Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sabah power blackout due to Shutdown of 4 turbines by IPP

It's good that Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB) has finally came out with a media briefing regarding the state-wide blackout on January 17, 2014. People have been speculating about why and what caused the second massive blackout in 2 years. The previous one was on April 30, 2012.

The slight delay did not help the utility in putting a stop to allegations after allegations from many quarters, some to the point of slandering. Just navigate to the 'News' dropdown menu in the SESB website and you will see I meant. For me, I prefer to wait and get the full pictures from SESB's own press release like the one in 2012.

One of the power plants belonging to Ranhill, located in Teluk Salut. Source: RPSB pdf

IPP to blame for the blackout?

From what was reported today by the local dailies, it seem the blame is on the Independent Power Producer's (IPP). Well it depends on how you look at it.

If one day you find your tap went dry, who will you blame? The Water Department? The water concessionaires who manage the water supply for the department? The Operators who operate the treatment plant? The broken-down pumps? Where does the blame-game stop? Someone has to take the responsibility, or, the blame if you like.

SESB was quoted by Daily Express as saying that the IPP's decision to shut down its gas turbines for safety reasons caused the massive power failure in Sabah and Labuan on that fateful day.

Why and how it happened

Preliminary findings revealed by SESB on Wednesday were that Ranhill's power plant decided to shut down the gas turbines after encountering a technical problem, causing power to fluctuate and trip.

IPP informed SESB that its "diverter damper", the door which covers the gas connection from the turbines to power up a steam turbine at the plant, could not be shut. Out of fear as smoke was continuously coming out from the plant, they decided to shut down the two gas turbines.

In the report, Managing Director Abdul Razak Sallim said the blackout episode could be divided into two events, (1) being a residual overcurrent protection at 10.30am where power was stabilised and (2) a sharp drop in power transmission at 11.11am.

He said in the first event, power generation had stabilised to 633MW, while demand stood at 585.1MW with an excess margin of 48.5MW.

But in the second event which caused the total blackout, power generation stood only at 525MW, while demand remained at 585MW, causing a margin deficiency of (-) 60MW, the problem of which was traced to the Ranhill Power Plant.

SESB not in a position to compensate consumers

The blackout is reported to have left the utility firm with about RM2 million in losses. While it affected more than 500,000 consumers statewide, SESB said it is also a victim of circumstances, and still operating in the red.

So, SESB cannot offer a discount nor reduce the newly-revised tariff as demanded by an opposition Assemblywoman, Christina Liew who earlier said SESB should give a 30 per cent discount.

What's next

A task force committee will, among others, determine whether the issue had been caused by technical or human error. The detailed report would be forwarded to the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry to decide whether to launch an elaborate investigation.

Will Ranhill Power Plant risk a revocation of its licence by the Energy Commission?

"Under the Electric Supply Act 1994 all licenses to IPPs are issued by the Commission, if there are situations where the IPPs can assist supply in times of crisis and had received instructions to do so, but did not do it, their licences can be revoked." - Energy Commission West Coast Areas Director Nazlin Ab Alim Sidiri

The way forward for SESB as to what I understand from my readings:
  • For SESB, TNB and Energy Commission to work together to strengthen its 21 fail-safe system and other efforts to ensure there will be no repeat of a total blackout.
  • For the government to continuously provide allocations (and perhaps allocate more now) to set up a redundancy system or a back-up power line that can serve as a back-up when the main cables are down to improve the State's System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI).

TheGreenMechanics: Two state-wide blackouts in a span of less than 2 years is not good a statistics at all. Not good at all! But in this particular case, SESB can't be totally blamed; to certain extent their hands are also tied with regards to control over the many IPPs in the state.

That said, for the sake of making good what has been pledged to the people, the government, especially the federal government, which has more grip on the parent company, TNB, must take some drastic and bold decisions. If it is just fund you are talking about, then reprioritise!

We cannot just continue to say "This is Sabah, we have to live with it" and accept our fate as so!

Daily Express - read here
Bernama - read here
Free Malaysia Today - read here

1 comment:

Wesley Yeo said...

I think it was a mismanagement of SESB's part on its IPPs. Even licence was issued by ST but I believe SESB's still play the role of auditing its own IPPs. Also, from what read from newspaper, it seems that Ranhill has no response procedure for critical moment. I think SESB should stop acting like a victim and should hold all its "suppliers" accountable.