Solving Erratic Power Supply at Nigerian Airports

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The Nigeria Airspace Management Agency has partnered Stormberg to provide solar energy as an alternative and reliable power source for communication and radar coverage in the airspace, writes Chinedu Eze

In the past two years the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has improved safety for flight in the Nigerian airspace with the provision of the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON). It has also improved air to ground communication between pilots and air traffic control. Now that the VHF project, which provides effective communications coverage of every part of the airspace, has been completed and would soon be deployed, the nagging question remains how to sustain the power supply to this critical equipment.

It has been proved by pilots that most of the interruptions in airspace communications are caused by erratic power outages, which tend to diminish the quality of service of the sophisticated radar and communications equipment. So the major challenge NAMA has faced over the years is reliable electricity from public power supply.

The agency spends about N200 million annually fuelling its generating sets located at nationwide where there are navigational aids. Yet these generators although very costly to maintain and fuel have not proved reliable.

Alternative Energy Sources

As a result, when other organisations were still hesitant about adopting solar energy as an alternative power source, NAMA decided to partner with Stormberg Power Limited to explore the solar energy project. Convinced that solar could be the reliable secondary source of energy to power the critical airspace equipment, the agency awarded a contract to Stormberg, a Lagos based company, for the installation of hybrid power backup infrastructure in 20 different sites in six airports across the country.

These sites are located at the airports in Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu and the airstrip in Bida, Niger State.  Five of the hybrid power equipment is being installed at the Lagos airports, five in Kano, and three each in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Enugu while the Bida airstrip would have one installation.

Explaining the details of the project in Lagos, Chief Marketing Manager for Stormberg Power Limited, Mr. Adetola Adebanjo, said: “The solution is meant to ensure that critical navigational equipment such as VORs (VHF Omnidirectional Radio Range), glide slopes and localisers remain online in the event of a grid power failure.

“The system comprises of solar panels which convert energy from the sun into DC electricity, deep cycle gel-type battery banks to store the generated power, and a hybrid of charge controller and inverter to convert the DC electricity to AC electricity for the smooth operation of the navigation equipment.”

Adebanjo also explained that with battery bank sizes ranging from 18 to 36 batteries across the various sites, the system is designed to offer 12 to 14 hours of guaranteed autonomous operation on a four-hour battery charge, cutting diesel generator run-time by at least 12 hours at some sites and for others, total independence from the generators.

Other Benefits

Other benefits of the installation, according to the company executive, include “controlled power output to ensure equipment safety, continuous operation at lower operation and management costs, and improved aviation safety, among several others. He expressed the hope that more government agencies and parastatals in Nigeria would embrace the use of solar energy in dealing with the challenges that they have in the area of power supply.

On the status of the projects, Adebanjo disclosed that it is at various stages of completion and would be handed over to NAMA within the next couple of weeks. He disclosed that installation has been completed at the Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu and Bida Airports with User Acceptance Tests (UATs) currently being conducted, preparatory the commissioning.

At the moment, Kano is the only location where the deployment of the power solution is yet to be completed. Adebanjo attributed the delay to the security situation in the state but assured that work on the Kano sites would be concluded within the next two weeks, raising hopes for an early hand-over of all the sites.

Indigenous Affair

NAMA officials, who spoke to THISDAY, said that they were happy that the project driver, Stromberg Power Limited, is an indigenous Nigerian company that delivers innovative engineering solutions to various industries and sectors in Africa. “Since its inception a few years ago, the company has been at the forefront of introducing revolutionary changes in the country’s power sector with the deployment of new generation infrastructure and alternative sources of energy as a means of power supply,” disclosed one of the agency’s officials from the engineering department.

Prior to the handling of the airport project, Stormberg Power has provided similar services to governments, parastatals, corporate organisations, aid agencies and individuals in consonance with its vision to address the huge deficit that has existed in the country’s power sector in terms of innovation, value and pricing and also through diversification of energy sources.

According to the general manager, public affairs, NAMA, Supo Atobatele, work on the N290 million contract awarded to Stormberg Power Limited by NAMA has recorded tremendous progress. “The hybrid power is required to ensure uninterrupted power in running the agency’s navigational aids critical for aircraft landing at the airports,” Atobatele said.

He said that the deal with Stormberg Power Solutions also entails the provision of a set of thorough operational guidelines, detailing operational and maintenance guidelines and a step-by-step scenario and troubleshooting procedure.

High Operational Performance

“With this collaboration, NAMA and Stormberg Power Solutions are geared up to the necessary and significant challenge of improving air travel and safety in the nation’s airspace by rapidly deploying advanced power solutions in the country’s airports.“The project will boost operational performance and support delivery of efficient services.  This is the first step towards facility upgrade and technological improvement to ensuring international safety standards in the nation’s airspace,” Atobatele added.

Before the initiation of the solar power project, air navigation systems in the country were powered by generators because most of the equipment was located in areas not connected to national grid for public power supply. But even when they are connected to public power supply, generators are still used for almost half of the day as such equipment operates for 24 hours daily. It is obvious that due to erratic power supply most of the equipment does not perform at optimally, thus affecting the navigational process.

However, with the implementation of hybrid power backup infrastructure nationwide, this is expected to boost the operational efficiencies of the airport facilities and also ensure that power outages are kept to the barest minimum, in the event of an unforeseen occurrence.

A Nigerian pilot, who has operated in the airspace for many years, Captain Tunde Ogunlowo, said that flying in Nigeria has improved significantly with TRACON but pointed out that power outages still impede smooth communications and also affects the operations of the radar. “We are under radar coverage and the thing is working. It is a lot better than it is used to be. Before TRACON came, it was really difficult and it was only the pilots that had experience that flew because it was really a challenge. But now things are a lot better,” Captain Ogunlowo said.

While TRACON has provided effective coverage, surveillance of airspace communications has remained an issue. Captain Ogunlowo attributed the communications problem partly to the epileptic supply of public power and observed that to a large extent the nation’s airspace has communications access. “We have our challenge with electricity because of hiccups in supply. These people are trying; they are doing their best.

We have no problem with ground-to-ground communications; it is only occasionally that we don’t have communications in the air and when we don’t have communications we know that there is power problem,” he said.It is envisaged that the irregularity of power supply will be significantly resolved with the Stormberg solar power project.

In : Energy