Leadership (Abuja)

29 November 2012

Nigeria: Electricity Supply - Beyond Availability of Gas-to-Power

Before now, inadequate supply of gas to power plants was mostly cited as the major reason for the erratic power supply in the country. But the excuse has now changed .

The inability of the power sector to live up to its expectations over the years and deliver the much needed electricity which the country so desperately needs, was hugely rested on the lack of adequate gas supply to power plants. At various power-related fora, the issue of gas to power frequently topped the agenda.

The Former Minister of Power, Barth Nnaji, while speaking during the 2012 Nigeria Oil and Gas (NOG) conference and exhibition in Abuja, said gas supply to power plants was the major impediment to power generation targets in Nigeria. Nnaji, while explaining that the ministry failed to meet power generation targets largely due to poor gas supply said, "Just give us gas and we will deliver power to Nigerians."

That an oil producing country like Nigeria which flares gas daily cannot provide gas for power generation often elicits anger from Nigerians. But with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) disclosing that it has exceeded gas-to-power demand, rather than experience a sharp rise in power supply, a new list of challenges has now been presented as the impediments to achieving a steady power supply.

The Group Managing Director (GMD) of the NNPC, Andrew Yakubu, recently said the NNPC has exceeded the gas-to-power aspirations of the federal government, a pronouncement the Ministry of Power has not countered.

The NNPC GMD made the disclosure during the 42nd Annual General Meeting (AGM), Conference and Exhibition of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers (NSCHE) in Abuja, where he informed the public that gas flare in the country has reduced to about 15 per cent.

Yakubu noted that the strategic focus of the NNPC was to ensure that between 70 to 80 per cent of gas produced in the country is channelled to power generation to stabilise electricity supply to Nigerians and to industries operating in the country.

"One of the strategic focus we had when we came on board was to ensure that the gas availability to power was met and I am glad to tell you that as at today, we are in surplus of gas availability to power in line with the federal government's power initiative," he said.

However, in a twist of event, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP), Beks Dagogo-Jack, disclosed that ways were being sought to address the country's poor power supply which he blamed on "the rise in frequency in power grid collapses."

Dagogo-Jack tasked regional and top management of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) to seek ways of addressing the rise in frequency of power grid collapses. According to him, the move became necessary in order to ensure that the December 2012 target of 5,000 mega watts (mw) of power supply to the grid is achieved.

The PTFP Chairman gave the directive at a meeting with the TCN management team and the technical heads of the taskforce to review what he described as "the sudden rise in the frequency if grid collapses."

Surprisingly, top on the list of major causes of grid collapse as identified during the meeting was overgrown vegetation interacting with high and low voltage power lines which worsens during the wet season. Similarly, another major reason is the unreliability of the protection and relay systems which if properly serviced, should anticipate, isolate and limit the impact of a single system fault from snow-balling into a grid collapse.

This also combines with the lack of an effective Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system designed to provide grid intelligence and assist with managing the power grid. Despite the crucial importance of the SCADA, which if absent, weakens the system's integrity, the system is not in place.

Another reason which was advanced as being responsible for the frequent system collapses is the grossly insufficient spinning reserve and frequency control, which experts say are crucial elements in power supply sustenance.

The activities of vandals on live power facilities were also fronted as another reason power is not stable. The perpetrators are said to compromise the power lines by bridging targeted segments of the power grid to cause forced outages in order for them to steal installed power facilities.

The list did not end there, it went further to identify what was termed "suspected isolated cases of business threatened by improvement in power supply" colluding with criminal-minded individuals to cause forced outages which end up threatening system stability.

It was also agreed that the gross absence of capacity redundancy and the largely radial single-circuited structure of the grid is also responsible for the vulnerability of system stability. It was further noted that to achieve the quality of national grid capacity required to support the projected power reform targets for 2016 and beyond, the federal government must embark on an aggressive dualisation and effective looping of the country's major power trunk lines.

With the long list of reasons why power cannot be steady in the country, one begins to wonder when the country can achieve reliable and sufficient power supply. It also remains to be seen whether these challenges that have hindered the government-run power sector would also pose as impediments to the private investors after the conclusion of the sector's privatisation process.

However, Dagogo-Jack disclosed that as a way of addressing these challenges, adequate funding had been provided in the 2013 budget for outsourced regular mechanised clearing and maintenance of the transmission right of way by reputable civil engineering companies with the required equipment and experience.

Sufficient funding, he said, has also been provided in the 2013 budget for the procurement of major spare parts for the rehabilitation and upgrading of the protection and relay systems for better grid reliability.

He informed the public that "the Executive Director, System Operations, has been directed to conclude talks on integrating some of the recently completed National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) plants into the spinning reserve and frequency control programme to shore up the daily reserve, especially as the profile of available but undelivered power is rising." It was recently disclosed that about 1,000mw of generated power is stranded across the nation's power plants, unable to be delivered to the grid due to poor transmission infrastructure.

Dagogo-Jack further added that government shall, through the completion of the on-going NIPP transmission projects, compliment other on-going TCN projects to significantly improve the wheeling capacity, effectiveness and reliability of the national power grid.

Meanwhile, the NNPC GMD has said that going forward in the gas value chain, the NNPC would consolidate on gas-to-power and industry to boost economic activities in the country even as he stressed that the commercial framework put in place by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources had added impetus to the current arrangement.

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