FREQUENT COLLAPSE OF THE POWER SYSTEM – THE WAY FORWARD

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.

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