Rising power transmission losses must be checked

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3D Electric power lines over sunrise

Reliable power supply is key to any serious economy seeking to develop. It is widely regarded as a major determinant of economic prosperity for any society. It has been accepted as a crucial ingredient that propels any economic activity, and is indeed the pillar of wealth creation. Particularly in the developing world, the provision of greater access to reliable energy has been suggested by some as being vital in helping grow their economies and improving life for the poor.

However, for many reasons, reliable supply of power has become a challenge for many societies.

In Ghana, high transmission and distribution losses between the point of supply and point of consumption – arising from operational inefficiencies as well as poor collection of revenue from consumers – have contributed to factors rendering it difficult to guarantee consistent and reliable supply of electric power. The losses are both technical and commercial in nature, contributing greatly to the cash-flow challenges in the power sector.

Transmission loss measures the power lost in the transmission of high voltage electricity from power generators to medium voltage power distributors (trading economics). This in simple terms means that transmission losses are calculated as a percentage of the gross electricity production for the entire period under review.

It is a fact that the unit-ratio of electric power generated by a power utility does not match with the units distributed to end consumers. Definitely, some percentage of the units will be lost in the network. Power generated from power stations passes through large and complex networks like transformers, overhead lines, cables and other equipment until it is made available to end users.

However, the level of transmission losses becomes a cause for concern when in excess of the allowable loss limit, and is of course recurring. Basically, power lost is money lost to power utilities; thus the weakening their financial positions. The illiquidity poses a challenge for procuring required quantities of fuel for power plants in a timely manner; carrying out maintenance services to ensure availability of the required plant capacities; and maintaining/expanding transmission and distribution infrastructure.

Industry data are showing that power transmission losses are rising to unfavourable levels, and this must be checked to save the country money.

Urgent attention is required, because this transmission challenge has been proven to contribute in the key factors which stall progress for the power sector and economy as a whole. As it was earlier stated, the indices of economic growth in many cases rely on the ability to continually enjoy sustained and efficient electricity power supply.

Today, transmission losses within the Ghana Grid Company (GRIDCo) system keep rising to 2013 highs and possibly beyond – far in excess of the allowable loss margin. A review of the ‘Electricity Supply Plans’ from Ghana’s Energy Commission (EC) and data from the Ghana Grid Company (GRIDCo) indicate that, since 2008, the rate of transmission losses from total generated power keeps rising― largely due to inefficiencies in the transmission system.

The losses in any transmission system are mainly in response to technical inefficiencies. It has been identified that the technical losses in Ghana’s power sector result mainly from the continued use of obsolete and faulty equipment which include switchgear, transformers, transmission lines, among many others. It is instructive to note that until date, some equipment and parts used for the transmission of power in Ghana date as far back as the 1960s – a clear recipe for losses of power transmission in the sector.

Review of state documents identified that: “With the Aboadze (West) enclave being the biggest generation enclave with an installed capacity of approximately 1540MW, transmission system losses are always higher than the benchmark because maximised power generation is transmitted as far as Brong-Ahafo Region from the West enclave”.

Aside from longer transmission lines, the transmission loss increases were found to be driven by the old 161kV transmission lines in the West, and limitations on the heavily-loaded 161kV Volta – Achimota corridor that supplies power to the capital and its environs. The over-loading of 330/161kV autotransformers within Tema, congestion on the 161kV Anwomaso – Kumasi transmission line linking the 330/161kV infrastructure, the unavailability of 40MVar STATCOM at Tamale etc. were equally identified as contributing factors.

Ghana’s benchmark transmission loss of power in percentage terms to the gross electricity production allowed by the Public Utility Regulatory Commission (PURC) is 3.5 percent in gigawatts hours (GWh).

The 3.5 percent explains that all losses recorded in a production year that falls beyond the 3.5 percent benchmark deteriorates the amount of power produced for transmission, thus becoming cost to the state transmission agency, GRIDCo. This cost is owed to the production agencies in Ghana, including the Volta River Authority (VRA) and other Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

The country’s best performance in managing losses within the grid were recorded over a decade ago, when the transmission loss recorded was 3.5 percent for both year 2007 and 2008. These results fell right in line with the transmission loss benchmark of the country, and did not come at a cost to the country’s power transmission agency, GRIDCo.

However, since the year 2009, the percentage transmission loss in Ghana’s power sector has risen beyond the allowable 3.5 percent. In 2009 for instance, the country lost approximately 343GWh of electricity transmitted, representing a 3.8 percent of the total 8,958GWh transmitted.

 

In 2010, 2011 and 2012, Ghana recorded transmission loss of 380GWh, 531GWh, and 522GWh respectively, representing 3.7 percent, 4.7 percent, and 4.3 percent of total annual power transmitted.

The trend shows upward, as the only year that transmission losses came close to the PURC benchmark was 2015. Aside from that, the country has been recording losses of 4.4 percent on average terms. After dipping to 4.1 percent in 2017 from 4.4 percent in 2016, the country’s power transmission losses are seeing yet another sharp rise, recording a loss of 4.7 percent in 2019.

In absolute numbers, the amount of power lost to transmission has seen an incremental rise over the last decade. In 2019, for instance, the amount of electricity loss was recorded as 844GWh, a growth of 16.2 percent over 2018 losses and 30.5 percent over year 2017’s loss figure.

The only year that experienced a dip in losses was year 2015, when the total electricity made available for gross transmission was only 11,692GWh, as against 13,071GWh in 2014 and 12,927GWh in 2013 – i.e. 1,379GWh (about 12%) less than in 2014 and 1,235GWh (approximately 11%) less in 2013.

Cumulatively, over the last decade, the amount of power lost to transmission is in excess of 5,700GWh of the approximate 133,156GWh transmitted within the period. The 5,700GWh of power lost over the 10-year period is equivalent to one-third of the total power transmitted for consumption in 2019.

It is important to note that the growing debt owed the company by the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and Northern Distribution Company (NEDCo) hampers the ability of GRIDCo to provide for themselves modern equipment and infrastructure needed to increase efficiency in outputs.

Though technically impossible to completely rid the transmission grid of losses, provision of needed investment in the sector would go a long way in beefing-up the system-efficiency and ensuring value for money (VFM). The focus must be on attaining either the 3.5 percent benchmark set by the PURC or anything below.

>>>The writer is a Research Analyst at the Institute for Energy Security (IES). He holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Ghana.

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