How Chirchir plans to prevent outages with power rationing

Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir. [Samson Wire, Standard]

For the third time in four months, Kenya was on Sunday night plunged into darkness following a countrywide power outage that left critical institutions unable to continue operating effectively.

Power sector authorities Monday attempted to offer an explanation to Kenyans who are now demanding answers.

Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir blamed the latest outage on an overload in one of the key lines that feed power to western Kenya.

He said the countrywide blackout was due to a fault on the Kisumu-Muhoroni transmission line, which due to overloading, tripped and brought down the entire system with it.

The overload, Chirchir said, was due to under-investment in power infrastructure to cope with demand.

To deal with the problem in the short term, Chirchir said Kenya Power will now have to resort to power rationing in certain areas with demand for electricity.

Chirchir explained how embarrassing it was on Sunday night when he landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), a key installation, where passengers were grappling in the darkness as some of the terminals could not get back-up power on.

“I experienced the impact first hand because I was at the airport and couldn’t get luggage… it is something that is embarrassing,” he said.

The CS said the challenge was one of under-investment in infrastructure maintenance, despite the drive to increase the number of customers connected to electricity and also expanding the power grid.

“We know where the problem is and we are addressing it. The gist of it is the lack of investment over a long time,” Chirchir told journalists Monday.

While he was not explicit about it, he appeared to blame the previous regime for failure to invest in the maintenance of power transmission lines as well as building new ones to match growth in power consumers.

He noted that had certain investments been made five to six years ago, the country would not be experiencing unstable power supply today. 

Chirchir was at the helm of the power sector as CS between 2013 and 2015. 

“Over time, the industry has grown. The last mile connectivity has moved the number of households connected to electricity from 2.3 million in 2013 to 9.2 million currently while there has been no commensurate investment,” he said

The CS said the Kisumu-Muhoroni power transmission line is designed to carry 80mw but was transmitting more than 120mw before the collapse. There was a further spike in demand that saw this increase to 149mw, with the load being too much for the line to handle and causing it to trip.

“At 7.33PM, the Kisumu-Muhoroni 132kV power line tripped arising from system constraints due to a sudden energy demand increase. The loss of the Kisumu-Muhoroni link led to sudden increase in power from Juja-Lesson-Muhoroni link, leading to overload at Olkaria2 transformers and Dandora-Jua transmission link. This led to the cascade of generation trips resulting in the widespread power outages,” said the CS, but explained that parts of Western Kenya including Bungoma, Busia and Kakamega had electricity, getting their supply from Uganda.

Chirchir further said the power to 60 per cent of the country was back on by 1am yesterday while all areas were back up by 2am except parts of Nairobi, North Eastern and Coast regions, which he said had been restored by 9.29am.

He added that to deal with instances of overloading on power lines that resulted in the outage Sunday, Kenya Power would be rationing power, particularly in Western Kenya.

“Instead of overloading a line and causing the whole system to trip, we will be removing some feeders and therefore lessen the power demand that goes through the line… this will give the line the load that it can carry,” said Chirchir.

“We will be scheduling some load shedding in particular areas where lines are constrained. That is not to say that we do not have enough but a way of ensuring that we do not carry a load that cannot be supported by that line.”

He said that this would be “a quick fix before the government can build up new lines and substations… we know the problem, have the solution but may not sound good in the short term”.

In the long term, he said, the ministry will build more lines to evacuate power from key generation sites such as Olkaria to the Western parts of the country.

The nationwide power blackout on Sunday is the latest of many in the recent past. This year alone, the country experienced crippling countrywide outages in March, August and November.