Load-limiting confusion

Eskom kicked off its load-limiting pilot project in Fourways on Friday, 23 June 2023, and since then, I haven’t been load-shed once.

However, according to the power utility, only standalone houses and those in larger estates where each property has its own designated external Eskom meter and individual account are eligible for load-limiting.

The complex where I live has one meter and a single Eskom account — and such is the case for many other complexes. Essentially, ours is a bulk meter that feeds 425 units.

Therefore, we are allegedly excluded from the load-limiting pilot project, but despite this, the complex’s power hasn’t been shut off since the project began.

So it appears, although not intentionally, that its residents benefit from load-limiting in the area.

This raises the question: How will load-limiting work for complexes with a communal power feed?

In its initial statement, Eskom said it would urge customers to reduce their consumption an hour before a load-shedding session starts via their customer interface unit (CIU) and SMS.

It said it would also warn customers if they exceed the threshold while load-limiting is in effect.

However, without a CIU in each unit and direct contact with Eskom, the power utility won’t be able to broadcast these warnings.

Example of a smart meter

This also raises the question of how the usage threshold would work for such estates and whether all residents will be cut off if some exceed load-limiting consumption limits.

MyBroadband asked Eskom for clarity on how load-limiting would work for complexes where individual units don’t have CIUs or SMS contact.

However, it didn’t answer our questions and instead repeated some information from its initial statement.

“An hour before the start of load-shedding, the system will prompt customers to reduce their consumption to 10 Amps by sending a message to their CIU and cellphone,” it said.

“The system will provide the customer with four opportunities to reduce their consumption and thereafter, if the load has not been reduced, the meter will automatically switch off the electricity supply for the duration of the load-shedding period.”

“The 10 Amps is based on individual customers (households),” Eskom added.

The load-limiting project is designed to let households continue to use non-power-hungry appliances during stage 1 to stage 4 load-shedding.

Customers can use electrical equipment such as lights, TVs, decoders, Wi-Fi routers, and fridges without exceeding the 10-amp limit.

Load-limiting detractors

While residents in the pilot area have generally been optimistic about load-limiting, former Eskom transmission senior manager Hein Vosloo believes it will do little to address the country’s power crisis.

Vosloo — the main representative of a group of 100 former Eskom engineers and technicians who have offered to assist the utility — believes the smart meters are too expensive and will take too long to roll out.

“If you have not experienced load-limiting, but you have experienced load-shedding, then I can easily see why many people would prefer the former,” he said.

However, he noted that at around R15,000, smart meter costs would work out to R16 billion in total to cover all eligible households.

These costs wouldn’t be for the customers themselves, but they would carry the burden to some extent — likely through taxes.

In addition, Vosloo said it would take four to eight years to roll out smart meters across the country.

Instead of manual load limiting using expensive smart meters, Vosloo supports the Ubuntu Power Alliance’s idea of completely automated load limiting using a small R1,500 device that measures the grid frequency.

By using the grid frequency, there is no need for the device to communicate with a control centre via the Internet.

“If the network is under pressure, the device can shut off some of your appliances for the appropriate period,” Vosloo said.

Now read: Load-shedding could end sooner than expected — Electricity minister

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Load-limiting confusion