In Last 12 Years, Nigeria’s Electricity Grid Suffered Over 222 Partial, Total Collapses

In Last 12 Years, Nigeria’s Electricity Grid Suffered Over 222 Partial, Total Collapses

*Ministry advocates purchase of SCADA system 

*Expert blames archaic, obsolete grid system*Report says Sub-Saharan Africa loses up to $28bn in GDP to power collapses

Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja

In the last twelve and a half years, spanning the period from 2010 to the first half of 2022, Nigeria’s power grid suffered at least 222 partial and total collapses, a THISDAY analysis of industry data, mostly from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), has shown.

To reduce the rate of grid failures, Minister of Power Abubakar Aliyu said the federal government would fast-track the purchase and installation of a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system.

However, a study jointly published in March by Nnaemeka Emodi of the University of Queensland and Ogheneruona Diemuodeke of the University of Port Harcourt, estimated that in Sub-Saharan Africa, every one per cent increase in power outages (in terms of hours) had been associated with a 2.86 per cent decrease in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “This translates to a loss of about $28 billion in GDP,” according to the academics.

While information relating to the crashes was not officially available from September 2021 to June 2022, a 12-year-nine-month review of NERC data, covering 2010 to September 2021, showed that 216 crash incidents happened during the period.

But from independently sourced information between the last quarter of 2021 and June this year, it was gathered that about six cases of total collapse of the power grid had been publicly reported, taking the figure to 222 between 2010 to June 2022.
Although there was a marked improvement between 2020 and 2021, the fragile national power grid experienced frequent crashes this year, amounting to approximately six times it would be happening in 2022.

The last incident happened on June 13, less than a month after the previous one, which threw the entire country into a total blackout.
Similarly, there was a complete breakdown twice in March and twice in April this year, mostly induced by gas constraints, water management challenges, gas pipeline vandalism, and general system imbalance, according to the authorities.

As a background, the national power grid, a network of electricity transmission lines connecting generating stations to loads across the entire country, is designed to operate within certain stability limits in terms of voltage (330kV+5 per cent) and frequency (50Hz+5 per cent).
Whenever the grid operates out of these stability ranges, it becomes unstable; power quality decreases and leads to wide-scale supply disruptions, resulting in grid collapse and blackouts.

While maintaining a stable grid frequency of 50Hz requires a sustained balance between the amount of electricity fed into the electricity grid and the amount of electricity off-taken by end-users, since it is not economically optimal to store electricity in large quantities over a long period, the System Operator (SO) ensures that the frequency is sustained at all times within a tolerance threshold.

When supply exceeds demand, the electrical frequency increases and in extreme cases some power plants that are unable to tolerate excessive frequency variation may shut down, thereby causing a sudden drop in the available generation on the grid. This exacerbates the frequency imbalance, potentially leading to a full/partial system collapse.

It is the same when demand exceeds supply and the frequency drops. Unless the SO immediately brings in additional supply or sheds off some load, it could lead to a complete collapse of the grid.
A THISDAY review of the data showed that in 2010, Nigeria experienced 42 total and partial crashes; 19 in 2011; 24 in 2012; still 24 in 2013; 13 in 2014; and 10 in 2015.

In 2016, the number of cases rose to 28; it came to 21 in 2017; 13 in 2018; 11 in 2019; and four in 2020.
Following the same downward trend, in the first quarter of 2021, one power collapse was recorded; in the second quarter, it remained one incident, while in the third quarter, two breakdowns were recorded, bringing the total for last year to roughly four.
NERC stated, “The stability of the grid network showed improvement in 2020, as the number of total system collapses declined from the previous years.  The improvement in the grid stability is attributable to the tighter enforcement and adherence to the provisions of the Grid Code, which mandates free governor control at grid-connected power plants.”

To sustain the improvement in grid stability in subsequent years, the commission vowed to continue to intensify monitoring of strict compliance with the SO’s directives to generators on free governor and frequency control mode in line with the provisions of the subsisting operating codes in the industry.
 The commission added that it was exploring options for the enforcement of under-frequency load shedding scheme that had been put in place to provide an added layer of security for the grid in the case of a sudden loss of generation.

A few weeks ago, Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Senator Gabriel Suswan, speaking at the recently concluded Nigeria Oil and Gas (NOG) conference, said the federal government had made a payment of $100 million as part of Nigeria’s counterpart fund in the Presidential Power Initiative (PPI) being undertaken by German power firm, Siemens.

While assuring that grid crashes would soon be a thing of the past, Suswan said, “The government has paid that $100 million for the project so that Siemens can quickly activate that contract, so that the power deficit, which has militated against proper servicing of the industry will come to an end.
“And so this issue of grid collapse will become a thing of the past. We will be able to address the issues, fix the infrastructure, and then we’ll increase power supply to about 7,000 megawatts as it stands now.”

Although there could be pockets of issues with other lines, the Alaoji to Onitsha, and Calabar transmission lines have been touted to be among the major lines where frequency disturbances have been recorded since 2010. Alaoji has about 500MW.
In addition, the long stretches of the 132KV lines could cause transmission losses and low voltage if more load points are connected to the line without a transmission substation or an injection substation.

In March, when the grid collapsed, the Minister of Power said the federal government had upgraded the Okpai, Odukpani, and Alam VI power plants as part of efforts to improve power supply. Aliyu also said the government was preparing to begin negotiations with Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) to establish the new Okpai 11 power plant on the grid.

The new power plant will add 400 megawatts of generation capacity, the minister said in a statement.
Successive Nigerian governments have promised but failed to turnaround the country’s power sector, which on average produces about 4,000 megawatts for a population of over 200 million.

“We wish to reassure all electricity consumers that all relevant agencies involved in the restoration of normality in power supply have been charged to act in the context of the emergency state of the industry,” Aliyu said.
The minister added that the federal government would speed up the purchase and installation of the SCADA system to curb grid failures.
The SCADA system is a software used to monitor and control an electrical grid system based on the information it collects from the substations within that system.

Aliyu said while reacting to  recent system crashes, “We wish to assure Nigerians that the federal government is working assiduously to deliver on the much-needed reforms and investments, including SCADA, that are critical to improving the capacity and reliability of the national grid.”
The research paper jointly published in March by Emodi of the University of Queensland and Diemuodeke of the University of Port Harcourt stated that in sub-Saharan Africa, every one per cent increase in power outages (in terms of hours) was associated with 2.86 per cent decrease in GDP, which translates to about $28 billion loss in GDP.

According to the academics, “In summary, the grid collapse can be attributed to the following major factors: low water levels at the hydropower plants, low gas supply at the gas power plants, fire at the largest power generating station, load rejection, and inability of the transmission companies to wheel electricity from generators to distributors.”

They also listed archaic and weak national grid, poor utility performance, theft/vandalism of grid equipment, insufficient funding to upgrade from analogue to a smart grid, extraordinary transmission and distribution losses as part of the challenges.

When contacted last night, a legal practitioner and National President of the Nigeria Consumer Protection Network (NCPN), Mr. Kola Olubiyo, a long-term analyst in the power sector, compared the grid to a new car that over the years had been turned to a taxi.

Olubiyo expressed surprise that in 2022, Nigeria was still using equipment manufactured and deployed in the 1960s, insisting that even as of today, there is hardly any way the operators would know what is happening end-to-end on the grid.

Olubiyo stated, “Most of these equipment, by the time they were privatised, there was no critical technical evaluation, there was no diagnostic appraisal. The equipment are obsolete. If you built an equipment in 1967, it is supposed to have a shelf life. It is not supposed to be used for life.

“There is failure of different layers of protection for the grid, the moment they are old and you don’t replace or create a new network, it becomes an issue. We are not investing in automation, there’s no synchronisation between generation, transmission and distribution.”

He highlighted the need to remotely monitor the grid system, explaining, however, that as it is, that is not possible.

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