After several years of focusing on power as a critical sector of the nation’s economy, achieving stability has continued to be a huge uphill task resulting in frustrations for domestic and industrial consumers. ADETOLA BADEMOSI writes on the various challenges facing the power sector.
WITH an unofficial population of about 180 million people, Nigeria currently grapples with insufficient power generation. It is the sixth largest power producer in Africa with an installed capacity of about 7,000 megawatts, but only struggles to sustain supplying 4,500 mw to consumers.
The many challenges militating against improved power supply seem to be more than what the country can handle. This ranges from electricity theft, obsolete transmission lines, vandalism, inadequate power infrastructure, bad debts, among other such challenges.
In 2013, the Federal Government privatised a majority of its infrastructure, especially as it concerns generation and the distribution of electricity. To this end, the government contracted 11 investors in the distribution companies.
The government had hoped that the privatisation would improve power generation and distribution across the country and put an end to the use of generating sets but this has not been the case.
The distribution companies have continued to complain of shortfalls and bad debts totalling over N808 billion over the years. They also blamed the continued epileptic power supply on weak transmission lines.
For instance, the Managing Director of Nigeria’s biggest electricity generating firm, Egbin Power Plc, Mr. Dallas Peavey, recently, expressed frustrations at Nigeria’s transmission lines describing the Transmission Company of Nigeria ( TCN) as the weakest value chain in the power sector.
Despite the fact that the country’s current wheeling capacity of the transmission lines is about 7000Megawatts, he said only about 4,000MWs can be transmitted due to the poor state of the transmission infrastructure.
Citing close instances, Mr. Dallas said about 70 per cent of electricity generated by Egbin cannot be evacuated to the grid system as a result of the transmission factor.
“We are constrained and limited to generate about 350MW daily due to Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) system operations’ constraints and inadequate gas supply issues.
“Sometimes, when you get good news from TCN that you can increase your generation, we will be confronted with gas shortage and when there is gas, you have TCN issues. The situation is that bad,” he said.
To buttress this point, the Director of Research and Advocacy, Association of Nigerian Electricity Distribution Companies (ANED’s), Mr Sunday Oduntan, said there was need for the Federal Government to invest in transmission bottlenecks across the country. He blamed the constant power outages and loadshedding on the transmission issues saying as long as those lines are defective, there would not be improved power supply.
“We also want to implore government to, please, increase its investment in TCN and I will take my time to give you TCN’s bottlenecks all over the country. I am not blaming TCN but we should all know that TCN is still PHCN and NEPA. The staff of TCN are still the staff of NEPA. While the staff of Discos are Key Perfect Indicator (KPI)-driven, those of TCN are not KPI-driven.
“I want to clear the air on the outages and load-shedding witnessed in Lagos, Abuja, all over the country. In Abuja, for instance, these outages are caused not by the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC). Saying it as it is should not be equated to blaming other stakeholders.
“If I am a TCN manager or director, I can only work with the tools that are available to me if my master cannot make those tools available to me because he too doesn’t have money. You can only continue to point it out to me that you are still waiting for me to repair my own end of the thing so that it can serve your own purpose.
“In Katampe, Kukwaba, Gwagwalada, Apo and Central Area, there is a serious capacity constraint in transmission bottleneck and as long as their system is down there, we in AEDC cannot serve our customers as long as TCN facilities are defective in those locations; so we implore the Federal Government to help the TCN to help us.
“On the line from Apo to Karu, Lafia, Akwanga, in all those areas, there is what we call poor voltage; that is TCN constraint which damages equipment. Our equipment and the customers’ equipment too can be damaged and the low voltage also make the system to be accident prone. So, AEDC has been unable to serve people along that axis because of the TCN bottleneck.”
Oduntan, who also explained reasons for load rejection said: “TCN is the one that puts light on and off, not Discos. At best, we tell them these are our load-shedding schedules even I confirmed that, when we go to them with our own allocation schedule, how we want the shedding to be done. They have a different one on their book; they say, no, this is how we want it, that is how we fight. That is the reason for what is usually called load rejection.”
Also, the Executive Secretary of the Association of Power Generation Companies (APGC), Joy Ogaji confirmed to Sunday Tribune that the companies have the capacity to generate 12,000 megawatts (MW) to reduce the power supply needs of Nigerians, but blamed the inability to transmit such to DisCos on transmission infrastructure.
“They have an available capacity of 8,000 mw. Out of that 8,000 mw, Transmission Company or the transporter that can take this power from us to give to the distribution has a capacity of maximum 5,500 mw, which is what they claim; but we believe they can ’t take more than 4,500.
“A system stress test that was conducted on the distribution lines showed that the distribution companies (DISCOs) can take a maximum of 4,600 mw.
“With the available capacity, if I say okay, come and take, no one can take,” she said.
Ogaji, who noted that GENCOs were ready to advance power generation in the country, said it was important to overhaul the transmission and distribution networks in the country to facilitate the supply of more electricity to Nigerians.
Not our problem…
But in its defence, the TCN reiterated its commitment towards expanding the nation’s transmission grid in line with its expansion plans.
According to the TCN General Manager, Public Affairs, Seun Olagunju, for unknown reasons, Discos reject their load share, even when generation has increased. She added that most times, the issue is not about the wheeling capacity of the company but the ability of the Discos to take what is allocated to them.
The TCN had also recently directed the generation companies to cut power generation, saying this was in the interest of the integrity of the national grid and the entire power network in the country.
Olagunju said the directive became imperative as some distribution companies (Discos) refused to take more load as necessitated by increase in generation in recent times. The situation, according to her, would result in an imbalance and subsequent disturbance in the system.
“Electricity, generally, is not stored but used as it is being generated. Hence at any particular moment in time, there is a power flow balance equation that determines system frequency, with the target of operating at 50HZ frequency.
“It is the duty of the System Operator (SO) to monitor the power flow on the national grid to ensure optimal operating conditions by making sure that the system is operated at a frequency close to 50HZ, and at voltages within tolerable limits.
“Recently, high system frequency (more than 50HZ) has been observed, necessitating some corrective measure, which, in this case, is either to ask the DISCos to absorb more load or the GENCOs to reduce generation.
“The first option is the appropriate line of action. However, due to inexplicable reasons, some DisCos failed to take more load as generation increases. This has left the System Operator with no other option than to ask the GenCos to reduce generation to ensure grid stability,” Olagunju explained.
While stating categorically that the problem was not a wheeling capacity challenge on the part of TCN, but a demand side management problem from some DisCos rejecting available power, she noted that the highest generation level this year stands at 4,650MW while its wheeling capacity is 6,500MW.
DISCOs must invest
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola at the 15th monthly meeting of Power Sector Operators held recently in Jos, on his part, blamed the issue of load rejection on the inability of some DisCos to invest in feeders and distribution equipment to get power to consumers.
“This has led to the emergence of the terminology of load rejection for an economy that does not have enough.”
On the deplorable state of transmission infrastructure, the minister chided the DISCOs for complaining after knowing full well the state of the power assets before buying them.
“I am the first to publicly defend your contributions to the sector, but to the extent that consumers are not yet satisfied, you must do more to improve service.
“Rather than complain about old infrastructure, I wish to remind you that nobody forced you to buy those assets and you knew what you were buying,” he said.
The frustration continues
But despite all this, which ordinary Nigeria and operators in manufacturing sector will consider as rhetoric, Nigerians are still in dire need of electricity.
In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which is the country’s seat of power, only those residents who are lucky to be connected to power through the 33KV line can boast of uninterrupted power supply. Most of the others as it is in other parts of the country, often lament over low power supply but exhorbitant electricity bills. This, no doubt, has negatively affected businesses such as sales of ice-blocks, frozen foods, table water businesses, among others.
A resident, Mrs. Amaka Eze, who deals majorly in sea foods, while speaking with Sunday Tribune lamented that most times she relies on power generators to keep her business going.
She said a situation where one cannot totally rely on official power supply is rather appalling.
“You see NEPA (sic) issue has gone beyond what me and you should sit down and be discussing. Is it today they will not give you light and yet bring a bill of N10,000, N6,000 or N15,000? I don’t even rely on them because anyone that does that is not ready for business. I have two big generators. You can see them there. Two of them cannot spoil at the same time. So, that is what I use.
“I don’t know what to tell government, because we have begged them to do something on electricity in this country but we don’t think that we can have that kind of electricity – good electricity – in Nigeria. May God help us.”
Apart from this, noise pollution from power generators seem to be another issue of concern. However, residents have had to come to terms with the disturbing sound of the popular “I pass my neighbour” power generating sets.
This, however, is peculiar to a certain class of residents as the more affluent have bigger generators while others simply go for the noiseless inverters which costs more.