The national grid has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Several times this year, it has experienced system collapse that resulted in power outages nationwide. Not that Nigerians are not used to epileptic power supply, but an alarm bell always sounds when a failure in the national grid is behind the outage, as it translates to a total blackout for days.
So, what is the meaning of the national grid? Where is the national grid in Nigeria? The national grid tells it as it is in its own words. Yes, in its terms.
The national grid answers your questions.
Skabash!: What is the meaning of your name, National Grid? Tell us about yourself?
National Grid: I am a network of power lines, gas lines, pylons, and inter-connectors that comprise Nigeria’s electricity and gas systems, including the technology, engineers, and guidelines behind their smooth operation. I ensure power generated is transmitted to meet the electricity demand wherever needed, be it in Sokoto or Sagamu. The national grid, never mind, I keep mentioning my name, comprises a high voltage transmission system that connects electricity from power stations to substations and smaller local networks, which then transfers electricity into your home and business. I am patterned to operate within certain stability limits, which must be in line with current, voltage, and frequency. I am always unstable and in danger of collapsing whenever these limits are out of the stability range. A total system collapse means a complete blackout in the country, while a partial system collapse is a breakdown of a section of me.
Is the national grid one? And where is the national grid in Nigeria?
Think of the national grid in terms of a system and not location. Nigeria has 23 power generating plants connected to me to generate electricity. The plants are managed by generating companies (GenCos), independent power providers, and the Niger Delta Holding Company. The primary independent power plants are Shell-owned Afam VI (642MW), Agip-built Okpai plant (480MW), and AES (270MW). The third sector is the Nigerian National Integrated Power Project NIPP, which is meant to fast-track the development of new power plants in the country. The major players are Kainji Jebba Power Plc (Hydro, 1,330MW, Ughelli Power Plc (Gas, 942MW), Sapele Power Plc (Gas 1,020MW), Shiroro Power Plc (Hydro, 600MW), Afam Power Plc (Gas, 987. 2MW), Niger Delta Power Holding Company (Gas, 5,455), IPP’s (Gas, 1,392), and Egbin Power Plc (Gas, 1,020MW).
Can we know your extended family?
We have the Transmission Company of Nigeria, Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading, Niger Delta Power Holding Company, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, Shell, the GenCos, and other relatives. I relate more with the system operator (SO), which is a department of TCN that controls me, the national power grid. Most times, we all meet to proffer solutions to our problems, but we blame each other.
How do you handle stress and pressure?
The year 2022 is barely four months old, and you have collapsed six times… (cuts in)
It’s five times.
Okay, five times. So, why does the national grid keep collapsing?
This year alone, 14 gas-powered generating stations were not generating or had limited generation. This exhausted the daily amount of electricity generation for transmission in the grid. In the same period, the Shiroro and Jebba Hydro generating stations had limited generation or were down. This resulted in an additional loss of 232 MW from the grid. There are technical problems at the Egbin plant, poor gas supply, unscheduled and scheduled maintenance, activities of vandals, fault in generating units of generating companies, have made most GenCos limit their generation, and sometimes, not generate at all. The list is not endless, but let me stop here.
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Can you go into details, please?
I thought I said I want to stop here?
We need you to expatiate
Okay. Water management in Jebba and Shiroro hydro caused a shortfall in the generation that led to the loss of 125MW and 307MW from the stations in March. Around that time, the Egbin power plant experienced technical problems which caused a shortfall of 514MW. The same thing happened in Geregu, which led to a shortfall of 230MW. Technical issues at Alaoji NIPP substation further lowered power generation by 263MW. At the Olorunsogo gas production plant, we had gas constraints, which reduced production by 104 MW. Sapele NIPP and Omotosho gas lost 263MW and 102MW, respectively. At Omoku, there was a generation shortfall of 112MW. Technical problems at Okpai and Afam VI led to a 204MW and 511MW drop in the generation, respectively. We also experienced issues at Ihovbor (142MW in reduced generation) and Odukpani NIPP (575MW). Weather can also affect the distribution network, causing my instability.
Your brother, the Transmission Company of Nigeria, said the awful power supply the country is experiencing is because of the low power generation by the GenCos. Do you agree?
Yes. The GenCos are performing below capacity because of the drop in power generation caused by the issues I mentioned, and TCN can only transmit the quantum of power generated. Unless the cumulative power generation increases, the TCN won’t be able to transmit to distribution companies. So, there is no ‘light’ in Nigeria today as the TCN resort to load shedding.
In a nutshell, what are the factors that make uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria impossible?
Low power generation causes epileptic power supply. If we can resolve disturbances in the transmission system, distribution, load rejection and spinning reserve that will steady the national grid, if we think a collapse is imminent, it will lead to 24 hours power supply nationwide.
Wow, that will be nice.
What’s the role of the spinning reserve?
It stabilises the national grid as it reduces system frequency disturbances. It plays a huge role in the power sector’s transmission, rehabilitation, and expansion plan. Without the spinning reserve, I will continue to be vulnerable to collapse because of overvoltage. The spinning reserve makes sure fluctuations on the national grid are contained to prevent system collapse. It is the job of the TCN-SO. However, the primary duty of the SO is to operate the transmission system and the connected installed generation safely. The SO is also saddled with the overall security and reliability of the grid system, economic dispatch of generation resources, and maintaining system stability.
How can we fix the problem of the national grid?
My collapse is not a problem that requires fixing; it requires restarting the system. Let’s look at it this way. If your generator goes off because the fuel in it has been exhausted, you start it again, which doesn’t require fixing. Except there is a total collapse of the national grid, that’s when you can think of fixing it. If it’s well documented, and there are checks and balances in place, you know how much it costs to improve the national grid.
The high rate of power outage in the electricity sector shows the power system and network are still fragile. What we need is a constant generation of power, so the ones sent to the national grid won’t be depleted, as we don’t have an adequate reserve that serves as a buffer against system collapse. Successive governments promised to turn around the country’s power sector to no avail. The Buhari government signed a deal with Siemens to overhaul the sector, but most Nigerians do not always expect power while busying lighting candles.