Danger on the electricity turf

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It is a paradox that electrical installation in Government Reservation Areas (GRA) since four decades ago are still intact while new ones are falling off because of lack of adherence to construction and installation standards. Many Nigerians have been electrocuted as a result of this unfortunate practice, writes JOHN OFIKHENUA.

The Federal Government has saddled the Nigerian Electricity Management Services (NEMSA) with the responsibility of enforcing technical standards and regulations, technical inspection, testing and certification of all categories of electrical installations, electrical meters and instruments to ensure the efficient production and delivery of safe, reliable and sustainable electricity supply and guarantee safety of lives and property in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) and for related matters.

NEMSA Managing Director, Peter Ewesor, brought the state of the national grid to bear last week as the guest lecturer at the 5th Engr. Otis O.T. Anyaeji Annual Distinguished Lecture in Abuja, with the theme: “Electrical Safety”.

It is noteworthy that by his position, he is also the Chief Electrical Inspector of the Federation. In other words, he is the number one electrical engineer as far as the nation’s grid is concerned.

His revelations about the grid were, however, unbecoming of a country of Nigeria’s population and electricity market.

He noted that it is obvious that many issues are plaguing the power industry and other workplaces today, and these include lack of adherence to rules and regulations, adding that there was the issue of inappropriate and inadequate specifications.

The Chief Electrical Inspector of the Federation also cited issues of poor, aging, and dilapidated network as some of the challenges militating against the progress of the industry. He frankly pointed out that there were high rate of electrical accidents and electrocution.

He also took electrical engineers to the cleaners. According to him, they are the ones designing, supervising installation and maintenance of electrical works. He spotted an irony of professionalism on the part of the new generation engineers, when he noted that although the power installations that our forefathers built were still intact while the new ones hardly last a decade before wearing out and causing accidents.

In the cause of inspection the agency found out that the state of the networks were appalling across the country. Visibly worried, he said “these are what contribute to electrical accidents

New ones and aging networks, according to him, are also posing tremendous challenges to the sector when he said “we are building defective network from day one”. “Sometimes we go to some sites four to five times before we can approve projects. Once we don’t do it right, it leads to electrical accidents,” he added.

Poor installations, Ewesor said, have become a drain in the consumers’ purse, blaming the issues in the sector on low investment. He was also worried that electrical installations of several decades in some Government Reservation Areas are still intact whereas the recent ones are already collapsing and causing accidents.

Epileptic power supply, he said, is a factor of electrical safety. Not only was his analysis of the state of the network scary when he opened up, the revelation was also unbecoming of a sector that had gulped billion dollars from annual budgets, grants, loans interventions from development agencies .

His words: The poles, cross arms have gone bad, they are no longer being supported by insulators of cross arms, they are dangling, and definitely, such line cannot carry quality power supply to our houses, to factories or wherever you want it to be. So, sometimes you have power on the grid, on the network, but such power cannot get to me and you because the installations are not fit, not reliable to carry that power. I say to this audience, that if you look at it we have been lucky because we don’t have 24/7 power supply. That is why today if the DisCos and even the Transmission Company of Nigeria have a lot of respite. The day Nigerians have 24/7 power supply for full month, more than about 70 percent of those conductors will melt and a lot of accidents will occur. This is because the conductors have been there for 20- 30 years. Many of them have whittled, many of them are weak but because they receive current intermittently they are still standing.”

As odious as weak network is to lives and property, so it is to revenue generation in the sector because of the technical, commercial and collection losses they culminate. The NEMSA boss, therefore, explained that an industry that has up to between 20, 30, and 40 per cent ATC and C losses would always grapple with revenue issues. But he was hopeful that tackling the technical and commercial issues in the Nigerian electricity market could improve its revenue generation.

The NEMSA boss also complained that use of substandard materials and equipment is in fact hitting the roof. In the bid to arrest the situation, he revealed that the agency has made recommendations to the Standard Organisation (SON), which the agency usually make its report on substandard materials.  He urged the engineers to ensure that on noticing some of the terribly bad materials from mostly Asian countries not to pretend. On his own, he has changed electrical equipment in his bathroom five times this year due to poor quality.

Speaking technically, he said: “In fact, we split conductors, somebody wants to take power to a particular house or community, the person buys 150mm, splits it into two; 75 and 75mm basically, the 75mm cannot carry the quantum of power that is to be taken to the place. The challenge is that when that conductor carries more than the power it is supposed to carry, it will definitely melt because there will be a lot of heating effect. This is why when we did our investigation we found out that what should have been prevented was not prevented.”

He recalled that at the University of Lagos three years ago, a girl lost her life to electrical accident while walking, the conduct snapped and dropped on her. She couldn’t survive it. “If things had been done well, that would not happen,” Ewesor lamented.

As a result of the accident, according to Ewesor, the agency forced the University to carry out underground wiring in the area. He also told the gathering that as stakeholders they are responsible for the safety of their houses, urging them not to solely entrust the safety of lives to the distribution companies and the government, urging them to be vigilant.

Ewesor noted that customers usually have two sources of supply: Discos and their generators to a three pole changeover switch. According to him, the consumers could in the cause create the problem of paying the DisCo even when they are using their generators. Educating consumers and engineers, he noted: “It is a closed circuit and any time you are on, your generator will feed into the system. Two, if you have your house the earthen is not there and there is a short circuit, there is earth leakage in the meter, because there is no way to discharge that current to ground, your meter will read. This is because it is a virtual load and it will be recorded. That is why people will say crazing bill.”

For Nigerians to ensure safety, he insisted that they must do earthen in their houses, urging consumers to mitigate all attendant safety lapses. He also narrated how the country lost a police officer and his five children to bad electrical materials in Jos. What happened, he said, was that they wired their cooker control unit with 1.5mm, but when the incident happened they thought it was the DisCo. The family in Jos went to bed and ignored the smell of burnt wiring that emanated from their household, which touched the rug, and set the entire house ablaze.

He also revealed that the agency is battling those who have crossed the Abuja -Kaduna line with power line to put the necessary cradle guide. The NEMSA boss explained that since the railway line is a metal, if an electricity conductor falls on it and the power fails trip, its result could be disastrous. According to him, while he was a young engineer in the defunct National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA), it was forbidden to cross a major road, railway line, radar crossing with power line without a cradle guide. His words: “It is a practice when I was young in the system, when I was in NEPA, what happened is that you cannot cross a major road, railway line, radar crossing with your power line without putting a cradle guide. You may be sacked.

Today, we are battling with those, who have crossed the railway line from Abuja to Kaduna or to anywhere. If you don’t put cradle guide it is a disaster. If the conductor drops on the railway line, it is metal, and the system unfortunately fails to trip, that particular track is electrified and you can know what the consequences are.”

Ewesor, however, noted that the agency has always insisted on the right practice, adding that once NEMSA gets a hint of such malpractice, it writes to ensure that the utility provider complies with the law.

When a participant asked him about the compliance with right of way on the Abuja -Kaduna railway line around Kubwa, he disclosed that the contractor is already providing the cradle guide. According to him, the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) is mounting the cradle and earthen guide along the railway line. He said once the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) informs NEMSA in any construction on the right of way, he writes to inform the authority to effect the necessary correction.

In order to rid the right of way of encumbrances, he noted that some state governments have commenced the removal of structures from the paths. He also cautioned the distribution companies on the risk of supplying electricity to residents on power line, stressing that, “if you as a DisCo you are supplying my house and I am under the right of way of power line and I am paying you electricity bill, if anything happens in that particular place, well, it is DisCos, who would be held responsible”.

He said the agency has found out that the state of the network throughout the country is appalling. But he vowed to weed out faulty installation in the grid regardless of the position of violators of electricity code, adding: “I will better disobey man and please God.”

He described any point load on 33-line location as a potential problem and informed engineers that most of electrical materials are substandard, carrying labels higher than their actual capacity. “Once you use a substandard material, it is a challenge,” he added.

According to him, NEMSA has removed 93 poor quality transformers and 400 concrete electric poles from the system.  He expressed worries that “there is now a total deviation from the normal practice and if we don’t change it, we will not have power”.

The poles, cross arms have gone bad, they are no longer being supported by insulators of cross arms, they are dangling, and definitely, such line cannot carry quality power supply to our houses, to factories or wherever you want it to be. So, sometimes you have power on the grid, on the network, but such power cannot get to me and you…..

 

He said from the observation of faults in the network, the agency has insisted that all primary feeder lines must use minimum of 450mm aluminum steel reinforced conductor because the steel inside the middle will give it additional mechanical strength than what it ought to be. Anything fall short of this standard, he vowed, will not get NEMSA’s approval.

He also raised stakeholders’ hope that the agency was preparing a construction and installation standard guideline manual for the industry, which would a must for every DisCo. This, according to him, is to achieve unification in the industry by the end of the year to mitigate accident in the industry. Safety in the industry, however, continues to depend on the readiness of the stakeholders to play by the rule.

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