Nigeria’s national grid on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, suffered yet another system collapse and plunged the entire country into darkness.
The grid collapse, at 5.10 p.m, affected all 11 distribution companies (Discos), which supply electricity to the 36 states of the country and Abuja. The grid failure was however restored at 12.20 p.m. by the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).
What is the cause of a grid collapse? According to industry sources, “the grid functions in a narrow frequency band of 49.5Hz to 50.2Hz. The grid fails when the frequency plunges below the lower limit of the band or when it shoots up higher than the upper limit of the band. When this happens, the transmission lines stop accepting power supply, just as all the other grid constituents — generating stations, transmission lines and substations — go out of order, until the collapse is restored”.
National grid collapses are becoming one too many in the country. This latest collapse is coming less than 36 hours after a previous collapse at 10.40 a.m. on Monday, March 14! According to statistics, between 2013, when the country carried out reforms in the electricity sector and now, the national grid has collapsed more than 130 times, averaging 14.4 times each year.
Whenever the grid collapses, it comes at a huge cost. Businesses have to be run on electricity generating set with the prohibitive cost of fuel. Petrol is a scarce commodity that is difficult to get, no thanks to the long queues at filling stations. When one manages to get the product to buy, it sells for between N250 and N400 per litre, up from the official pump price of between N162 and N165 while diesel has gone up from N288 per litre to N522! Those who cannot afford it will have to temporarily shut down their business.
The same way, residential houses have to be run on generating sets. Those who do not have generators as well as those who have, but cannot afford the cost of fuel, have to find other means of preserving food items they have in their refrigerators and also contend with the unbearable heat.
What is the way forward to check the near-regular grid collapse as well as the incessant outage not caused by grid failure but which has become a recurring decimal to electricity consumers across the country?
With its abundant oil, gas, hydro, solar and wind resources, Nigeria has the potential of generating 12,522 megawatts of electric power from its existing plants. Unfortunately however, Nigeria is only able to dispatch 4,000MW on a daily basis, which is a far cry from the 40,000 megawatts required to sustain the basic needs of the country’s over 200 million population. Inexplicably, Nigeria is only tapping from thermal and hydro sources to generate electricity when it can equally take advantage of solar and wind energy.
In its attempt to stimulate growth, expand capacity, upgrade transmission and increase access to electricity, the Nigerian government carried out comprehensive reforms in the power sector in 2013, which culminated in privatising six electricity generating companies (GENCOs) and 11 distribution companies (DISCOs). It however retained 100% ownership of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).
Good as the liberalisation of the sector is, the results are not being felt yet. The sector still requires substantial injection of investment to achieve reliable power supply. Industry operators estimate that the sector requires as much as $100 billion spread over the next 20 years, if the desired impact must be felt.
Investment is required to expand infrastructure, especially from the transmission end, so that the power generated can be seamlessly evacuated and distributed to consumers. The country equally requires investment to explore sources of power generation other than thermal and hydro. When perfected, this will boost electricity generation and supply.
Nigeria currently supplies electricity to the Republic of Benin, Niger and Togo. As things stand now, Nigeria urgently needs to review its power exchange agreement with its West African neighbours because it does not make much sense to be supplying others when the country itself is not yet self-sufficient in electric power generation.
Nigeria must do the needful by investing in power infrastructure to improve on power generation and transmission and also strengthen the grid because the incessant grid collapse and its attendant outage, is becoming a national embarrassment.