2019 – A Year Of Power System Collapses – Part I


Scores of ‘Total Grid System Collapses’ have occurred in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) in the recent past with the entire electricity grid unavailable for several hours to a few days. There were also cases of ‘Partial Grid System Collapses’ when sections of the country were thrown into darkness for hours due to major transmission line faults.

From 2010 since I began my records, there have been over 200 total or partial grid collapses. 109 of these occurred from 2010 to 2013. A total of 22 total collapses and 20 partial collapses were recorded in 2010. The figures for 2011 were 13 and 6 respectively. Whereas, the figures for total and partial system collapses recorded in 2012 were 16 and 8 respectively, there were 22 total and 2 partial collapses in 2013.

Post-privatization, there have been an excess of 100 system collapses. In 2014, there were nine total and four partial grid collapses but a significant improvement took place in 2015 with a record of six total and four partial collapses only; the best record thus far since privatization. The worst of the record since privatisation was in 2016 when the grid recorded a total collapse 22 times and a partial loss 6 times. Things improved in 2017 as there were a total of 15 and 9 total and partial system collapses respectively. A further improvement took place in 2018 with 12 total collapses and 1 partial collapse recorded throughout the year. What statistics do we have for the year 2019?

In 2019, to date, there have been 14 total grid system collapses – four total collapses in January, one each in February, April, June and August, thrice in May, twice in November and once in December due to electricity workers’ strike. The outages are a reminder that the Nigeria’s power infrastructure remain largely precarious despite decades of huge investments and policy revamps. These major collapses that plunged substantial parts of the country into darkness have had devastating impacts on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

The first total collapse of the Grid in 2019 occurred on Wednesday 2nd January at about 10.20pm due to a fire incident on the Escravos-Lagos Pipeline System (ELPS) owned and operated by the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The fire incident which was reported near Okada in Edo State caused widespread blackout across the country as the pipeline which supplies gas to six thermal power plants was shutdown. Within the following three weeks, and for a similar reason, the power grid suffered three additional total system collapses on Friday 18th, Saturday 19th and Friday 25th January, increasing the total number of collapses recorded in the first month of the year to four. What a start to a new year!

The 5th collapse of the power system this year occurred on Wednesday 20th February, 2019 and by 25th April, a 6th total power system collapse had occurred. This time, the blackout happened as a result of a leakage that was noticed on the same ELPS leading to the need for closure of four power generating plants. As with the other cases, the emergency maintenance of NGC’s pipeline supplying gas to Egbin, Omotosho, Olorunsogo and Papalanto power stations and a coincident fault on the Benin-Egbin 330kV transmission line between Ofofu and okada towns paralysed economic activities round the country.

An estimated amount of 161billion Naira was lost in the NESI due to constraints relating to insufficient gas supply, weak distribution and transmission network infrastructure, and water reserves from January to April 2019 alone.

The 7th and 8th collapses of the power system this year took place on Wednesday 8th May and Thursday 9th May, 2019 respectively. The collapse of the National Grid on May 8, at 2:32p.m. was caused by a cascade of tripping at the transmission substation in Onitsha, Anambra State and a simultaneous loss of one on-grid generator. The system collapse was recorded on both May 8 and 9 as power generation dropped, from a peak of 5,114.2MW on May 7, to as low as 42MW on May 8. Although the system recorded another peak of 4,448MW on May 8, this was not sustained as it nosedived almost completely to 8MW the following day (May 9). The outage took about 72 hours to restore. The grid was barely available for three weeks before the 9th collapse occurred on Thursday 30th May, 2019 – 3 total power system collapses in a month!

The dominant constraint on May 30, 2019 was unavailability of gas, constraining a total of 1,320MW from being made available on the grid. This took place in the face of water management issues with hydro generation stations and the rejection of load by distribution companies leading to over-frequency. The power sector lost an estimated 1.3billion Naira on May 30, 2019 alone. Put in another way, the industry loss grows at the rate of at least N474bn per year or N1.3bn per day, apart from the financial costs of the attendant chaos.

Consequently, this liquidity crisis has put the NESI on the verge of total collapse, unable to increase generation capacity, remove infrastructure constraints on transmission and distribution networks and aggressively reduce Average Technical, Commercial and Collection (ATC&C) losses.

The next collapse of the power system took place exactly four weeks later. The incident occurred at about 9.10 a.m. on Sunday 30th June, 2019 when fire gutted a section of the Benin transmission substation, on Sapele Road in Benin City, Edo State. The fire was caused by a chain of cascading effects beginning from the loss of distribution load due to a slight rainfall. Next was a lightning stroke which led to extreme overvoltages that shattered the 75MX Reactor in the substation. Bulk power was restored to most part of the country within hours following a replacement of burnt Reactors by another from within the system.

The high voltage, which triggered the fire, caused a massive drop of load from the national grid, further exacerbating the availability of supply to the electricity distribution companies. The massive load drop led to high voltage in the system, which shattered the lightning arrester in close proximity to the 75MX Reactor in Benin Substation. The shattered lightning arrester porcelain hit the reactor bushing causing further explosion on the reactor resulting in fire outbreak.

The country rested for two months without a total power system collapse until the 11th total system collapse occurred on Friday 30th August. The national electricity grid collapsed, throwing the country into darkness for about 9 hours. It was a total collapse as power generation on the grid dropped to 20MW. It happened around 2:01 p.m., but the grid was restored around 11:01 p.m. After about 40 days, the 12th and 13th power system collapses took place on Friday 8th November and Saturday 9th November, 2019 respectively. The grid collapsed twice within 5 hours. The system first collapsed on Friday, November 8, 2019 around 11 pm and was restored. One hour after supply was received, the system collapsed again at 4:38am on Saturday, November 9, 2019.

So far, and as of the time of writing this piece, the 14th total power system collapse experienced in the NESI this year was of a different kind. It was not of a technical nature as it involved the strike action of electricity workers over outstanding issues with the Federal Government (FG) from the time of privatization in 2013. This took place on Wednesday 11th December, 2019 after the expiration of a 21-day ultimatum given to the FG by the workers’ union.

To be continued……

Engineer Idowu Oyebanjo is the MD/CEO, Idfon Power Engineering Consultants (iPEC) Limited. He is a UK trained Power Systems Professional

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