Frequent grid collapse symptoms of troubled power sector

It is only the sixth month in 2022 and Nigeria’s creaking grid has collapsed five times, emblematic of the deep-seated challenges denying a country of 200 million people stable power.

The instability of the national grid is the function of fewer than 9 plants out of 28, tasked with feeding the grid 80 percent of its operational power, the absence of firm gas supply contracts to keep a reserve and powerlines where maintenance is too few and far between.

According to the Nigeria Electricity System Operator, the national electricity grid which crashed from a peak of 3,703 megawatts to as low as 9MW on June 12, was the consequence of low generation and vandalism.

Between 2010 and 2020, the national grid collapsed a total of 216 times despite an investment, the Transmission Company of Nigeria, the government company managing the grid, said was over $1.6billion in 2019.

“From the incessant collapse of the national grid to electric sparks resulting in fire incidences, it goes without saying that Nigeria’s power infrastructure is giving way to neglect and underinvestment,” said analysts at CSL Brokers in a note.

Nigeria’s national grid or the network of cables and powerlines that wheels power from the power plants around the country are old, poorly maintained and vulnerable to frequent collapse.

According to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) there are currently twenty eight (28) grid connected power stations consisting of eleven (11) privatized legacy power plants, eight (8)

Nigerian National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) plants and nine(9) Independent Power Plants. Together with the available capacity of

these plant stood at 7,771MW with a total of 142 turbine units last year.

However, of Nigeria’s 28 power plants, nine of them account for about 80 percent of generation due to their size and availability.

Analysts say the implication is that the (over) reliance of the grid on the energy supplied by nine power plants may pose a risk to network stability in the event of a sudden loss of any of them unless adequate proactive measures such as spinning reserves are put in place.

Spinning reserves are backup energy production capacities that can be made available to the system operator (for transmission) within ten minutes of a power system failure and can operate continuously for at least two hours once brought online. It is done by increasing the power generation output of power plants already connected to the system.

But this frequently fails.

“Our concern here is that the NEPA/PHCN pattern of non- performance has continued till date,” the analysts say.

Often the reasons for grid collapse range from inadequate water levels to keep hydroplants functioning at optimum levels, lack of gas to keep gas-fired plants operational, and sometimes sabotage.

“The national power grid system collapses due to poor generation by generation companies (GenCos), attacks on transmission towers, and low water levels at hydropower plants,” said …. Power minister

In April, TCN accused the Oku Iboku community in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State of vandalising the electricity tower connecting the Odukpani- Ikot Ekpene 330KVTransmission line.

Read also: Electricity operators commit to 5,000MW from July 1

The thieves helped themselves to critical nuts holding the towers forcing them to the ground and made away with it to the smelter and sell. The effect was 400mw capacity at Odukpani power station stranded while darkness spread from Akwa Ibom to Kaduna.

The minister also said government effort to expand the grid has been frustrated by communities who deny the right of way to transmission projects.

Communities, where powerlines should pass, are making it difficult to expand the grid as they demand compensation before the structures they built on the right of way of power lines can be removed.

Many communities in Ogun State for example in Papalanto, Ibogun, Ogijo, and Sagamu are frustrating efforts to expand the grid as some of their buildings are right under TCN power lines.

These structures are making it difficult to evacuate electricity from Olorunsogo Gas Turbine Plant has an installed capacity of 335 megawatts (Mw) or to expand the grid to other places.

“The Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) is undergoing reform, which takes time. Nigeria is a big country with a large population and insecurity and lack of funds to execute these projects, present problems,” said Abubakar Aliyu, minister of Power.

A team of TCN engineers in February sustained injuries when their vehicle struck a landmine laid by suspected Boko Haram terrorists Borno on their way to restore electricity in Maiduguri after a power line was attacked.

Nigeria’s 2013 power sector privatisation exercise left Transmission in the hands of the Federal Government but the Distribution and Generation aspects left in the hands of the private sector have not been a spectacular success.

Power distribution companies (DisCos) have managed to raise collections by about half the value of the power supplied to them as they struggle to ramp up collections and pay other market operators in the value chain.

Power generation companies (GenCos) blame low electricity generation to the national grid for the N1.644 trillion owed them by the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc for power previously supplied.

According to Joy Ogaji, executive secretary of the Association of Power Generating Companies (APGC), a trade group of generation companies, the breakdown of the debts, is: N214.93 billion in 2015; N273.32 billion in 2016; N236.47 in 2017, N264.08 billion in 2018, and N256.97 billion, N266.01 billion and N120.25 billion in 2019,2020 and 2021 respectively.

The figures were however disputed by NBET which claimed that not all GenCos were entitled to unutilized capacity payments.

The Federal Government has mostly been providing intervention funding to prevent the sector from totally crumbling. By 2020, this intervention has reached over N1.6trillion.

Lower oil revenues forced the government to rethink this subsidy and raised tariffs in 2020 with the introduction of the Service Reflective tariff where consumers pay according to hours of power supplied. But a lack of widespread meter deployment has constrained higher revenue and estimated billing has attracted ill-will from consumers.

This situation forced the government compelled the government to sign an MOU with the German government and Siemens to ramp up transmission infrastructure in the country, a deal that analysts say little progress has been made.

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