October 21, 2017

Why All The Dumsor Dumsor?

“ECG Hints of Most Unfriendly Load Shedding Program Ever”, “Load shedding extends to Ghana’s industrial zones next week”, “Load shedding exercise to resume this New Year”, “Ghana’s power crisis; A slippery slope to eternal darkness”: These are some of the headline results which appeared in a Google search on Ghana’s current “Dumsor” crisis.

Since August 2014, the most dreaded load shedding exercise in Ghana surfaced again, worse than the earlier one we experienced in 2008, causing anger and frustration among most citizens. Although there are news reports, interviews and discussions nearly everyday on the media about this issue, the average Ghanaian does not know the very basic information he needs to know. If you are part of the many who don’t fully understand the reason behind this load shedding exercise, fear not, this article should set you straight!

 

Terms Related To Power Generation and What They Really Mean

Power: Power is the rate at which energy in this case electrical energy is being used or generated.

Energy: Energy is the measure of how much fuel is contained within an object or used over a specific period of time.

Watts are a measurement of power, describing the rate at which electricity is being used or generated at a specific moment. For instance, a 45-watt laptop computer uses 45 watts electricity any moment it is on. As such the textbook definition of one Watt is the energy consumption rate of 1 joule per second (1J/s).

1W = 1J /1s.

Watts can also be defined as the flow of 1 ampere with voltage of 1 volt.

1W = 1V × 1A.

So, a 2200 Watt refrigerator will draw 10 Amps at 220 Volts.

Here’s a table of popular home appliances and their power rating.

Appliances
A table of common household appliances and their power consumption.

Kilowatts(kW) and kilowatt-hours(kWh) are useful for measuring amounts of electricity used by large appliances and household.

1kW = 1,000W and 1 kWh is one hour of using electricity at a rate of 1,000W. Kilowatts and kilowatt-hours become handy when dealing with large appliances or households. If a 100W bulb is lit continuously for 10 hours, then 1kWh of electricity has been used (100W x 10h = 1000Wh = 1kWh).

Megawatts are used to measure the output of a generator (power plant) or the amount of electricity required an industry, a city or a country. 1 megawatt (MW) = 1,000 Kilowatts = 1,000,000 watts. For example, Volta Aluminium Company(VALCO), an aluminium company based in Ghana requires 350 MW of electricity and currently Ghana produces 2,846.5 MW of power.

Gigawatts measure the capacity of large power plants or the consumption of a large city or a country. 1 gigawatt = 1000 megawatts = 1 billion watts. The capacity of Nigeria’s electricity generating plants is over 9 GW.

 

Causes of the “Dumsor” Crisis in Ghana

Though ECG has the responsibility to distribute electricity for commercial and residential use, they are not entirely the cause of the current crisis. There are many factors that account for this situation and they are as follows:

 

  • Insufficient power generation is the main reason why we are facing this crisis. The current amount of power produced in the country cannot cater for the ever increasing demand for electricity. Since the building of Akosombo Dam, there has not been any frantic efforts made to ensure there are enough generating plants to augment the power supply of the country.
  • The main source of power, the Akosombo Dam, has not had enough water running through the turbines to enable it run at full capacity for sometime now. So instead of the generating plants producing 1,020 MW of power, we can depend on only 960 MW causing a deficit in the power supply chain which is only enough for a city as big as Accra. Some have often asked about exploring the option of pumping the water back up to run through the dam once again and raise the water level. Although laudable, this feat of engineering known as pumped-storage hydroelectricity consumes more energy than it generates.
  • There is no persistent maintenance culture adopted to cater for the equipments used in power supply. A large number of the transformers and cables used in the distribution of electricity that require servicing or replacement are not looked over until a problem arises. Hence more time and money has to be spent in replacing damaged parts and this causes blackouts to the consumers.
  • Due to the non-payment of electricity bills and illegal connections done by certain individuals, organizations and even state institutions, the ECG is owed an amount of about GHc 9,704,907.10 ($300M) , denying them of the funds required to expand and improve power supply.
  • There has been an inconsistent supply of gas and diesel needed to power the thermal plants.


Why The Load Shedding is Necessary

What happens to a car which can barely move because it is overloaded? The excess load is removed (shed). This is where the idea of load shedding comes from. Load shedding is an intentionally engineered electrical power shutdown where the delivery of electricity is halted for a period of time over different parts of a distribution region. Load is shed due to these three main reasons

  1. Insufficient power generation capacity: There is not enough electricity generated in the country to cater for everyone’s power needs.
  2. When there is a scheduled upgrade about to be embarked on in a region.
  3. Inadequate transmission infrastructure to deliver enough power to the area where it is needed.

The load shedding exercise is the last resort used by ECG to avoid total collapse of the entire power network – a total black-out.

 

What Are The Alternatives?

  • Electric Generators: This is the first and cheapest alternative. They run on petrol or diesel and come in different sizes based on their usage. You can buy a small generator for your small home or office at about c800 or a plant for several thousands of cedis.
  • Inverters: An inverter draws power from a fix source like a battery or solar panel and uses electronic circuitry to convert DC power into AC power. They are more costly the electric generators but save more money since you do not buy fuel. An inverter is available on the Ghanaian market at about c2000.
  • Solar Power: You have probably seen a number streetlights and lamps in town making use of solar panels. It makes use of the suns energy to produce electricity. Based on its capacity, when used in conjunction with an inverter, a solar panel can provide enough electricity to power any appliance.
  • Wind Power: This is another form of renewable energy which makes use of the wind. One wind turbine when erected can produce over 1 MW of electricity which is enough for a locality in Accra. The country is currently expecting to harness wind power come next year.
  • Nuclear Electricity: The heat from splitting atoms in a fissionable material, such as uranium or plutonium, is used to generate steam to drive turbines connected to an electric generator. Nuclear power plants are highly technical and dangerous so with a culture of poor maintenance it will require a change in the mind states for the country to effectively run one of these
  • Biomass: Electricity can be created when various materials (such as wood products, crops grown for electricity production, or agricultural waste) are combusted. Heat from the combustion of these materials is used to convert water to steam to drive the turbines connected to a generator.

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