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Long wait for constant power supply amidst recurring grid collapse

By Kingsley Jeremiah
15 May 2019   |   3:41 am
Nigeria’s electricity grid, operated from Osogbo in Osun has continued to show the true state of the nation’s privatized electricity industry. Lately, the epileptic performance of the system left untold hardship on homes and businesses with recurring system collapse. The asset, which is managed by Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) clearly revealed that the much-awaited…

National grid

Nigeria’s electricity grid, operated from Osogbo in Osun has continued to show the true state of the nation’s privatized electricity industry. Lately, the epileptic performance of the system left untold hardship on homes and businesses with recurring system collapse. The asset, which is managed by Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) clearly revealed that the much-awaited improvement in the power sector is still far from reality. KINGSLEY JEREMIAH writes.

Nigerians had expected that power generation, transmission, and distribution would significantly improve after the sector was privatized in 2013.

Expectations were specifically high because the much-trumpeted effort was anchored on the promise of breaking the control of electricity from the government to ensure adequate, regular and stable supply of electricity to the consumer at a reasonable cost.

Unfortunately, the sector is currently in delusion as the national electricity grid has become a critical cause of concern.

After collapsing for about six times between January and April, the worst of the grid came last week with three scrunches in 24 hours. The incident left electricity output to a record low of about 230 megawatts as against the 4,032 megawatts national average and left most parts of the country in total darkness.

On Wednesday 8, May, 2019 at 14:36 hours, the grid collapsed. It came back at 19:05 hours. On Thursday 9th, the system collapsed again at 05:26 hours, with supply restored at 09:36 hours.

“Sadly, there was another system collapse at 14:36hrs this afternoon and still no supply till this moment. We again regret all inconvenience and we will keep you informed as all hands are on deck to restore supply,” a message from Eko Distribution Company to customers read.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) said a total system collapse means total blackout nationwide, while partial system collapse is a failure of a section of the grid.

Though the Managing Director of TCN, Usman Mohammed had last week offered explanations to the prevailing situation, this didn’t settle well with most stakeholders, who insisted that there were much more to do if the system must function optimally, considering the level of economic losses from the recurring collapse of the national grid.

Mohammed said the collapse may have been triggered because one of the generators went off, multiple tripping on a substation in Onitsha, Anambra state, lack of investment in critical transmission infrastructure and poor investment by the distribution companies.

“Although, we have achieved some level of stability on the grid through the massive investment that we have done in the last two years.

“It does not mean that our grid has become disturbance-free because our grid is still very fragile. It is a journey that we are in that will take us to have a modern and stabilised grid.

According to him, the country needs to have a critical investment in lines and substations so that the company can put N-1 across the country, that will ensure that any equipment that goes out at any point in time will not affect supply on that area.

He said while country requires spinning reserve commensurate with the current level of power generation in the country, Nigeria has been operating with zero spinning reserve, stating that about 250 spinning reserves have however been procured but the facilities were totally not adequate for a stable grid.

However, Former chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Sam Amadi stated that the continuous collapse of the national grid was evidence of underlying problems in the electricity policy, adding that the policy framework and its implementation have been very poor.

While proposing options to make the system work, Amadi noted that the obstinate collapse shows that the electricity reform is not working.

To change the game, Amadi stated that the government has to establish a real presidential task force outside the Ministry of Power but working with it to track interventions to optimize improvement in the short term.

In the medium term, he advised the government to radically review the performance of the distribution companies through a regulated benchmark that would be transparent and consensual.

“After a period of time, say six months, the regulator should revise the franchise area of each DisCo based on performance on these benchmarks. This process will be powerful incentives for drastic improvement in performance.

“Also, in the long term the government should review the policy by reengaging with investment in power under a new market model that is more aligned to the Asian model rather than the Anglo-American Business model,” Amadi noted.

Director, Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law (CPEEL), University of Ibadan, Prof. Adeola Adenikinju insisted that transmission has been identified quite rightly as the weakest linkage in the electricity value chain.

To him, seeing that power is at the centre of realizing any of the economic goals of the government, it remained important that government puts sufficient funds to get this segment of the value chain in the right shape.

Adenikinju said: “I fully realize that a lot of investment is required at a time of tight fiscal space for the government. However, given the binding constraint that power shortages have on economic growth, employment, and poverty, then, no sacrifice is too much to fix the broken national grid.”

He said while government ownership of the key infrastructure comes with great responsibility, the Federal Government must provide for needed investment to ensure that the important bridge between generation and distribution is fixed.

According to him, decentralisation of the national grid geographically, attracting funding from the sovereign wealth fund, getting long term funding from international development agencies would be quite helpful in fixing the transmission grid

Executive Secretary, Association of Power Generation Companies, the umbrella body for the GenCos, Dr Joy Ogaji, said with the steady growth of power generation, both installed and available in Nigeria, the gains of privatisation and the reform in the power industry could be realized if what is generated could all be evacuated or transmitted.

“The market expects efficient and adequate control of the grid network by the System Operations sub-sector of the TCN. This is not evident, given the fact that System Operator (SO) is still using radio and telephone communications systems to control the grid in the 22nd century as against deploying SCADA.

“We understand that SCADA takes a big chunk of every year’s appropriation but at the end, nothing comes out in terms of deploying SCADA. Poor communications system leads to the incessant system outages being experienced today. These outages take very devastating tolls on the GenCos, who are not even considered for the associated deemed capacity,” Ogaji stressed.

She stated that grid operations should be handled separately from capital projects as it was done before 2017 with a purely designated Project Monitoring Unit, noting that indiscriminate redeployment of staff to inappropriate locations usually dislocate free flowing of services.

Former Managing Director of the Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), Rumundaka Wonodi, said the development confirms incompetence and indiscipline within the sector.

Like other experts, Wonodi said unless investment is attracted to the sector, stabilizing the grid may remain a mirage.

“We need investments to enhance and strengthen the grid but that is not the reason for the current spate of system collapse. This confirms incompetence and indiscipline within the sector,” he said.