• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Frequent grid collapses question competence of managers

Nigerian national grid collapses, triggering nationwide blackout

Nigeria’s fragile electricity grid collapsed again Thursday last week, the thirteenth such collapse in the past 13 months, casting doubts on the competence of the system operator, a unit of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) managed by the Federal Government and the billion-dollar funding the organisation has received.

The Systems Operator is responsible for keeping the grid stable. From its headquarters in Abuja, it coordinates the supply of electricity generation from Generation Companies (GenCos) through its National Control Centre (NCC) in Osogbo where at least 30 percent of the capacity generated is lost through weary transmission lines.

It claims that its office in Oshogbo is equipped with a state-of-the-art Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)/ Energy Management System, Tele-control Interfaces, Human Machine Interfaces, Communication Equipment, System Planning tools, etc, and supervises all the Regional Control Centres in the grid network, but the reality tells a different story.

To maintain the integrity of the grid, GenCos are obligated to maintain spinning reserves – generation capacity that is online but unloaded and that can be used to compensate for generation or transmission outages – but the operator has over the past year been unable to enforce provisions that require GenCos to maintain these reserves.

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Last year, spinning reserves fell from over 200MW to less than 40MW and on some days thinned to zero and threats to remove GenCos who flout the rules on spinning reserves from the grid, have largely been unenforced.

Worse still, the technological systems required to keep the system operational, SCADA, is broken. The SCADA control system architecture comprising computers, networked data communications and graphical user interfaces (GUI) for high-level process supervisory management of the grid.

But the SCADA system has not functioned in years, thereby preventing the gathering and analysing of real-time data. The process of relaying communication to sub-stations is tardy as operators have to make phone calls to engineers in the event of a problem.

Nigeria’s dodgy telecommunication services ensure that substation operators do not receive information timeously, so they allocate electricity to DisCos even when capacity is limited. Drawing on insufficient capacity, reserves are spent and this triggers a collapse.

“Much of these frequent collapses is the result of poor communication between the Systems operator and those managing the substations,” says Chuks Nwani, an energy lawyer based in Lagos. “The process has to be automated to end this situation.”

Industry analysts also blame the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) which has repeatedly failed to sanction stakeholders involved in the recurring collapses which continuously put intense pressure on the socio-economic activities in Africa’s largest economy.

They also attribute some blame to load rejection by most of the 11 distribution companies across the country, putting greater pressure on the national grid and the spinning reserve.

“The problem of incessant grid collapse is systemic. TCN will blame Discos and Discos will blame TCN. The truth is that TCN has improved its capacity but not too significantly. The Discos carry most of the blame. They have underinvestment in their network such that they cannot take and utilise all available generation, which results in load rejection and inadvertent pressure on the grid,” Sam Amadi, former chairman of the NERC, told BusinessDay.

Usman Gur Mohammed, the managing director of TCN, has repeatedly called for the recapitalisation of the distribution companies in the country, insisting that the Discos have not made a commensurate investment to tally with the investment with the TCN to grow the underperforming power sector.

In its newsletter published on the TCN website in December, Mohammed Gur, managing director of the TCN, explained that the company was carrying out a Transmission Rehabilitation Expansion Programme (TREP) having secured $1.661 billion financing from multilateral organisations.

TREP is expected to expand and stabilise the capacity of the grid to 20,000 MW by 2023 but operators often conflate expanding capacity to better grid management.

Babatunde Fashola, former minister of Power made several public statements praising the government’s effort to ramp wheeling capacity from 6,000MW to 8,000MW but this has not translated to a more stable grid. Under his watch, the national grid collapsed over 100 times.

Frequent grid collapse with the resultant power outages for several hours or even days wreaks havoc on the economy by raising energy expenses of individuals, small and large industries, disrupt operations of emergency operations and heightens security threat.

Poor energy access sees over 80 million people denied a chance at a better life due to decreased economic opportunities. Nigeria already loses about $29 billion annually, due to epileptic power supply, according to a World Bank-sponsored study.