Experts Recommend ‘Virtual Pipelines’ Drones as Power Plants Gas Constraint Solution

A miniature aircraft named Aeryon Scout Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) is pictured during BP pilot testing for use of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in pipeline inspection at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in fall 2012, in this handout picture. REUTERS/BP Alaska, University of Fairbanks Alaska/Handout via Reuters

Experts are proposing the use of drones and virtual pipelines as measures to deal with the constraints of gas to power plants caused by the destructive activities of militants who blow up pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure in the Niger Delta.

Pragmatic solutions, experts say, are what the situation calls for and government has to decide the best option based on cost benefit analysis, feasibility, and whether the solutions they are looking at are long-term or short-term.

Transnational Corporation’s 1,000 megawatts Ughelli Power Plant was the latest casualty of gas constraints, as the company announced that it was shutting down its plants, which it had planned to increase capacity up to 3,000mw in five years.

“Virtual pipeline system may be considered an alternative,” Ayodele Oni, a legal practitioner specialising in international energy investment law and policy

Oni further said, “Rather than use pipelines, mini- LNG plants can be built to liquefy gas and transport liquefied gas via trucks (with the liquefied gas, in cryogenic tanks) from where gas is produced to power plants that require same and then the liquefied gas would be converted to gas again via a re-gasification process at the relevant power plant/ at a facility close by. The transportation through trucks or rail is what is considered ‘virtual’ pipeline.”

He also suggested that some other companies might also consider using Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) transported via trucks for use by these power plants.

Taiwo Oyedele, head of tax, PwC, is uncertain about the feasibility of a virtual pipeline system due to cost of constructing liquefaction plants, he however proposed the use of drones to monitor the pipelines.

“All over the world, drones are used to monitor pipelines combined with the application of smart technology. All that is required is for someone to administer the control from a remote location while the droves monitor the pipelines,” he said.

Last year, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) announced that it was deploying 500 drones and aircraft to monitor pipelines and other oil installations to protect them against militant attacks.

In March this year, Abubakar Rabe, director of defence information, said the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was working with the Nigerian Air Force to deploy the drones

“The issue of drone, the air component of the air force, which is primarily under the control of the defence headquarters, is working round the clock. They are coming up with strategies in liaison with NNPC to know how best they could process the drones if need be,” he said in an interview.

While the military authorities take their time setting up the drones, Nigeria’s over 50,000 pipelines, traversing the length of 6,000 kilometres remain susceptible to militant attacks.

Last month, eight power plants including Geregu Power Plant, Alaoji; National Integrated Power Project (NIPP); Olorunsogo NIPP; Ihovbor NIPP; Trans Amadi, Rivers, and Gbarain were shut down due to gas constraint that has led to non-generation of power.

The 1,000mw Ughelli plant joined the growing list of power plants that are handicapped due to lack of gas, as its operator, Transnational Corporation of Nigeria plc, said it was finding it difficult to operate.

“How do you make the investments when you are generating far below your current capacity due to gas problems,’’ Emmanuel Nnorom, CEO, said.

Transcorp said was now in talks with some foreign companies to diversify its sources of electricity to include solar, which would enable it lower constraints from gas supplies.

Nigeria’s Power Ministry signed agreements with 14 solar-electricity generating companies last month to supply 1,125mw of electricity to the national grid. “While Transcorp isn’t part of the agreement, it is looking at deals that will be competitive based on its projections,” Nnorom said.

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