Nigerians lose hope over national grid collapse

Nigeria’s electricity issue continues to defy solutions in spite of efforts by successive governments to fix the sector. Regrettably, it has continued to crawl after over six decades; BENJAMIN UMUTEME reports.

The Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), formerly the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), is an organisation governing the use of electricity in Nigeria. The history of electricity development in Nigeria can be traced back to the end of the 19th century, when the first generating power plant was installed in the city of Lagos in 1898. From then until 1950, the pattern of electricity development was in the form of individual electricity power undertakings scattered all over the country.

In spite of various efforts to improve power supply to Nigerians, major issues such as power outages and unreliable services continue to crop up. And despite the government’s relentless assurances that privatisation will be a silver bullet, it has also failed as conditions of service to electricity consumers have worsened over the years, in spite of increasing annual tariff.

With privatisation of the sector in 2013 November, PHCN was broken down into 11 Distribution Companies (DisCos), 6 Generating Companies (GenCos) and one Transmission Company. They are: Abuja Electricity Distribution Company plc; Benin Electricity Distribution Company plc; Eko Electricity Distribution Company plc; Enugu Electricity Distribution Company plc; Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company plc; Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company plc; Jos Electricity Distribution Company plc; Kano Electricity Distribution Company plc; Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company plc; Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company plc; Yola Electricity Distribution Company plc.

The GenCos are: Afam Power plc, Egbin Power plc, Kainji Hydro-Electric plc, Sapele Power plc, Shiroro Hydro-Electric plc, Ughelli Power plc, and Transmission Company of Nigeria.

The collapse

When the news filtered into town that the national grid had collapsed, it was more of anger than surprise for most Nigerians. Many were angry that despite the persistent collapse of the national grid, the government was yet to proffer a lasting solution.

On Wednesday last week, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) said in a statement that the national grid had experienced a total system collapse resulting in blackout in some parts of the country. The statement by TCN’s General Manager, Public Affairs, Ndidi Mbah, said voltage collapse was responsible for the collapse of the grid.

“The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) hereby states that at about 11.01 am today, 12th of May, 2021, there was a total system collapse of the grid, as a result of voltage collapse at some parts of the grid.

“TCN commenced grid recovery immediately after the collapse, from Shiroro Generating Station to Katampe TS, Abuja through the Shiroro – Katampe line at 11:29 am, and also through Delta Generating Station to Benin Transmission Substation and has reached Osogbo and parts of Lagos.

“While the grid restoration and power restoration gradually progress to other parts of the country, the cause of voltage collapse that precipitated this failure is equally being investigated. TCN appeals for patience as it works assiduously to ensure full restoration of the grid and consequently power supply to the remaining parts of the country.”

The national grid on February 17 experienced partial collapse leading to power outage in some parts of Nigeria including Lagos. In December last year, the grid also suffered a total collapse; a collapse the TCN said lasted 40 minutes.

The latest development is coming about a month after Nigeria suffered extensive power outage when 18 plants accounting for most of the electricity the country generates faced operational problems. Data has shown that Nigerian National Grid (NNG) experiences an average of 35 system collapses every year over the past 10 years. Data also revealed that on the average, the fault induced system collapse is about 88 per cent. This implies that the NNG is more vulnerable to voltage instability than other forms of disturbances.

For years, Nigeria has only generated an average of 4,000 megawatts for its population of 200 million. The country’s installed grid power generation capacity grew from 8,000 MW to 13,000 MW between 2015 and 2020 while the distribution system had the capacity to evacuate 5,500 MW of power having grown from 4,500 MW in 2015.

Mere assurances?

Immediately after the development, the acting managing director of TCN, Sule Ahmed Abdulaziz, gave the assurance that it was working towards attaining zero national power grid collapse for the country. According to data from Nigerian Electricity System Operator, the number of times the national grid suffered a collapse fell to four in 2020 from 10 in 2019 and 13 in 2018.

However, a resident of Jikwoyi, Adoniyi Samuel, told Blueprint that the constant power failure was not good for business. According to him, the foodstuff in his freezer almost got spoiled due to the system collapse.

“I had travelled to Kaduna on an official assignment. On getting back on Thursday, I discovered that the soup in the freezer had de-frozen and was beginning to smell. But why is it so difficult for TCN to tackle this issue (system collapse) once and for all,” he said.

Experts have attributed the frequent system collapse to obsolete equipment. Over several decades, there have not been major rehabilitations of power lines, which have resulted in overloading.

A former NEPA official who was a senior special assistant (power sector reform) to Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Yar’Adua, Engr. F. A Somolu, said 13 system collapses were recorded in the Nigerian power supply system alone in August 2014.

On the causes of system frequency falls, he said a load demand imposed on the grid greater than the combined capacity of all the connected generating stations will cause the system frequency to fall.

“With our low generating capacity (4000mw) in comparison to our country’s actual demand, it is obvious we will always be operating near low system frequency.

“When the increase in load demand is due to consumers, the rate of fall in the system frequency is gradual and the speed governors of each generator can take some corrective action automatically by boosting the fuel input to the generator to increase its speed, and hence the frequency, provided the generator had not been fully loaded up to that point. This is similar to when, upon approaching a hill, the driver of a truck changes gear and presses down harder on the accelerator pedal of the truck,” he said.

Somolu also explained that system frequency falls is when the system overload is caused by a fault (i.e. a short-circuit) on any one of the many transmission lines that make up the grid.

He said since many thousands of kilometres of our transmission lines pass through heavy forests, the possibility of vegetation fouling the lines and causing faults is ever present, except the line trace is cleared of all vegetation up to 15metres on either side of the line for the whole length of the line, which is easier said than done, especially because of the heavy costs and logistics involved.

“These line faults represent very heavy load demands that require every generating plant on the grid to contribute multiples of its capacity, which of course, is impossible.”

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