Engr Ifesie Ikechukwu Boniface is the Chief Executive Officer, Power System and Automation Solutions Limited, an Engineering Procurement and Construction company specialized in power generation and transmission, with innovative and cutting-edge solutions to a whole range of power system problems. In this exclusive interview with Kingsley Paul, the COREN-registered engineer who is a member of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) discusses the problems of the sector and how his organisation continues to make enviable contributions to solving them, saying that apart from offering beneficial professional advice to government, the company takes pride in a number of signature projects it executed across the country.
Engr Boniface called on the Muhammadu Buhari administration to review the funding policy for the sector, charging the administration to increase the power generation and transmission capacity for the viability of the economy and hence the resultant industrial growth and development. He noted that despite the multiple advantages of investing in power generation, investors are discouraged due to the poor power evacuation capacity.
What endeared you to pursue a business career in engineering technology, a pursuit that led to the establishment of your innovation-inclined organisation?
Right from my very early childhood, I developed interest in technology and engineering related activities. I love to see different things working together as a system. I developed sustained interest in dismantling electrical and electronic devices, and then assembling them. I was encouraged because the reassembled devices functioned perfectly. It was interesting to me, and I continued to do so, and I learnt a lot from that childhood hobby. That was how I discovered myself and began to fix faulty devices with ease. In that manner, I unconsciously chose a career path that led me to where I am today.
So I would say I am naturally inclined to engineering, my love for engineering is inborn, and I thank God for the successes he has given me.
What motivated you to establish the company?
The major inspiration that led to the establishment of Power Systems and Automation Solutions Limited is the quest to fill the gap that exists in the Nigerian power sector, and we have been able to make significant contributions to the sector.
Kindly discuss some of the landmark projects and achievements of the company?
We have several signature projects that remain sources of pride to us. The rehabilitation and extension of 330kV Sapele Power Plant Switchyard is a project that stands as a signature of our professional competence. The project was one of the last projects of the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) to be awarded in 2009, but it was the first to be commissioned in 2010.
Engr Ifesie Boniface executed the task in collaboration with our foreign partners. In conjunction with our foreign technical partners, we successfully executed the extension of Katampe 1 x150MVA, 330/132 KV substation, Mando 1 x 150MVA, 330/132/33 KV substation extension. In Central Area, Abuja, we extended 1x 60MVA, 132/33kV substation. We extended the existing Ikeja west Transmission station by adding a 1×150 MVA 330/132KV transformer.
We also extended the substation in Ojo by adding 2x60MVA, 132/33 KV substation and at Agbara by 1 x 60 MVA 132/33 KV.
In Jos, we executed 150MVA, 330/132KV Substation extension and the Makurdi 132KVA substation extension.
We also constructed the Kaduna green field Power plant 132KV switchyard which is awaiting commissioning
Presently, the Alaoji 1x300MVA 330/132 KV substation extension has been completed and will soon be commissioned.
Now, my organisation is working on the automated meter reading and meter data management across all power transmission stations in Nigeria. When this project is completed, it will improve transparency in Nigerian electricity market.
We provide a wide rage of engineering services with specialization in primary and secondary system designs, test and commissioning, power flow analysis, short circuit study, transformer oil filtration and analysis, earthlings system calculation study, static calculation and structural analysis, engineering procurement and construction of power plants, transmission and distribution substations among others.
We also design and manufacture control, protection and automation panels for transmission system, building electrification and oil and gas automation
How has your organisation impacted the Nigerian power sector?
We have significantly contributed to the development of the power sector especially in the area of infrastructure. We have been involved in the design and construction of remarkable power plant switchyards and transmission systems. Our professional advice to the government has saved the country millions of dollars.
Some people are of the view that some companies that executed the earliest NIPP projects lack the required expertise, and in some cases, the contracts were revoked. What is your view?
Some of the challenges are not about whether the handlers were indigenous engineers or not. Remember that President Olusegun Obasanjo administration conceived the NIPP when he went to commission the Omoku Power Plant built by the Rivers State government at the time. President Obasanjo reasoned that if a state government can successfully boost its power generation, then the Federal Government should do even more.
However, President Obasanjo was in haste because he wanted to execute the projects before his tenure expires. As a result, proper feasibility studies were not conducted before commencement of the projects, some of the lands for the project sites were not properly acquired and you may be aware that some contractors could not initiate project execution because of unavailability of project sites.
The NIPP probe dealt another big blow to the projects because the probe happened at the middle of the NIPP project execution, it stopped the project for two years and caused a lot of delays which later resulted to huge additional cost in the form of variation. To be frank with you, some contractors never recovered from the losses.
How were some companies able to overcome the challenges?
Not all projects had problems, some had lands and they did not suffer any delay, and so they had smooth initiation and execution of their projects. Another thing to note is that contractors have different approaches to project execution. Companies that have good management teams were able to foresee problems and they averted them, those who could not foresee problems ran into challenges.
I told you that our project was among the last to be awarded, but it was among the first to be commissioned. Imagine that a project that was awarded in 2009 was completed and commissioned in 2010 while the project awarded in 2006 remained uncompleted. Ours was a remarkably big project involving the entire rehabilitation of Sapele Power plant switchyard which was built in 1978 that has so many steam and gas turbines bays with lines linking Alaja, Benin and other parts. We executed the rehabilitation and extension within one year and got it commissioned.
Nigeria still suffers serious power outage despite huge resources committed to improving power supply. Why is this so?
Nigeria needs to know the real factors that must be considered when building power plants. The capital requirement is huge, for example, you need about one million Dollars to build a plant that will generate one megawatt of electricity. Apart from this, Nigeria’s current installed generation capacity is nothing to write home about, it stands at present at about seven thousand, three hundred and thirty-three megawatts. This installed capacity is too low to drive the country’s industrial growth.
Any nations that sincerely desires industrial growth must strengthen its power sector because companies need power to run their factories of production. We need power in excess of one hundred thousand megawatts if we really aspire for industrial growth.
Comparing Nigeria to other countries of the world, do you think we are really doing badly in terms of power generation?
Let me give you instances. South Africa which has a population of about fifty million people has an installed capacity of 52 thousand megawatts. The population of Turkey is about 82 million and the country has an installed capacity of 92 thousand megawatts. The USA with a population of about 300 million people and has an installed capacity of over 1.5 million megawatts. Nigeria with a population about 200 million people have installed capacity of only 7000 megawatts. I hope this makes it obvious for anyone to see that Nigeria is in alarming deficit of power generation and transmission capacity, a situation that is seriously retarding the growth of the industrial sector.
However, despite Nigeria’s very poor installed power generation capacity, we are not even able to distribute the inadequate power we manage to generate with the power generation companies having lots of idle machines. This is because of lack of Power evacuation and distribution capacity. This is a major problem, which when solved, will usher the country into another problem of poor power infrastructure.
It is important to note there is so much suppressed load at the distribution end which is far in excess of the present generation capacity yet there are machines lying idle at generation stations because of power evacuation and distribution capacities
What is your view about funding of power sector?
The government needs to be consistent with funding of the power sector. Sometimes you find that projects are awarded but government fails to fulfil its part of the bargain in funding the project. This leads to delays in project execution which can lead to abandonment. A frustrated contractor can unwillingly abandon his project if there are no funds. If funds are not released, the contractor is not likely to be able to complete the project within the given timeframe. Another problem sets in because the budgetary provision for the delayed project is not likely to be in the next budget.
Would you say that privatizing the power sector improved service delivery?
No, I would not say so. I think the power sector was prematurely privatised and we are now facing the consequences. Now, the task of power generation is in the hand of private investors, yet government continues to set targets for the country in terms of how many megawatts Nigeria will generate in the near future, yet it is not in the business of power generation. It is like paying lip service because government is not responsible for power generation and cannot decide the pace for private sector investors.
The fact that Nigeria’s installed capacity is 7000 megawatts shows that the sector needs more investors. Why are investors too nervous to invest in power distribution?
Apart from the huge capital intensiveness of power projects, Nigeria’s political instability or the fear of which poses serious threat to prospective investors. The country’s security challenge is another factor inhibiting the willingness of investors. The poor evacuation and distribution capacity is also another major factor.
Investors are afraid of investing in power generation because country’s installation capacity is not guaranteed. A point of note is that every stage in power sector business involves very huge investment. So no investor is willing to spend funds generating power that cannot be evacuated.