The Federal Government of Nigeria has recently inaugurated a committee to look into the root causes of the unsavoury frequency of System collapse in the Nigerian Power Supply System. The report of the committee is expected in the no distant future.
‘System Collapse’ is the term used to describe the situation when all the power generating stations connected to the grid shut down at the same time or immediately one after the other, leaving the entire country in blackout.
The abysmal nature of power generation in Nigeria is a credible reason for frequent collapse of the Grid. With initiatives such as Independent Power Plants (IPPs, NIPPs, DGs), this will reduce if the Power Stations are operated in the most reliable and efficient manner in line with international standards. One will expect this to be the case as Investors will want to recoup their investment and make due profit. One solution is to have Short -Term Operating Reserve (STOR) Generation capacities with Stand-by diesel Generators or Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems which can ramp up generation at the click of a button. Huge penalties should be imposed for not fulfilling the obligation when called. In this regard, a STOR market needs to be established. Another way to prevent frequency collapse is by having Low Frequency Tripping (LFT) system schedule that sheds load in a systematic manner throughout the electricity network. This will require the deployment of a robust Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system for effective integration of remote operation and control of the power system. Suffice it is to mention that good system operating practice requires that one or more generators in the grid are deliberately only partially loaded so there is ample and readily available spare capacity, called “spinning reserve”.
To reduce the frequency of system collapse, there will be the need to have an effective tree-cutting routine and practice. Lips service cannot work here. Funds must be made available, contracts must be placed with appropriate companies to cut down trees in close proximity of power lines at all voltage levels. In addition, ancillary services should be available within the electricity industry for the Transmission Network Operator (TCN) to purchase. This involves monitoring and responding to system frequency and voltage fluctuations. For example, in times of low generation, TCN can pay a firm to reduce its demand or even a larger firm may be paid to shut down its facility and so on.
The most culpable of factors responsible for system collapse is short-circuits (or faults) which are inevitable in a power system. However, the application of correct protection system and coordinated protection settings will limit the damaging effect of fault but will also ensure continuity of supply with limited impact on the power system by removing, as fast as possible, faulty items of plant from the system. Protection is a specialist area of the Power System, a very important one if you want to have uninterrupted power supply. Funding should be made available for Research into the behaviour of the Power System response to frequency decline in the face of load shedding and much more.
The cost of system collapse is huge but can be avoided. In fact, system blackout is seen as a national failure and detracts from the status or the reputation of any developed economy.
OBASANJO AND THE BIRTH OF THE NEW NIGERIAN POWER SYSTEM
At this turning point in the Power history of the nation, it is good to state that another history has been made by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who after several governments in Power, initiated the process which turned out to be what we are experiencing today. Some myopic thinkers will not understand that everywhere from now on, whenever we talk about the history of the Power Sector in Nigeria, Obasanjo’s name will be mentioned. The same he did with the Telecommunication industry which led to the birth of GSM and the rest is history. What became of GSM depended on the Regulator of the Industry and not the government who “mid-wifed” its birth. It is in this regard that I must recommend that NERC should get its acts together. The main role of the regulator is to ensure consumers are not exploited while ensuring that investors make profit from their investment. The regulator must punish severely those who breach the conditions of their distribution licences to serve as a deterrent. To emphasise, the power system is different from the Telecommunication system because electricity can kill.
The problems of the Nigerian Power System is huge but that is just a fact. When there is a huge problem, there is need to approach it in a systematic order. To be sure, Nigeria is not going to experience a miracle such as “let there be light, and there is light”. The Power System, like any other of its kind anywhere in the world, will evolve. There will be problems and issues to resolve from time to time as increased understanding of the Power System is gained. This is where there is need for collaboration between the Electricity Supply Industry and the Academia. The Universities and other Research Institutions will be saddled with the responsibility of looking into technical issues that may crop up, determine an understanding of the problem, root cause(s), and continually review and propose solution(s) that will address the issues. This will also develop the competencies of the participating Universities or institutions. So let no one be scared about issues evolving in a Power System that remained “non-existent” in the years it was “alive” before now.
It is good to mention that the companies that have bought the Nigerian Power Asset have taken a huge risk that only them can take. This is because of the many issues that are yet to be resolved by the Federal Government. These issues include but not limited to the level of involvement of government and her ministries in the Management of TCN which is supposed to be under a separate contract, the availability of quality gas and reliability of its supply to Power Generators requiring them by a country ranking top in Gas reserve but still flares a huge chunk, the full independence of the Regulator (NERC) or watchdog for the Industry, strengthening of the Transmission and Distribution Network, metering, revenue collection and many other commercial issues. Even at that, it does not stop Nigeria from addressing the issues in a systematic manner. For example, considering the fact that the buyers of the Discos did not have access to the Assets they have bought is funny because no one who has worked hard for his money will buy something he has not seen! But there you go, this is why Nigeria is unique! Hence, they will have to evaluate the true value of the assets and some may find them to be well priced and others may not. For the latter, the first approach will be to “Sweat” the Asset, a term Power System Engineers use to describe a situation where the companies will get the best out of the network by delivering electricity but not investing in the network. No one will complain especially because there will be improved availability of electricity to homes and industries. However, like an un maintained car, these investors, knowing that the network will break down and become worse than they have met it, will exit the business in line with available exit conditions in their Distribution licences. The Industry watchdog (NERC) is the only body that needs to prevent this! The reason is that once those investors leave, it will be difficult to continue to enjoy the level of standard of supply customers are used to. It is best to ensure that no buyer of the Disco today leaves the network worse than it is today. To do this, NERC may apply the Outputs Measure approach to define the revenue formula for the DISCOs under the MYTO platform.
Suffice it is to mention that for any country to have “Uninterrupted Power Supply” it must operate the Power System the way and manner those countries who have been able to achieve it do. To do less is to say you do not want it – Simple! For example, NERC must enjoy a very high degree of independence as stated earlier. They must be able to both “bark and bite” to keep sanity in the Power System. If it possible, separate courts will be required to handle cases that involve the Power System. These cases will soon include deaths of citizens because of electricity flowing in exposed conductors without the minimum required protection, poor quality of voltage supply that damages critical equipment and disturb industrial processes for which large consumer companies will seek compensations, wayleave and property, theft of metals used in the Power industry which are very expensive in the international market, to mention a few.
For me (so this may not be the most important for the DISCOs, GENCOs or other players), the most important problem to be addressed is the dearth of knowledge of Power System. This is not peculiar to Nigeria but hers is huge because it is almost absent. But this will not stop acquiring such knowledge because Nigerians are a determined specie. Bridging the skill gap must be done in a co-ordinated manner with short, medium and long term approaches. This too needs to be handled by someone who already works in the Power System in Nigeria or in developed countries where uninterrupted Power Supply is the norm. The use of quota system will not work!
There is also the need to keep the staff as they become skilled. Developed economies would soon begin to poach trained personnel in the Industry. Although labour is mobile, a critical look should be taken of this.
Noteworthy is the fact that the crimes committed against the nation by the short-sighted leaders and Engineers who “mid-wifed” the Oil and Gas Industry in Nigeria included not educating, training and empowering Nigerians. It is in this regard that there is need to fully support the initiatives to encourage local content, so that in the future, a bill like the PIB which should benefit the nation will not be blocked by IOCs.
Idowu Oyebanjo is a Power System Protection Engineer in the UK.
Nigeria has been a nation in darkness for many years. I grew up knowing “UP NEPA” “Never Expect Power Always”, “Never Expect Power, Please Light Candle”, Generators – Oh “I Better Pass My Neighbour”. I have always wondered whether uninterrupted power supply will one day become the norm in Nigeria. For many years now, one government after another made empty promises about fixing the problem but with no success.
What are the problems facing the Nigerian Power Sector? What requires doing and what is being done? How do we power Africa? These and many more questions are answered here!
My name is Idowu Oyebanjo. I am a Power System Engineer with interest in matters relating to the Electrical Power System. I am also interested in teaching and mentoring others through organised training sessions, conferences, committees, groups, workshops etc. My blog is titled the Nigerian Power System because it is meant to focus on the development of a “dead” power System and to keep a track of the process of its “rebirth”, “growth”, challenges and successes! It will be an avenue to address the huge gap in knowledge of Power Systems’ technical details and provide useful guidance to NERC, Distribution Network Companies and other Stakeholders.
I look forward to your comments, ideas, thoughts, suggestions etc to make a success of it all.