provides the Country with practically all of the energy derived from fossil fuels, but that area has been rewarded with a destroyed environment, a devastated ecosystem, and thousands of indigenes deprived of their means of livelihood- the land, and the sea. With the aid of this envisioned technology, we will be able to detect an oil-spill before it spreads to, and destroys more areas. We will also be able to monitor clean-up efforts in real time instead of depending on second-hand, possibly doctored reports.
But this envisioned Robotic Technology will not exactly fall out of the sky. We as a country will need to move away from indifference towards the development and production of home grown Robots, and begin to encourage ingenious technology. The best technology that works for a country does not usually come from outside the country. This is not to say that we should totally jettison foreign technology; that would be back-woods tactics. Instead, we as a country could adapt these foreign technologies and use them as pointers to how we want our robots to work.
There is no denying the fact that a lot of work still needs to be done in the Nigerian Energy Sector, as the introduction of Robotic Technology into the sector right now maybe something of a cart-before-the-horse affair. In this country where the Bureaucracy is quite inseparable from every other thing, a major clean-up will need to be done there so as to prevent backward bureaucracy from constituting a source of impedance to the progress that Robotic Technology would bring to the Energy Sector. Weak political will, ineffective government agencies, and all forms of conflicts of interests will have to be taken care of for Robotic Technology to thrive in the Nigerian Energy Sector.
Once we can take care of the human factor, Robotic Technology has the capacity to take the Nigerian Energy Sector to new heights, with respect to resources spent, and results delivered. And it doesn’t have to happen sometime in the distant hazy future, we can make it happen now!