Recently, precisely on August 10, 2015, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (“TCN”) announced that it attained an all-time high of electricity transmission of 101,088MWh in Nigeria. This achievement, the TCN said, was recorded on the 5th of August 2015. It stated that the previous highest electricity transmission recorded was 99,450MWh on October 31, 2014.
TCN is the owner and operator of the National grid on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria (“FGN”). Under Nigeria’s principal electric power sector regulating law—Electric Power Sector Reforms Act 2005—TCN is in charge of transmission of electricity, i.e. wheeling electricity at high voltages from the point of generation (power plant) to the point of distribution (substation) including system operation and procurement of the ancillary services. It carries out this responsibility primarily through the operation and management of the national electricity grid. So where the national grid is performing below its installed capacity or below agreed levels, the TCN is usually at the receiving end of culpability both from legal and social point of view.
How significant are the recent improvements in electricity transmission?
The attainment of 101,088MWh electricity transmission in a day represents an appreciable improvement within the Nigerian electricity supply industry context but when placed in a broader global context, they are very negligible improvements. The referenced figures represent transmission of an average of 4,100–4,300 MW per hour in a 24-hour day. These ‘improvements’ are important to note—both by the operators and consumers. This is because before now, it was common knowledge that about 60% of electric power generated in Nigeria is lost during transmission. These losses are largely due to weak, and in some cases non-existent, transmission infrastructure. It therefore means that if our power plants generate 5000MW of electric power for example, around 3000MW is lost during transmission. For TCN to transmit 4,212MW of electric power per hour, represents a significant ‘improvement’.
For the average electricity consumer, nothing in the electric power sector means anything except it results directly in improved stable power supply on a daily basis. So whether the grid is operating at peak transmission or not it is of no moment to the average Nigerian consumer if there is no electricity to power their homes and businesses. In spite of this perceived nonchalance by the consumer, any improvement in the national grid will definitely bear on the consumer, who will experience some increased power supply (albeit, marginally).
For industry watchers, stakeholders and regulators, if the recent ‘improvements’ are anything to go by, it means there is a slow but gradual improvement in the transmission side of the power supply chain. With continuous improvement of available transmission infrastructure through sustained investment and efficient management, the national grid can further increase power supply to consumers.
Poor electric power transmission has been one of the Achilles heels of the Federal Government’s power sector reforms. Many transmission transformers are either archaic or of too low capacity. So are the substations and extensions too—archaic and grossly low in capacity. Most power plants to construct long stretches of transmission lines to evacuate generated power to the grid. These show the extent of investment needed to ensure further improvements to the national grid to give the consumers the kind of succour that is much needed.
My expectation is that with this ‘record’ will come greater optimisation of the grid by TCN towards reaching the grid’s maximum installed capacity leading to improved power supply. So indeed there are positive signs. But there is no compelling reason to rejoice yet.
Y. D. Amakiri, a legal practitioner, advises on the Nigerian power sector.
TCN system operation functions include grid control, system planning and development. TCN’s internal structure is divided into three separate entities- the Transmission Service Provider, the System Operator and Market Operator.
Ancillary Services are services that necessary for the safe operation of the grid including black start, spinning reserve, frequency control and reactive power.
 It is worthy of note that the Transmission Company of Nigeria has not been privatised and it manages and operates the national grid under a management contract with Manitoba Hydro International.