Mr. Usman Gur Mohammed is the Managing Director/CEO of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), a public utility firm that transmits electricity from the Generation Companies (GenCos) to the Distribution Companies (DisCos). In this interview, he speaks of projects mapped out to boost bulk power transmission this year.
Under your leadership, TCN launched the 20 year least cost Transmission Expansion Plan in 2018, and extracted the 4 year Transmission Rehabilitation and Expansion Programme (TREP). How far has the implementation gone?
When we came in 2017, transmission was the weakest in the power value chain. We needed to do something to remove TCN from that position. We quickly ensured that the 20 year Least Cost Transmission Expansion Plan was completed and delivered in December 2017 by Messrs. Fitchner. We then came up with a 4 year plan out of the 20 year plan which is the Transmission Rehabilitation and Expansion Programme (TREP). TREP has the objective; to expand the grid to 20,000 megawatts (MW) by 2023 and has a four point strategy: Frequency Control, establishing a functional Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), achieving Spinning Reserve, which is a key requirement for stability of the Grid, and ensuring critical investments in Lines and Substations consistent with N minus 1 reliability and redundancy criteria across the country.
On SCADA, we have done a lot of work and are gradually putting in place strategies that will enable us have a functional SCADA.
On the spinning reserve, we have procured 260MW, which is awaiting approval from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). Presently, NERC is looking into funding it because spinning reserve is supposed to be financed by the Electricity Market.
On critical investment in lines and substations, we used in-house capacity to install and commission over 68 power transformers nationwide, recovered 790 out of over 800 containers that were stranded in the Ports, some of them for over 10 years. For underperforming contractors, we took over some contracts and completed them using TCN staff. We also approached international donors and have so far raised $1.661 billion for investment in TCN, the projects are at various stages of implementation.
Although we have worked very hard, we won't say we have solved all the problems of transmission, but transmission is really not the problem of the power sector anymore, we have reversed that trend.
TCN began the Abuja transmission ring project early 2019.
What's your evaluation of the project?
Abuja wheeling scheme project comprises five new substations in Abuja and a new 330kV transmission line supply route from Lafia to Abuja. TCN staff completed all the studies before the contract was awarded. Before now, contracts are awarded without completing all the studies but this time, we completed all the studies, paid the compensations for the Right of Way (RoW), before we launched the process. So the implementation of that project is on track. We are working to deliver the substations and a new transmission line supply route to Abuja which would make Abuja consistent with N minus 2 criteria in terms of 330kV transmission line.
How has TCN sustained the grid frequency control and implemented the SCADA?
We have achieved a significant level of stability as at today, all generators connected to the grid are on free governor control mechanism.
This is significant, but we still have the problem of matching demand and supply especially when it rains there is usually sudden drop in load because of the poor network of the DisCos.
On SCADA/Electricity management System (EMS), we have also launched the procurement of critical Optical Ground Wire (OPGW) for the few areas not covered under TREP.
All our lines are going to have OPGW after which we will close all communication backbone to make it possible for us to have a functional SCADA. We have selected 15 staff of TCN and commenced training them extensively. We have sent them to Ghana, and sent a team to Brazil to learn how automation is done and have equally commenced the procurement of a Supervisory Consultant.
We have also finished the design for the control room; adapted the PJM model of one National Control Centre with two Work Centres in Osogbo and Shiroro and they are going to work real time in synchronism. All these are in readiness for the launching of SCADA. We have also procured a contractor for the AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) which is also a component of SCADA. The implementation of the project is going on smoothly.
How many transformers and substations did TCN commission last year?
I can tell you from 2017 to October this year, we have installed and commissioned 68 power transformers across the country and the least among them is the 30MVA transformer installed in Gombe. The rest of them are 60MVA and above. It's no longer business as usual, any contractor that refuses to do what he is supposed to do, we cancel the contract and take over the job by ourselves and complete it. When we did the last simulation of the grid which was in December 2018, the grid moved from 5,500MW to 8,100MW.
What are the steps to expand the transmission network this year?
Going forward, we will reconductor and build more transmission lines. There are some areas where we have high transformer capacity but the line that will give them power is not adequate. We are going to reconductor such lines. Some of them include the recently launched Ikeja West - Alimosho - Ogba to Ota transmission line and we also want to do the Birnin-Kebbi to Sokoto and Ituaba to Itu line; the Onitsha - Awka, Awka - Oji River and the Kaduna-Zaria- Funtua lines among others.
Once we reconductor these lines, we will recover significant capacity that had been limited. Afterwards, we will simulate the grid capacity again and this will clearly move our capacity well above 10,000MW.
You often emphasize the need for capitalisation of the DisCos. Do you still hold this view?
Of course, if you look at the current situation, transmission will continue to expand and will not wait for the DisCos because transmission infrastructure is more difficult and expensive to build and takes longer time than DisCos infrastructure. Many of the equipment used by DisCos are manufactured in Nigeria, but most transmission equipment are manufactured outside Nigeria and transmission infrastructure require bigger Right of Way (RoW) and that is very expensive. We look at transmission as an enabler, and so anytime government takes a decision or distribution investors become serious, they can fix the DisCos. Nigerians will not get the benefit of transmission grid expansion if the DisCos are not fixed.
Secondly, we are connected to the DisCos and so protection is very important. Out of the 738 interface connections we have with the DisCos, only 421 have protection on their side. The remaining 317 have no protection. This means that fault in people's house can easily hit TCN transformers and spoil it. So there is need to re-capitalise the DisCos so that they will have funds to fix their networks and provide meters that would reduce their Aggregate Technical, Commercial and Collection (ATC&C) losses. The industry can only work well when all the players are working. Capitalization will lead to a situation where we have stronger companies with better management.
How has the boost in TCN engineers' capacity translated to better service?
Engineering is about confidence. What we do is to give TCN engineers confidence to do their job and that is why they are doing things they haven't done before. A few weeks to the election, we lost a 150MVA in Kano and mandated TCN engineers to fix the transformer. They successfully repaired and energized it two weeks before the election. In Ilashe, TCN engineers built a 132kV substation on an island. We challenge our engineers because that is the only way they can improve and become proficient. In 2020, we will continue to push our engineers to steadfastly implement TREP and emphasize massive training to enable us fix our challenges with limited recourse to third parties. We will build transformer repair workshops and the recently recruited 200 new engineers would start their pupilage programme where they will be mentored by other qualified engineers.
You are the Chairman, Executive Board of the West African Power Pool (WAPP). What are the expectations in the regional market?
The only way Nigerians can benefit from WAPP is for us to implement the ECOWAS Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERERA) Regulation. First, we have to allow, at this stage, bilateral contract to continue; allow people that generate electricity in Nigeria to sell to energy users in other countries in West Africa. From the position of WAPP, we are going to be pushing for the implementation of sustainable electricity market for WAPP. Then we will push for the next stage of WAPP Electricity Market which is its full liberalization in West Africa.