The Transmission Company of Nigeria and the electricity distribution companies are always at daggers drawn over electricity load management without essentially looking to find a middle ground, writes Chineme Okafor
For any electricity consumer in Nigeria, satisfactory service is never about the volume of electricity that was generated on a given day by the power generation companies (Gencos) in the country, or the volume the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) could not get to the national grid, but only about how much electricity hour their Discos supply to them.
Sadly, for the duo of the TCN and Discos, this straightforward reality is mostly lost on them as they constantly disagree over whose failures is most spectacular, and which of the entities hasn’t played its part well in the value chain, as against finding a united front to end their endlessly connected failures.
As it is, Gencos produce the power the TCN transmit to the Discos who eventually distribute to homes and offices. Reports from the System Operations (SO) department of the TCN however indicated that while Nigeria has an installed generation capacity of 12,910.40 megawatts (MW), the Gencos can at the moment generate 7,652.6MW, but cannot do that much because the Discos and TCN are allegedly unable to take all of that if generated.
Similarly, the SO records claimed that the TCN has a wheeling capacity of 8,100MW, yet it has only been able to transmit a one-time 5,375MW capacity which happened in February 2019. The Discos capacities as stated by their association – the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED) is 6,288.96MW, but they still quarrel over load management with the TCN.
Bone of contention
Over the years, the TCN and Discos have blamed each other for the poor power services to consumers in Nigeria. At a point, the TCN was regarded as the weakest link in the value chain, but today, it said it has upgraded its capacity and could no longer be regarded as that.
Instead, the TCN has turned to blame the Discos for reportedly failing to upgrade their networks to enable them take more electricity to consumers. Often, it would call out the Discos for system trip offs, claiming their rejection of allocated loads was mostly responsible for such trip offs.
The TCN in its explanation of reasons why the sector records system trip offs, stated that the Discos frequently reject allocated electricity loads from it because they lack the capacity to take increased power demands from their consumers, and that when such happened the national grid would be impacted, hence, the trip offs.
In defence of their actions, the Discos however, explained that when they request for loads from the TCN, it often sends to parts of their network that could not withstand the allocated load, or do not have a need for them, hence their rejection of such.
This thus suggest that both entities have for years failed to communicate clearly to each other, especially on electricity load management.
A quarrel reignited
On the back of their communication failures, the TCN and Discos recently reignited their quarrel over load management when the national grid tripped off again in 2019.
Announcing the system collapse, the TCN in a statement from its General Manager, Public Affairs, Mrs. Ndidi Mbah, had stated that the grid experienced a system collapse on account of high voltage from a massive drop of load by the Discos.
It explained that the high voltage from the load drop also caused a fire incident in the 75MX-reactor in its Benin Substation, Sapele Road in Benin City, Edo State, adding that it led to high voltage in the system, which shattered the lightning arrester in close proximity to the 75MX-reactor in Benin.
“The shattered lightning arrester porcelain hit the reactor bushing causing further explosion on the reactor resulting in fire outbreak,” said the TCN, which disclosed that restoration of the grid however commenced immediately.
Furthermore, on the development, it said it has commenced the movement of another reactor to Benin to replace the burnt reactor and ensure voltage stability in the city as well as prevent a re-occurrence.
It noted that it would also review the entire protection and earthing system on its sub-stations and transmission infrastructure across the country, while upgrading its network through the Transmission Rehabilitation and Expansion Programme (TREP) which is financed by multilateral donors.
However, in a reaction akin to what has defined their relationship in a long time now, the Discos alleged that the frequent collapses of the country’s national grid have remained because the TCN lacked standard power protection equipment at its transmission substations.
The Discos in a statement sent by ANED, had blamed the TCN for the poor showings of the grid, stating that, “poor transmission network protection” were responsible for the nine system collapses they said have been recorded so far in 2019.
They further explained that they, “remain available to offer their technical assistance to TCN, to ensure that our valued customers do not remain in darkness,” adding that the failure of the TCN Benin substation was the second of such occurrence in the same city within a year.
According to the Discos, they have records of the trend in burnt transmission stations and failed transmission substations of the TCN in Lagos; Calabar; Abuja; Enugu; and Onitsha as at May 8, 2019, which they alleged were caused by inadequate transmission protection mechanisms and procedures.
They also expressed displeasure over TCN’s practice of arbitrary load dumping on them whenever it had challenges managing energy on the grid. This, they added causes lots of commercial and technical problems to them.
These alleged deficiencies of the TCN, they noted were captured in a July 2017 System Adequacy Report published by the SO of the TCN.
ANED said a properly protected transmission system will isolate faults, but, “unfortunately, the resultant effect is that we have experienced the ninth total black out in Nigeria this year (five times in January, once in April, twice in May and once in June), a rate of transmission failure that is in excess of one blackout per month – far beyond any international standard.”
It also noted that over 100 partial and total transmission system collapses have been recorded since the sector was privatised in 2013, adding, “This magnitude of system collapses should not be a regular reality of our country.”
They further suggested that rather than trading blames, the TCN should focus on realising actual delivery of its acclaimed 8100MW wheeling capacity. They said: “The current figure is based on nothing more than a computer simulation.”
They also urged the TCN to address its radial transmission network for better power delivery, and procure the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) to monitor the grid and trace system collapse faults.
According to ANED, the Managing Director of the TCN, Mr. Usman Mohammed in 2018, equally agreed that a functional SCADA system will show clearly activities on the grid.
Ending the blame game
Considering that their continued quarrel has been felt mostly by electricity consumers whom the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has a mandate to protect, industry experts have suggested that the regulator takes up a proactive interest in the quarrel between both entities and address their challenges.
According to the experts, both entities have indicated that they have done poorly in communicating how to manage load allocation, and as such an intervention from the NERC would be the best alternative to getting them improve on their communications with each other.