Despite hopes that the power supply jinx would be finally broken, Nigeria is even more in the dark. By Nsineno May Anthony
When PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari was elected last year, one of the problems he promised to fix was the country’s epileptic power supply.
Poor power generation and transmission due to badly maintained plants mean that frequent power outages have been the norm for Nigerians for years despite the repeated promises of successive governments to reform the sector.
Within months of taking over the reigns of government, Buhari appeared as good as his word when Nigeria’s power supply hit 5,074 MW for the first time in 15 years, low when compared to other countries but a marked improvement on the prevailing installed capacity of around 3,600 MW.
Sadly, people’s joy was short-lived as the nation was plunged into another energy crisis earlier this year that saw generation steadily nose-dive to the all time low of 1,500 MW. Apart from the chronic problem of poor routine maintenance, vandalisation of the power infrastructure and industrial action by oil and electricity workers were blamed for the sudden turn of events.
Information minister Lai Mohammed was on hand to offer the government’s apologies, explaining that lack of maintenance by the Nigeria Gas Company had affected the supply of gas to stations, so reducing the energy supply.
He pointed out that the attack by militants in March on the Forcados export pipeline in the Niger Delta had forced oil companies to shut down operations, seriously hitting oil and gas production.
“Then, workers at the Ikeja Disco [Electricity Distribution Company, Ikeja, Lagos], who were protesting the disengagement of some of their colleagues after they failed the company’s competency test, apparently colluded with the National Transmission Station in Osogbo to shut down transmission,” he added.
“Finally, the unfortunate strike by the unions at the NNPC [Nigeria National Power Company] over the restructuring of the corporation, shut down the Itarogun Power Station, the biggest in the country. Due to these factors, only 13 out of the 24 power stations in the country are currently functioning.”
The minister strongly condemned the situation in which Nigerians, under the guise of the various unions in the oil and gas sector or” sheer acts of vandalism”, continuously “sabotage” the country’s power infrastructure.
“We therefore admonish all Nigerians who may be agitating for their rights in whatever form to refrain from any action that will further hurt the same people they claim to be protecting,” he urged.
Despite an amnesty programme that was launched in 2009 to curb militancy in the oil-producing Niger Delta, attacks on installations have resumed in earnest. These include the blowing up of the key Escravos- Lagos pipeline in January, prompting Shell to declare aforce majeure. The result was an immediate loss of 1,000 MW.
Be that as it may, industry experts say the best way to increase the country’s energy supply is to upgrade the technology, raise the standard of those employed to run and manage power plants, and improve security. At present, the country’s power plants routinely operate at below capacity due to ill maintained equipment.
Years ago the problem was blamed on the fact that the state oversaw the power sector. The government-run National Electricity Power Authority, NEPA, was redefined as ‘Never Expect Power Always’. In an attempt at a break with the past, responsibility was passed on to the Power Holding Company ofNigeria (PHCN). In 2013 this was ‘unbundled’, or broken up, and the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity was handed over to private companies in the hope that greater investment and efficiency would follow.
Since then, however, little has changed and both domestic and business consumers continue to experience ‘lack of light’.
Industry gets by resorting to expensive diesel-powered generators, but this considerably increases their costs. For now, Nigerians have to put up with loadshedding, in which power is rationed during the day but this is a source of additional annoyance.
According to 2014 figures, the country’s installed power capacity is 6,000 MW for a population of around 170 million. This is extremely low when compared to South Africa which generates 40,000 MW of electricity for a population of 50 million. Even Ghana, which has been experiencing energy problems of its own, does better than Nigeria, where less than 50 per cent of the people have access to electricity. Many feel this is a disgraceful situation for Africa’s biggest economy.
Fed up Nigerians have are now calling for the resignation of the minister in charge of the power, Babatunde Fashola. Despite accusations of incompetence, Fashola, a former governor of Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest commercial city, has been quick to assure a sceptical public that the government is on top of the situation.
“The problem is with us,” he admitted. “The problem is with gas. The problem is with transmission. The problem is with the way the privatisation exercise was conducted, But as I have said before, I am not going to lament what has happened in the past. I am going to move on.
He went on to imply that previous governments were to blame for the problem, and the Buhari administration had been left to pick up the pieces. This it would: “This is a problem that has been here for 16 years, to put it mildly. I have been here for less than a 100 days, and I think we can solve this problem if you give us the tools that we need to do it.”
The government is investigating the expansion of forms of renewable energy like solar power
He added: “I think that this problem can be solved, and the day that we feel that it cannot be solved, I will gladly come and tell you that I don’t think it will work.”
Paul Achu a former member of staff at the PHCN) told NewsAfrica that weak infrastructure was the main cog in the wheel of progress as it constrained effective distribution of power supply. Gas constraints account for the loss of about 1,500 MW, according to recent data from the National Control Centre (NCC) in Osogbo, Osun state in southwest Nigeria. “The thermal power plants, which rely on gas account for 81 per cent, so any disruption of gas pipelines impacts heavily on electricity supply,” he pointed out.
At the peak of the current crisis, the distribution companies were allocated what was available at the grid. Ikeja Electric was allocated 237.09 MW representing 15 percent of generated power; Ibadan Disco and Abuja Disco received 205.48 MW and 181.77 MW respectively representing 13 per cent and 11.5 per cent capacities; Eko Disco got 173.87 MW representing 11 percent capacity; Benin and Enugu received 9 percent each translating into 142.25 MW each. Kaduna and Kano Discos got 8 percent each or 126.45 MW each. Port Harcourt received 102.74 MW or 6.5 per cent; while Jos and Yola received 86.93 MW and 55.32 MW. Both capacities stood at 5.5 and 3.5 per cent each.
A number of large gas-fired hydropower generating states remain out of action due to equipment failure. For instance, the six - unit capacity Egbin Power in Lagos, the biggest power station, suffered a major setback when one the units was unable to function due to a problem with the generator circuit breaker. Another unit was shut down because of gas constraints. Consequently, normal power generation of 1,320 MW was reduced to 800 MW.
Similarly, according to officials at the Kainji Power Station in Niger state, unit IG7 was out of action due to a faulty electric motor, unit 1G8 was out of action due to loss of supply to the auxiliary, while unit IG9 was out of action due to problems with the station service transformer and generator transformer.
The story at Jebba Hydro Plant on the River Niger was no different as it lost almost the same capacity as Kainji producing only 343 MW because component failed to function due to lack of maintenance. The Shiroro Hydro Plant on the River Kaduna in Niger state, also suffered major setback generating only 300 MW as a unit tripped during emergency shutdown.
Investigations also revealed that Alaoji Power Station, near Aba, Abia state, with a capacity of 1,074 MW, was only producing 69.4 MW from the one unit that was available because another had broken down.
At the time of the crisis Geregu Power Station in Ajaokuta in Kogi state, with 434 MW capacity, produced only 133 MW, due to gas constraints. Unit GT21 and Unit GT 22 tripped due to high differential pressure while GT23 was on ‘spinning reserve’.
Omotosho and Olorunsogo in Ondo and Ogun states in southwest Nigeria respectively also produced far below installed capacity. Experts attribute these failures to gas constraints, vibration troubles, generator transformers, and isolator problems as well as generation and high inlet differential pressure.