Solomon Ezeme, Osaze Isesele
Sudden outages of power during rainfall in Nigeria has become a common sight that an average Nigerian cares less to worry about when it happens, these days because it has become a norm. But the recent power outage at the Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos due to the rain, has raised concerns to question the level of commitment often professed by Nigerian DisCos (Power Distribution Companies’) towards ensuring that their customers enjoy quality service.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) on April 2, explaining the cause of the sudden power outage at the international airport which took place at about 11p.m on April 1, 2022 while apologizing to affected passengers, stated, “The outage, which was as a result of yesterday’s rain, that came with very fierce winds and storms.
“It was a natural occurrence that affected one of our feeders, and consequently resulted in the temporary disruption of power supply at the D wing of the airport.”
ELECTRICITY CONSUMERS’ REACTIONS
EnergyDay during its interaction with customers of various DisCos on the agelong problem of sudden power interruption during rainfall in the country, gathered that Nigerians are becoming fed up with the situation and are most likely going to drift to the off-grid energy market due to the failure of DisCos to address the issue nine years after power sector privatization.
Some consumers felt that Nigeria, believed to supply electricity to neighbouring countries that currently boast of uninterrupted power supply regardless of season, should have felt the issue of power outages during rainfall.
A customer of a Nigerian DisCos who wished to remain anonymous, told EnergyDay that the distribution facilities used by DisCos operating in Benin Republic have special accessories which ensure that electricity supply to customers is uninterrupted, except in rare occasions.
”An Ikeja Electric engineer once told me that he is ashamed that even the Benin Republic, our next door neighbor, uses insulated cables on their poles.
“That means rain or no rain, breeze or no breeze, their light stays on. I really don’t know what is wrong with our own DisCos here in Nigeria,” she complained.
Olatundun Yinusa Sholalu-kameel said, “It’s terrible, and DisCos should start counting their exit day from this year. Solar power will take over. People who know the NITEL story can relate.
“If solar panels could serve 24 hours of uninterrupted power supply, I would rather save towards getting a better one than paying bills for services I don’t enjoy.”
Yetunde Morenikemi Mustafa said, “Why not get routine maintenance done in the whole of Ibadan? Tipper Garage, Kasumu Estate and its environs seem to be out of IBEDC’s jurisdiction as we regularly experience power interruptions here.”
Abu-Hanif I-Olakunle said, “This company called IBEDC renders very poor service. There is no light for over a week in Idi-Obi Airport, Alakia. They even asked us to pay for what we didn’t use. Imagine?”
The story is not different in the other parts of the country.
A consumer in Warri, Delta state simply identified as Amelia Ejiro lamented that the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) situation is worse as there is usually no power during light thunderstorms and less during rainfall.
Muhammed Idris, another consumer under Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, also complained that for the past decade that he has been living and doing business in the area, power outage is a norm during rainfall.
Another electricity user, Kayode Afonja who claimed to have lived in Ghana, said that Ghanaians scarcely experience power outages, and that such things as rainfall are usually not reasons for power interruption.
He said, “In Ghana, for more than six months, there was no power outage for a second. It was when I started living there I got to know there was no correlation between power outage and rain.”
When asked what he thinks about the power situation in the country, Ugonna Ezeomedo said that, until deliberate actions are taken by both the DisCos and the Federal Government to address the challenge, Nigeria will continue to live with it.
“Power outages in Nigeria are often caused by rain. That means that, as long as there will still be rain in this country, sudden outages will persist. They need to address it,” he said.
Speaking to EnergyDay on the way forward, Engr. Ettu Mohammed, an expert with more than two decades in electrical installation, suggested a total replacement of all dilapidated and outdated facilities currently being used by the DisCos for power distribution.
He stated that poor infrastructure and lack of quality manpower are both responsible for the frequent power interruptions Nigerians experience during rainfalls.
Engr. Mohammed noted that many DisCos do not have competent engineers, hence, most distribution facilities were wrongly installed, making them susceptible to the slightest pressure from rain.
He urged the DisCos to employ competent and experienced engineers who can handle installation properly while equally making use of distribution facilities which are resistant to rain and other external factors.
“Most of the high voltage lines used by the DisCos, either 11kV or 33kV (kilo volts), are obsolete.
“Also, most overhead accessories used are ceramic type which is now outdated and have been replaced by the silicon type, globally.
“Unlike the ceramic type, the silicon type would remain firm as it transmits voltage from place to place, even while it rains. All ceramic type accessories should be replaced by the silicon type.
“The only way to avoid the reoccurrence of sudden power outages during rainfall is to do a thorough revamp of the entire distribution facilities belonging to DisCos.
“Wrong installation is another major reason why the rain can easily damage a distribution facility. Most of the DisCos don’t have competent engineers as staff. And as you know, experts would refuse to work for peanuts.
“The defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), as terrible as its operations were then, used to have competent engineers.
“What we have today in many DisCos are contractors, mostly fresh engineers who are new in the field – largely inexperienced. If the engineers who are permanent staff of some DisCos were truly competent, there would be no need for contractors.
“So, everything boils down to the availability of funds to improve infrastructure and the quality of manpower,” he noted.
Engr. Longe Alonge, Business Development Director Globeleq, a leading independent power company operating and developing diversified power projects in Africa noted that the network systems across the country are weak and should be strengthened in order to ensure quality service delivery.
He further noted that the network distribution and transmission systems are obsolete and need upgrades.
“Some of the distribution lines are underground and when there is rainfall, there are bound to be electrical accidents and casualties. This is why we need to invest in new and up-to-date technologies in terms of distribution and transmission lines”, Longe stated.
Engr. Ade Ogunsola, President of Nigerian National Commission and representing Nigeria on the International Electrotechnical Commission (NNC-IEC) based in the United Kingdom, said that it is natural for power interruption to occur during rainfall.
He added that there are a number of key considerations that would result in the scenario experienced and one can be certain that they apply to Nigeria to some extent.
He said, “Direct or indirect lightning strikes may result in power surges and/or equipment damage resulting in power cuts. To protect the network, it is prudent to install surge protection devices (SPDs) at key boundaries of the network to protect equipment. In the presence of excessive surges, the SPDs will trigger (similar to a fuse blowing) and all users connected to the said junction will lose power – this is to protect equipment connected downstream as much as upstream.
“This is an easy fix as it involves the replacement of the failed SPD, assuming spares are available. In the case of a direct strike to a transformer (or damage to the transformer due to a tree falling on the equipment), the power cut may take days as a transformer replacement is a complex operation and takes time. In addition to the assumption that a spare transformer is available.
“Rainfall may be accompanied by heavy winds – this may result in objects (trees) falling in the transmission lines, effectively bridging the wires resulting in a short. The protection scheme of the grid should be able to identify this type of fault and location – and interrupt power immediately to avoid major damage. This type of fault clearance is common and is typically cleared within a day or two – assuming competent personnel and equipment are available.
“It goes without saying that the state of the infrastructure is perhaps the main reason for the erratic supply and thus power interruptions. Power electrical equipment are designed for specific life time and thus needs to be replaced as the life expectancy of the equipment erodes. It is possible to use such an equipment beyond its designed lifetime following adequate maintenance but eventually they need to be replaced.
“Using such equipment beyond life time translates to increased failures and thus power interruptions. It is fair to say that the replacement of these equipment is an expensive undertaking, particularly as Nigeria is not a manufacturer of power electrical equipment.
“I can thus understand the desire to squeeze more life out of an expired asset but the consequence tends to outweigh the benefits when one considers the maintenance culture of Nigeria. An asset replacement program therefore is as important as the capital investment program.
“At times, the utility owner, particularly the distribution entity, may opt to cut power during severe rainfall as a protection measure to avoid damage to the grid or a section of the grid. This precautionary measure is meant to protect against damage to the network – or section thereof. Such enables power to be restored once the storm or strong winds have subsided.
Engr. Ade further disclosed that so many factors account for power outage during rainfalls, but concluded that the state of the infrastructure is a major cause. According to him, the return of investment in the power sector is yet to be seen or enjoyed by the citizens.