When Power Supply Crashed to Zero

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For more than four hours on Thursday, March 31, Nigeria plainly had no electricity on her grid to distribute to homes and businesses because the entire system collapsed. Chineme Okafor writes about the issues surrounding the unfortunate development

On February 2, 2016 the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) announced that the country had recorded a peak power generation and transmission mark of 5, 074 megawatts (MW). That record, however, did not last long as on-grid power generation and transmission soon fell below 4000MW.

Since then, the situation has refused to improve and instead further dipped until it got to zero 58 days after the new height was announced by the TCN.

Specifically on Thursday, March 31, between the hours of 12.35 and 3pm, Nigeria had no electricity to supply to her industries, homes and offices as the country’s power system crashed to zero from a system collapse that was linked to the tripping of a transmission line and poor gas supply.

According to the TCN, the collapse which ensured that none of the 11 electricity distribution companies (Discos) got any power for distribution to their customers, was caused by the tripping of the Osogbo/Ihovbor and Ihovbor/Benin 330kV transmission lines.

The tripping, TCN said, resulted in the loss of about 201MW of electricity generation from the linked Ihovbor power station in the Delta.

That development further meant that there was a generation/load imbalance in the system and the sudden decline in system frequency and of course the collapse.

The TCN said that before the collapse occurred, total grid generation was about 3,196MW and that the low generation at that time was due to shortage of gas supply to generating plants in the south of the country.
According to the TCN, Nigeria’s transmission grid is characteristically susceptible to system collapses when generation is below 3,500MW and the available spinning reserve capacity is low.

The TCN by this disclosure admitted that the transmission system has remained rather poor despite government’s repeated claims of massive funding of key transmission projects across the country to reinforce its strength and enable it meet up with expected generation growth.

While the TCN said it was working hard to improve on the system’s stability, which it said had seen the country record substantial reduction of collapses from 22 in 2013 to 9 in 2014 and 6 in 2015, such developments like that of March 31 remind one of experts’ initial doubts over the capacity of the TCN to deliver on its mandates in the power sector.

Currently under management contract of Manitoba Hydro International (MHI), the TCN has reportedly struggled to find finances for key transmission projects that would strengthen the country’s grid. The company has also continued to grapple with internal management squabbles, which has greatly contributed to the failure of MHI to have a firm grip on its operations.
In as much as a substantial number of the system collapses, both partial and major, which TCN record are attributable to low system generation due majorly to gas supply issues, the ability of the TCN to also manage the system well has often remained in doubt especially amongst industry operators.

Potentially, the transmission system is still considered by the sector as its weakest link. Overtime, inadequate transmission infrastructure has been underlined as being responsible for stranded capacity, a distinctive occurrence in the grid, while significant investment needed to upgrade the transmission system and keep it at pace with the expected growth in the generation capacity and consumers’ expectations of improved power supply, have rather come in trickles or mismanaged due majorly to poor project planning and execution by the TCN.
Having kept for itself the TCN, these experts expect that the government would do well to find for the segment sustainable means of financing its operations and projects.

As at the last count, the government said approximately $2.7 billion would come the way of the TCN from sources that include bilateral partners to fund its transmission expansion projects.

The government noted in this regard that such funds would come in the form of loans from the World Bank-$700 million; JICA- $200 million; African Development Bank (AfDB)-$370 million; as well as the expected $1.65 million proceeds from the sale of NIPPs plants; EXIM China’s $500 million and other contractor financed turnkey projects worth $1 billion.
Also in his 2013 judgment of the TCN, former chairman of the Technical Committee of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), Peterside Atedo, said at a forum on financing the power sector reforms for economic development, which was organised by ‘The Bankers’ Committee’ that transmission was yet to live up to its responsibilities in the sector.

Atedo had said then that: “Transmission is the “life-blood” of this entire electricity eco-system and it is also potentially the weakest link at present. I am reliably informed that, currently, stranded capacity due to transmission evacuation constraints is in the region of 100MW. The other weak link is gas supply and gas transportation.

“The ability of TCN to catch up with generation availability and also keep pace with future expansion will depend on its continued access to financing for its huge capex needs and also its ability to execute and rigorously monitor project implementation to high professional standards.”

Responses from industry stakeholders on the status of TCN also indicate that not much has changed at the company, hence, the need for the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, to look closely on TCN and the transmission network.

“The transmission should be possibly handed over to at least two serious groups from China in the form of long term concession of Build Operate and Transfer (BOT), so that they can sit down and design for us very functional transmission system which they can manage for maybe 20 years and transfer back to the government,” said one of the industry experts, Mr. Dan Kunle.

Kunle, however, stated that, “ownership of the transmission network must always be retained by government because it is a natural monopoly.”