The National Grid and the Power Challenge

The National Grid and the Power Challenge

At the heart of the nation’s irregular electricity supply is the frequent collapse of the national electricity grid.

It has become a mystery taking the nation’s power supply down abysmal.

By the count of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), the national grid has collapsed over 108 times since November 2013 when the power sector was privatized, culminating in 146 total and 73 partial collapses and widespread blackouts in the last 12 years.

A national energy grid is a network of interacting parts, which forms one big system to provide electricity to all sectors of an economy. It starts at power generating stations, which feed electric current into large power lines, otherwise known as transmission lines. The massive network of transmission lines supported by pylons extends across a country.

Power surges or grid overloads, usually sudden increases in voltages somewhere in electric circuits, resulting in blackouts and disruptions throughout a national grid network after strengthening current damage-sensitive circuits.

They could also be caused by lightning strikes around transmission lines, faulty wiring, or appliances or equipment, requiring a lot of energy when switched on and off.

Sudden demands or excesses of energy stimulate brief changes in voltages and induce surges. With several points in a national grid, detecting a power surge or grid overload, the power supply to an area is cut off, the same happens if detected and the national grid, being a network of interacting parts, is wholly or partially damaged.

Behind the Regular National Grid Collapse

Gas constraints at Nigeria’s thermal power generation plants have made electricity generation erratic since February this year, just as low water levels at the four hydropower plants have seriously impacted national power output.

With the national grid again collapsing severally during the period and resulting in prolonged power outages in parts of the country, people are unable to effectively carry out routine business activities and household obligations that have manifested huge economic and social costs.

A World Bank report in 2021 had shown that 85 million Nigerians are unconnected to the national grid, and erratic power supply robs the country of about $29 billion yearly, a huge sum that could be applied for economic improvement and living conditions.

The cause of Nigeria’s grid collapse includes theft and vandalism of grid equipment, unreliable gas supply at thermal power plants, low water levels at hydropower plants, old and weak national grid infrastructure, and load rejection by distribution companies, among others.

The grid collapse of April 8, 2022, was induced by the vandalism of the strategic transmission line at Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State, which plunged the national power grid from 2,400 megawatts (MW) some 30 minutes earlier to zero to cause national outrage.

The Honourable Minister of Power, Alhaji Aliyu Abubakar, captured the situation thus in a press statement: “Further to our earlier press release, we wish to apprise the general public that the immediate cause of the national blackout (system collapse) was an act of vandalism on a transmission tower on the Odukpani — Ikot Ekpene 330kV double circuit transmission line thus resulting in a sudden loss of about 400MW of generation.

It consequently led to a cascade of plants shut down across the country.

Before the latest grid collapse, the TCN reported that it lost one of its 330KV transmission lines from Sapele to Ughelli, Delta State, and 12 towers along the route to the fire.

Owned and managed by the government through the TCN, the government needs to invest in modern technology for surveillance and monitoring of the grid and to safeguard it against vandalism, just as it needs also to help fix low power generation as many thermal power plants are either not generating to capacity or not generating at all due to gas challenges occasioned by huge debts owed gas suppliers by electricity-generating companies.

The figure put at N1.6 trillion by the Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), is said to be impeding operations, including payment for gas supply, meaning that the liquidity challenge in the power value chain can be addressed through prompt payment of debt owed to electricity generation and gas supply companies.

Effects of Irregular Power Supply

For Nigeria to sustainably develop its economy, the power challenge issue, particularly the frequent collapse of the national grid, must be tackled.

Though the government has been involved in electricity development for decades, power supply remains highly inadequate notwithstanding the fact that by 2013, two segments of the Nigeria power sector (generation and distribution) were privatized with the aim of resolving the challenges associated with the then monopoly of government in power generation, transmission, and distribution.

But as it appears today, privatization only changed the dimensions of the challenges and the power supply remains largely inadequate, unaffordable, and unreliable in the country.

Presently, seventy-six million Nigerians or 40.7percent of the Nigerian population (more than twice the population of Canada) are unconnected to the national power grid.

For those connected, the power supply is a serious problem, about 90 percent of total power demand is not supplied.

While the total installed generation capacity is 12, 522 MW, the average operational generation capacity is just 3,879MW, 7.4% of which is lost in transmission, just as up to 27.7percent load is rejected at distribution, leaving the country with a paltry 2,519MW.

But demand as of 2015 was estimated at 24,380 MW, making Nigerians self-generate a significant portion of their electricity with highly polluting off-grid alternatives and at a cost more than twice the cost of grid-based power.

Nigerians and their industries can’t be globally competitive without access to affordable and reliable power.

Grid Collapse, Its Toll

The seemingly intractable power crisis rocking the country opened a new chapter recently when there was a complete collapse of the national grid, a development, being experienced at a time of spike in the cost of diesel and artificial scarcity of petrol, obviously, the turn of event verges on institutional incompetence and regulatory negligence.

The power generating companies (GenCos) gave the indication recently that 14 power stations were idle due to grid-related challenges and the inability of the government to pay for generated electricity.

This is still on, there was a report of another national grid collapse, and all 11 distribution companies, supplying the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with power were out of supply.

Incomprehensibly, the problem of power has remained intransigent to the huge investments sunk into the sector in the last two decades.

It is shocking that instead of an improvement, the situation has continued to get worse.

Since 2013 when the sector was privatized, the grid has cumulatively failed electricity consumers more than 130 times! On each occasion, the incidents practically grounded Nigeria and its economic activities. It is not surprising, therefore, that the economy is on a nosedive and companies are shutting down.

The latest in the series of power failures might count among the worst the country has witnessed in recent times, indicating that there is still no stable framework for managing Nigeria’s power sector.

Indications are that the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) still operates an analog system, a situation that is said to be largely responsible for grid collapses since the privatization of the power sector in 2013.

The TCN had, however, not accepted that blaming the collapses instead on “multiple tripping,” but insinuations remain also that the problem lies with leadership at various levels that are averse to genuine solutions.

Added to that is the fact that with Nigeria’s power generation still largely dependent on gas transported through exposed pipelines that are easily vandalized in many areas nationwide, getting gas easily remains a major problem, even when not indebted.

Time for A Decentralised Grid

The unbundling of NEPA has proven to be a huge failure. The solution to the energy crisis may well be in the adoption of federalism.

Every now and then, the power grid collapses; the question is – do we need to have one national power grid?

 We might begin to explore alternatives to energy sources, put our house in order, provide a secure and business-friendly environment to attract the private sector, and ensure that the power sector does not stagnate.

The power industry is too technical and financially inclusive to be undertaken solely by the government.

Regrettably, the present private-sector arrangement is grossly defective and has only presented Nigerians with suffering and exploitation.

Government must encourage a switch to alternative energy sources, now the global trend.

Solar power, wind energy, and hydro-power generation should be given the necessary attention and integrated into the country’s power strategic plan.

The energy mix is the in thing and should be pursued with vigor. Importantly, we must embrace energy democracy.

Electricity must not remain on the exclusive list, let those, who can provide power, be it states, corporate bodies, or individuals, be allowed to produce power and sell it to consumers.

Decades of dependence on one omnibus, centralized power behemoth, has failed and should be discarded.

Improving access to a reliable power supply is the key to reducing poverty and unlocking economic growth in the country.

Nigeria’s power grid collapsed twice in March and twice again in April this year. Power generation on the system had continued to fluctuate due to various concerns such as gas constraints, water management challenges, gas pipeline, and vandalism, among others.

Nigeria presently has grid sourced power generation capacity of 7,500MW, but only an average of 3,600MW gets to the end-user, just as we have 14,500MW installed generation capacity that our national energy quantum could be ramped up.

There is available power on the grid that is usually rejected by the 11 electricity distribution companies and TCN, yet, the nation has been permanently configured into a vicious circle of distribution of darkness and perpetual energy crises due to gas constraints, market settlement crises, tariff and market shortfall, near-zero regulatory ecosystem, grid infrastructural limitations, technical deficits and broadly speaking – grid constraints.

Efforts of Government

Much as the government admits that the current major problem of the Nigerian power sector is gas supply constraints and bottlenecks of multiple incidents of grid failures, it has embarked on decentralizing the national grid through renewable-driven mini-grids and a good possible signing into law of the constitutional amendment bill to allow state governments to generate and transmit electricity on their own.

The government has also disclosed that it is earmarking $550 million to provide 20,000 Standalone Solar Systems (SHS), and Solar Hybrid mini-grids in over 250 locations in the country.

Added to that is the claim that is working to improve the grid through a power initiative agreement with Siemens.

“Take my Presidential Power Initiative (PPI), a government-to-government initiative between the Governments of Nigeria and Germany, with Siemens AG, to upgrade the electricity grid with a 2 billion dollar investment.

“Once signed into law, the constitutional amendment bill – recently voted through parliament – will allow state governments to generate and transmit their own electricity, further facilitating investor participation in our market and enabling states and local businesses to transmit excess supply to the grid,” President Buhari said in an interview with the Bloomberg recently,  adding “We now need to begin to look seriously in the direction of zonal or regional grids or even micro, or mini-grids outside of the mainstream of official national energy grid.

“It’s the only way to solve this problem. Our focus is on renewable energy as well. This National grid is completely broken and fixing it every day is a problem that we cannot easily tackle. We need innovation, we need creativity. We need technology. We need skills, in addition, to provide the enabling environment to allow this to happen.” Oil

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