Lightning Strike Damage Seriously Strains Samoa’s Electricity Supply

Nah Folasa

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Inside the Fiaga Power station

 

By Moena Folasa

 

APIA, SAMOA – 30 JANUARY 2020: Electricity supply on Samoa’s main island, Upolu is in a state of emergency following major damage to its main diesel generation station at Fiaga that caused a four hours blackout on the whole island on Monday this week.

The new multi-million dollar Fiaga station provides 28 megawatts to cater for the whole islands electricity needs even though alternative energy sources can now provide 50% of the islands electricity.

The General Manager of the Electric Power Corporation, Tologata Tile told the media yesterday that a powerful direct lightning hit and low lying thunders caused major damage to two of the four diesel generators at the Fiaga power station.

Also damaged were part of the battery energy storage system and micro grid controller facilities that allow the storage of electricity that is automatically injected into the grid. The micro grid controller is a computer-based system. It automatically controls and regulates the operation of not only the two new battery systems, but also all the Electric Power Corporation’s power plants and independent solar farms.

Installed in 2018, the facilities cost US$8,844,817.03 million or about SAT$22.7 million talā.

Battery energy storage system

The battery energy storage system at the Fiaga power station

Saved by the old Tanugamanono Power Station
In this major power outage, the Corporation had to resort to the old Tanugamanono Power station to provide and five hydro stations to restore limited power supply for the whole island.

Even though the Tanugamanono station was to be closed permanently due to the noise, smoke and vibration impact on close by residents, EPC is now looking at keeping it for emergencies and also supplying power to the eastern side of the island.

EPC CEO

The Electric Power Corporation CEO, Tologata Tile Tumalealiifano

“The Tanugamanono station has responded and saved us this time,” said Tologata. “Even though there is the drive towards renewable energy, there is also the need for stand by either from diesel or gas generation electricity.”

Meanwhile, EPC is currently working with major customers such as hotels and other big businesses to use their stand by generators from 5am to 1000 at nights until the full supply is restored by the end of next week.

Protection for the Fiaga Station from natural disasters
Given the huge cost of the Fiaga power station, Tologata said protection systems are in place but the direct lightning strike that damaged two of the four generators far exceeded the capacity of the protection system in place.

“We are now seeking the assistance from other power utilities in the Pacific, to see if there’s available technology to protect from such incidents so we can look at installing at the Fiaga Station,” said Tologata.

EPC is working with its overseas suppliers for spare parts such as Mitshubishi of Japan and Telsa of Australia to restore the normal electricity supply for Upolu by the end of next week.

He said the lighting strike was an act of God that was beyond their control.

It was too early to provide an estimate of the cost of the damage.

EPC workers

EPC workers restoring the electricity supply