4 November 2009 – Last Sunday evening Kenya was plunged into darkness for approximately four hours as a blackout affected the country’s power distribution network. The country’s distribution monopoly Kenya Power and Light (KPLC) indicated that the blackout was caused by a transmission fault that shocked the national grid, sensitive to this due to its dependency on fuel-based electricity offered by emergency generators.
KPLC said the fault occurred between the Kamburu substation at the Seven Forks Hydro power project and the Dandora substation in Nairobi. The interruption has been attributed to an overload of the system.
The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company Limited (KETRACO) now states that in order to stabilize the system, an infusion of capital of over one million USD will be required for the construction of 21 high voltage lines which could alleviate the problem of overload.
The blackout started just after 6pm with a surge between the two substations causing an Aggreko power station to switch off automatically as a safeguard against damage to the 140 megawatt plant.
"The emergency generators can not withstand as much shock as compared to our hydro generators," said Joseph Njoroge, KPLC’s managing director.
The generator’s reaction forced Embakasi, Nairobi South and Gitaru substations to also switch off, frustrating the demand of 845 megawatts at the time.
Following the power interruption, KPLC had to import about 30 megawatts from Uganda to restore the system. The financial impact of the blackout, however, is expected to be minimal and without major losses as it occurred on a Sunday when overall consumption is lower than on weekdays due to commercial utility in factories. A power line upgrade may well be the answer to avoid future incidents of power loss.