The Puzzle of Intermittent Power Outage While the Nation Invests Heavily in Power Generation
In Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 600 million people live without electricity according to the Rockefeller Philanthropy, Ethiopia has been a champion of investment in renewable energy. With billions of US dollar investment made in power generations since 1991, the country has increased power production to more than 4200MW. This is an enormous achievement especially when one notes that the country produce only 378MW in 1991. The production will surpass 10,000MW when the USD4.8 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam starts power production.
However, within this phenomenal achievement lies an astounding truth – residents and industries suffering from erratic power outages on daily basis. Not only that, up to 30Pct of the power generated are lost due to poor distribution lines exacerbating the already unreliable power supply. The cost has been terrible on personal, institutional and state level. Unregulated power voltages sometimes damage properties and companies fail to produce per target due to power interruption. The implication of these to the national economy is considerable. EBR’s Tamirat Astatkie delved into this complicated matter and consulted researches to shed light on this gruesome reality. He has spoken to government officials and experts to understand what the nation is doing to provide reliable power supply.
Especially in the past decade, no sub Saharan African country matches Ethiopia in terms of investment made to improve electric energy supply. Total electric energy generation capacity increased by more than 1,000Pct from 378MW in 1991 to 4,228MW which Ethiopia achieved with the recently inaugurated Gibe III, the biggest hydroelectric dam in the country with an installed capacity of 1,870 MW.
This has enabled the country to improve access to electricity. Until June 2015 the number of cities and rural villages connected to electric energy increased to 5,795 from 300 in 1991. Electricity service coverage soared from merely 8Pct to 55Pct while the number of customers grew from four hundred thousand to 2.4 million and installation of distribution networks jumped from about ten thousand to over 180 thousand kilometers.
Despite such extraordinary achievement, the fact that most of the cities including Addis Ababa and the environs as well as rural areas witness constant power outage is a puzzle. Insiders and experts point their fingers on the lack of adequate investment in energy efficiency improvement projects that match the huge investment the country has made in power generation.
Fitsum Salehu, a researcher and acting head of the Center for Energy at Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAiT) at Addis Ababa University (AAU) says, improving electric energy is becoming one of the main top agendas of many nations especially developing countries because of the fast growth of demand for electricity, which surpass supply. He says, although there is a mismatch between demand and supply in Ethiopia, energy loss is [one of] the major reasons for the lack of efficient and reliable supply of electricity.
Even though official figures vary from institution to institution, in Ethiopia electric energy loss stands between 21Pct and 30Pct of total power production according to information EBR obtained from Ethiopian Electric Utility (EEU) and Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP), respectively. Taking the current generation capacity, this means Ethiopia losses 890MW to 1,271MW of electricity at a given point.
Broadly defined, electric energy efficiency can be measured by the ratio of energy generated to energy supplied. However, since electric energy loss occurs both at the supply side (electric energy provider) and the demand side (electric energy consumption), a more articulated definition is needed to analyze the extent of electric energy efficiency vis-à-vis electric energy loss.
Electric Energy Efficiency from the Supply Side
While analyzing electric energy efficiency from the supply side, Mengesha Mamo (PhD), associate professor of electrical engineering at AAiT used the ratio of electric energy sold by the provider to electric energy generated while conducting his research entitled ‘Preliminary Survey on Electric Energy Efficiency in Ethiopia’. According to the associate professor, electric energy sold can be calculated by deducting energy loss that occurs during generation, transmission, distribution and sales from the total energy generated at a given period.
In the past, the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) was the producer and provider of electric energy in the country. But, in December 2013, EEPCo split into EEP and EEU. While EEP is responsible for generation and transmission, EEU engages in distributing and selling.
Currently, EEP operates and maintains 17 hydropower and three wind farms (Adama I & II, and Ashegoda) and one geothermal (Aluto Langano) power plants with a total installed capacity of 4,228MW. There are also several hydropower projects under construction including the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and Genale Dawa III, expected to produce 6,000MW and 254MW, respectively.
Fitsum argues electric energy loss during transmission and distribution plays a major role when energy efficiency is analyzed from the supply side. He says the majority of energy loss occurs before the energy reaches customers. Many studies also indicate that energy loss from the supply side occurs in transmission, distribution lines and while stored in transformers.
“The old-aged and obsolete transmission and distribution networks are responsible for the vast majority of energy loss in the country.” said an assistant professor of electrical engineering at AAU which EBR withhed his identity up on the request of the informant. He wonders about the inattention authorities at the state power monopoly gave to upgrade and build new networks while investing huge amount of money for power generation.
Fitsum agrees that the service provider merely focuses on corrective maintenance, a maintenance task performed to identify, isolate, and rectify fault and restore the service. ‘‘However, less attention has been given to preventive maintenance – a programme that would prevent power failure before it occurs,’’ he says. ‘‘The rehabilitation work has been ignored for many years.’’
Gemechu Yimer, wire business head at EEU, admits that up until very recently rehabilitation works have never been given due attention. “Rather we have been focusing on corrective maintenance.”
Erratic power supply due to the frequent failures of distribution lines impairs a large number of people. It also casts shadow among companies especially to those engaged in manufacturing.
Badege Kebede, General Manager of Walia Steel Industry, a local company established in 2006 in the outskirt of Addis Ababa at Alemgena, states that they are regularly challenged by power outages. “This hampers the production of the Industry” he explains. Walia Steel Industry manufactures and distributes reinforcement bar, hollow sections, profiled steel and others.
According to Badege, intermittent power outage and inadequate supply has been hampering their operations. “We need 6MW, however, we are not getting that amount of power.’’ he stresses. ‘‘Due to this the factory is not operating at its full capacity. Whenever there is an attempt to operate all the machines, the power line gets off service.’’
Jateen Patel, Managing Director of Abyssinia Industries Group, an Indian conglomerate of five companies, of which the Abyssinia Integrated Steel, a manufacturer and supplier of reinforcement bars to the Ethiopian market, serves as a flagship company, set foot in Ethiopia in 2001. The industry has faced a similar problem. The company acknowledges the existence of intermittent power outages and voltage drops in the power service, which worsens especially in the pre–rainy season. “We have challenges of power outage, shortage and quality delivery,’’ he says.
According to a study entitled “Assessment of Power Interruptions in Addis Ababa” by Yohannes Tesfaye at AAU in 2015 using 384 samples, the frequency of power interruption is found to be high in almost all months, although it gets to more than 1,500 in June, July, September, March and April. Power interruptions duration, though considerable in all months, reaches 2,113 hours in April among the surveyed companies.
Although the government is late to engage in rehabilitation works, Gemechu stresses that this does not mean that EEU is doing nothing about it. He supports his argument with the findings of their assessment on the duration and frequency of power outages in Addis Ababa as a result of preventive maintenance. “The duration and frequency of power outages decreased by 36Pct in the first quarter of the current fiscal year compared to last year’s same period’’ he says. ‘‘There is also a 20Pct decrease in the duration and frequency of power outages in October 2016 compared with October 2015.”
The EEU has initiated projects to rehabilitate and upgrade distribution networks in Addis Ababa. According to Gemechu, Addis Ababa consumes 60Pct of the total power distributed at the national level. “This means, solving the problems in the city will solve the majority of the problems [nationally],” he explains.
He hopes that these projects will ensure reliability and quality power provisions to meet the ever increasing development endeavors in the city and the power demands of dwellers who are increasingly becoming electric power dependant due to changes in lifestyle.
Gosaye Mengistie, Chief Executive Officer of EEU concurs with Gemechu. “The [three integrated rehabilitation projects in the city] will bring a dramatic change in addressing the recurrent problems caused by transmissions and power distributions’’ he said in an exclusive interview with EBR.
According to Aklilu Kebede, director of distribution projects at EEU, the country is undertaking huge projects in the history of rehabilitation of distribution networks in the country. This will include 1,013km overhead and underground cable installation. More than 20,000 concrete polls will also be used for the overhead ones.
Upon the completion of the project, which began on October 6, 2016 and is expected to last in August 2017, Aklilu affirms that it will decrease the duration and frequency of power outages, improves the voltage profile and decreases a technical loss. ‘‘Furthermore, it will change the image of the city [positively],’’ hopes Aklilu. This project, which costs USD162 million, is funded by the World Bank and the government of China.
The other area electric energy loss occurs is while it passes through transformers. In fact, it has become an everyday event to watch electric transformers explosions and fuse box failures in Addis Ababa, which compel residents to question the quality of installed transformers.
Electric transformers, which are devices that transfer electrical energy between two or more circuits, are used to increase or decrease alternating voltages in electric power applications. According to Mengesha, in Ethiopia at least three electric transformers are installed to regulate the power load from generation up to consumption levels. These includes step-up transformers, which are installed at the generator switch yard, to increase (or step-up) voltage before transmitting electrical energy over long distances through wires. On the other hand, the step down transformers, installed at the distribution centers and at consumption level, reduce the output voltage.
Fitsum says electric transformers installed near consumption level have below 11KV capacity. Only the faults of such transformers are visible for the public. “Yet, electricity energy loss also occurs because of transformers installed at generation and distribution centers,” he stated.
“Electric energy loss can occur due to manufacturing faults [due to] improper design and inappropriate row material selection.” Fitsum argues. “Inadequate maintenance and overloading are also reasons that lower the efficiency of transformers.”
Mengesha, on the other hand, affirms that the efficiency of these transformers varies depending on capacity, load and design. His research reveals that efficiency also relates with the age of the transformers since older transformers have high loss or lower efficiency.
To reduce energy loss that occures because of inefficient transformers, Fitsum recommends replacing the old transformers with new ones. He says, “Establishing a system that enables proper monitoring and maintenance is necessary.”
Electric Efficiency at Consumption Level
For Fitsum, the loss of electric energy is not limited at transmission and distribution networks. “The cumulative inefficiencies at industries and household level have huge repercussions on the overall power supply.” he stresses.
Studies indicate that households electric energy efficiency can be analyzed by taking into account the domestic lighting system in a country. In Ethiopia, the majority of households use incandescent light lamps, which are the second form of electric light developed for commercial use after carbon arc lamps.
According to Edison Tech Center, an electricity and engineering company based in New York, incandescent light lamps are not energy efficient because 90Pct of the energy goes to produce heat whereas 10Pct only makes visible light.
Despite its low efficiency level, incandescent light lamps are manufactured in a wide range of sizes globally since they require no external regulating equipment, have low production cost and work equally well on either alternating current or direct current.
Due to the inefficiency of incandescent light lamps, there is an increasing preference of compact florescent lamps.
In Ethiopia, the use of compact florescent lamps is a recent phenomenon. The government took an initiative to encourage the use of compact florescent lamps nationwide as the result of the power shortage pressure. Although compact florescent lamps prove to save electric energy loss for the government and reducing electric energy cost to customers, little has been done to expand its use.
The professor from AAU recommends the need to work aggressively to enhance the awareness of the general public about energy efficiency. “At household level, energy efficiency should be given attention because a lot of energy is wasted there,” he says. ‘‘In addition to the attention that should be given for domestic lighting source and electronic outputs like audio and video, awareness should be created about electric Mittad, an oven used in urban areas to bake injera, an ingredient of Ethiopia’s stable food. He says, this equipment is a major source of energy loss [at household level.]’’
Taking the two million household customers of electricity in Ethiopia that are assumed to have two incandescent lamps of 40 Watts each, the total demand for electric energy reaches 123MW. Replacing these two incandescent lamps with two 11 Watts of compact florescent lamps, reduces the power consumption to 33MW.
However, due to their relatively cheap price, incandescent lamps are widely used in Ethiopia.
The manufacturing sector is another area electricity loss occurs widely. According to Mengesha, the efficiency of machines to convert the electric energy into mechanical energy ranges from 78Pct to 94Pct when they operate at the rated power. But when they are partially loaded, which is the case in Ethiopia, their efficiency drops much blow this range, which contributes for energy loss.
Fitsum indicates another factor that contributes for energy loss in the manufacturing sector. ‘‘Industries ask an exaggerated amount of energy hoping they will expand their operations,” he explains. ‘‘But, due to the current operating environment, it is difficult for them to use the electric energy in accordance with their current demand, let alone utilizing the exaggerated supply. Even though they pay for it, it is considered as energy wasted because they didn’t use the whole amount.’’
Gosaye says there is a controlling mechanism to monitor and rectify such misbehaves in the manufacturing sector. ‘‘If manufacturing companies are not consuming 90Pct of the electric energy they are supplied with, we penalize them in monetary terms,’’ he explains. ‘‘But, awareness creation will be given before taking actions.’’
Fitsum proposes that along with awareness creation activities for the public and industries, a swift monitoring mechanism should be put in place to enforce regulations. ‘‘This is important especially for the big players in the manufacturing sector’’ he concludes. EBR
5th Year • January 16 2017 – February 15 2017 • No. 47