Interview: TCN boss to Nigerians: Don’t expect stable electricity until Discos recapitalise


Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Transmission Company of Nigeria, Usman Mohammed says that power distribution companies have to recapitalise before the country can have a stable electricity grid

When is Nigeria going to achieve grid stability?

We have always said it that there must be a commensurate investment in the distribution network. Electricity is driven by protection. If you take your house as an instance, there is always what you call cut-out or MCB and the intention in installing this equipment is to isolate faults inside the house and prevent such faults from entering the grid.

If the fault inside the house is not shielded, it will enter the substation. If the substation is not shielded, it will go into the injection substation. From the injection substation, if it is not protected, it will go into the transmission station. And that is what is often happening to our transmission stations.

So we cannot have a stable grid unless we have an adequate investment on the distribution side and that is why we have been calling (as transmission company) for distribution to be recapitalised. They (distribution companies) need to have a commensurate investment on the network.

So, on whether we are protecting our systems; of course, we are doing that. However, grid stability also requires that you are meant to be expanding and as you do this you must ensure that it complies with the desire to make the grid stable. This expansion should include the connection of the grid through SCADA as well as a commensurate increase of the spinning reserve.

What can you say about the recent grid collapse that dragged on for about two days?

The process of restoring the grid takes time. If you look at where we are now, we are in the process of restoration. We have reached the whole country but I cannot tell that we are at the stage where one can say the grid is stable. This is because as we restore supply to a particular place, distribution also has to pick the load and these activities are done gradually. When we are restoring supply after a system collapse, we also don’t allow them to pick the load all of a sudden because the generators are coming in gradually.

However, right now, I can tell you that we have reached the whole country and up to Niger and Cotonou but still at that, I can tell you that we are not at the normal state yet. Usually, it takes about 24 hours for us to reach the normal state. Since I came as the MD of TCN, the system instability recorded in those two days was the worst. This is because there was no time that we had system instability where the restoration took a long time like that. And the reason was that we had a high voltage caused by the fact that electricity load was being rejected by the Discos. And the load was not being picked by the distributors because of weak distribution network. So, that is the reason for that instability.

It is also important to let you know that the management of the grid became very difficult at a point in time during that recent incident because the voltage became very high. In fact, in the process of restoration, we got to a point where we had to bring down the grid ourselves because we discovered that if we didn’t do that there won’t be enough time to tell the generators to drop their load. And if we had left this for long, we would have recorded multiple explosions and our equipment would have given way. That was the reason why at a point we had to bring down the grid. And even at that, we recorded explosions in Shiroro and Jos. So, this means that if we had allowed it to stay longer, there would have been fire all over the place.

What are you doing about the procurement of adequate spinning reserve and calls in the past for a regional grid?

I signed a letter to NERC (Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission) recently requesting that we start the spinning reserve process. On calls to split the grid, I don’t know the discussion that happened between a former Permanent Secretary and Manitoba Hydro in the past as regards this. But if you look at the level of stability that we have achieved, it is more than what was achieved in the past. If you even look at the level of instability that they had before, it is not what we have now. At least, we are better now than what we had before.

The purpose of having a single grid is actually for the economy of scale. If you go to some countries that have multiple grids, some of them are now collapsing it into one grid system for the economy of scale. This is to also ensure that there is stability in the grid. For instance, if India that is more than three times the size of Nigeria has one grid, why won’t we have one? We are taking the step to get to the level of stability in our grid.

One thing that is of concern is the issue of investment in the distribution network. We need to press for the expansion of the distribution network and the Discos need to be recapitalised so that they can have the commensurate investment. If we don’t do that and you look at the expansion we are doing now on the grid in terms of transmission, you will realise that they are not picking what we transmit properly. For example, between Ogun and Lagos, we are putting three 330kV substations and we are putting two 132kV substations. If there is no investment on the part of the Discos, how will they pick the load from that place? They need to build their injection substations and feeders to pick the load. That is what we are saying.

The government pledged to support Discos with N72bn in the past and TCN was to manage this initiative. What is the update on this?

The procurement process for the N72bn is on as we speak. But for your information, that N72bn is just a drop in the ocean. What is needed to fix the distribution companies is far more than that. It is not just something of N72bn. And we know that the Discos were handed over to private investors in 2013, precisely in October. Now, if you have a car that you have not serviced from October 2013 till date, you know if the car could do 100km then, I’m sure it will not be able to do more than 30km now. That is the kind of scenario we have now. Maybe, the investment that would have been required at that time is lower than what we need now. But the fact is that what we need now is a massive investment. Of course, the N72bn is important and it will help and the government has got to an advanced stage but it will not solve the problem. We need more than that. We are modernising the grid but we require commensurate investment on the side of the Discos to achieve the modernisation of our grid.

Are you telling the Discos why they need to make the commensurate investment in their networks?

Of course, we had interface meeting with them recently where we engaged each of the Discos one on one to tell them what we are doing and what is required to be done on their side. We even came up with an action plan, whether it is going to be implemented; that is up to them. We also had another meeting in Lagos where the Discos themselves admitted that they required a certain level of investment. That is the issue. But as a government institution that has been recapitalised, we have implemented a $300m transmission project and right now we are implementing a $1.6bn project in this arm of the sector. We are not stopping at that; we are also working on certain innovations. We are looking at using contractor finance to do a line between Omotosho and Benin Port. We are also working to close the loop at Lagos Island and some other locations in Lagos by providing supply through 330kV. We are not static. We are working. But the reality of the matter is that for us to have a modern grid, as we are on this journey to stabilise and modernise the grid, we also need commensurate investment from the side of the distribution companies.

Nigeria supplies power to some West African countries and they get more stable electricity than us. Are there things which these countries do differently that we need to do?

This is exactly what was raised in one of our meetings, where one of the Discos said power distributors should go to the United Kingdom, South Africa and other countries to look at how the distribution networks in those places worked. And I told them that they didn’t need to go to the UK or South Africa. They (Discos) can go to Cotonou and they will see how a distribution network is built. They should go to Cotonou and look at their distribution network.

In Nigeria, you know that we have what we call cross arm, where they (Discos) put woods between the wires on distribution lines. But you won’t see a single cross arm in the whole of Cotonou. You have a straight and good distribution network there. Also, if you stay in Cotonou, you will discover that the only time there will be no supply is when there is a problem with the grid. And this is because their distribution has a straight network. Any time you go to Cotonou and you see that their power supply is stable, take it that it is the power we are generating that they are consuming and not from somewhere else. This is because more than 80 per cent of electricity in Cotonou and Republic of Benin generally comes from here. This is the situation and the answer to your question.

Is the supply to Benin and Niger not constraining the quantum of power that is provided in Nigeria?

We have always stated that generators have to comply with grid code that requires them to be on what we call Free Governor, which means that they have to only be at a stage that they can supply what the distribution companies need. So if the distribution companies increase their load demand, the generators will automatically increase their load supply. That is what the Free Governor is all about.

So the supply to Niger and Benin does not in any way constrain the supply of power to electricity consumers in Nigeria. We are making sure that our generators comply with the grid code and that they stay on the Free Governor. This ensures that what is demanded by the Discos is available and is supplied to the distributors by the generators through the transmission company. This is what we do in the sector to ensure that the quantum of power on demand by the electricity distributors is what they get from the generators. So our supply of electricity to these neighbouring countries does not in any way constrain what we need here in Nigeria. Punch


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