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Dhaka Tribune

Power grid as vulnerable as ever

Update : 31 Oct 2015, 07:49 PM

Not a single one of the 32 recommendations made to safeguard the national power grid has been implemented, a year after the November 1 blackout pulled the plug on the country.

The blackout shut the country down for over 12 hours, following two back-to-back breakdowns of the national grid.

The eight-member high-powered government body formed to probe the nationwide blackout did not lay the blame for the grid failure on a specific official or functionary, but said systemic problems in the grid system were responsible.

Experts say the power grid remains at risk because those systemic issues have not been dealt with, leaving the country vulnerable to another blackout “at any time.”

Shamsul Alam, energy adviser of the Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB), said: “We typically do not see recommendations implemented after such incidents and that is why we have not got out of this condition.

“We are now facing the same risk of blackouts and it may happen at any time.”

Since the blackout, there have been several small-scale power system collapses at several power stations including Ashuganj Power Station and Ulon Grid at Rampura in Dhaka.

Preliminary action has been taken on only one of the 32 recommendations: the Power Cell, a wing of the Power Division, has invited Expressions of Interest (EoI) for “Consulting Services for Reliability Study of Bangladesh Power Grid System.”

Aside from inviting EoI for consultants to assess the magnitude of the problem, nothing has been done to implement the recommendations.

But the top managers of the country’s power infrastructure say they are not in a hurry.

Power Division Secretary Monowar Islam said: “It is a long term matter to implement the recommendations to avoid a blackout. In this case, the time frame does not matter.”

Power Cell Director General Mohammad Hossain, also member secretary of the eight-member probe body, yesterday told the Dhaka Tribune: “We have held workshops, taken suggestions from experts and have invited EoI and several consulting firms have responded to our invitation. We are going through their responses.”

The Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB), whose remit is to look after the power grid, is responsible for implementing almost all of the recommendations.

The PGCB’s managing director, Md Masum Al-Beruni, says the recommendations will be implemented in due time. “We have taken some plans to implement the recommendations and we are highly committed to execute those gradually.”

The plans include ensuring the security of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and digitising the National Load Dispatch Centre (NLDC).

Last November 1, a lack of coordination in the supply and demand of electricity caused the national grid’s frequency to drop, tripping the Bheramara sub-station and causing a cascade effect that rapidly shut the whole system down.

According to the findings of the probe committee, the national grid failure commenced at 11:28am on November 1 when the National Load Dispatch Centre (NLDC) system frequency rapidly dropped to below 45 Hz, well beneath the minimum threshold of 48.9 – 51 Hz.

On the day, the forecast demand was 4,553MW and forecast power generation was 4,674MW, but a sudden spike in demand caused the grid’s frequency to dip, ultimately causing the system to fall.

When frequency drops, voltage declines, and the low voltage registered at Bheramara sub-station caused it to trip.

Following this, one of the circuits connecting the Bangladeshi grid to Indian power supplies, Bheramara-Behrampur Circuit 1, also tripped.

At the time, India was supplying 444MW of electricity to Bangladesh. The tripping of Circuit 1 caused a major deficit in supply of power to the grid, causing it to become unbalanced.

This imbalance, in turn, caused all the power stations in the country to shut down. The whole process took just 14 seconds to transpire.

The committee’s key short term recommendations include the updating and maintenance of grid sub-stations and power plant equipment, especially transformers, circuit breakers, isolators, arresters and battery-chargers.

It has called for a study of why the High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) sub-station tripped, including looking into network setting problems, and the creation of an independent operator for the power transmission system. 

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