South Africa’s next major electricity crisis

The Johannesburg and Tshwane metropolitan municipalities have implemented load reduction across several suburbs and townships to mitigate the risk of municipal grid collapse.

This has caused an uproar among residents as no Eskom load-shedding is in effect.

Energy expert Chris Yelland has also warned that these load reduction measures are short-term thinking to a long-term problem.

“If your network is overloaded and you don’t do something about it, equipment starts to fail,” Yelland told the Sunday Times.

“Transformers will overheat and will catch fire. Cables can also be overloaded and get hot, which causes damage.”

When your infrastructure keeps taking unnecessary strain and damage, the end result can be a total municipal grid collapse.

Yelland noted another reason for the increased strain on municipal grids is the global trend of people moving from rural to urban areas.

However, Yelland said that in other countries, the infrastructural implications are accounted for sufficiently by municipalities.

“They need to invest money to keep up with the population growth in urban areas,” said Yelland.

“The problem is that many municipalities are not keeping up with that growth. They are not investing in the electricity infrastructure, so they fall behind and the population continues to increase and the system overloads.”

Yelland said ultimately, the problem is not the customer but the municipalities and their power utilities like City Power.

“It is their job to invest. It is their job to make sure there are no illegal connections,” said Yelland.

“They try to make it look like it is the customers’ problem because they are using too much electricity.”

“That is nonsense, they should be happy that we are using electricity because they are making more money.”

City Power said it has plans in place to deal with its infrastructure challenges.

“Our ageing infrastructure is a factor that we are working on addressing as part of the long-term plans,” said City Power spokesperson spokesperson Isaac Mangena.

However, Mangena disputed the characterisation that the current load reduction was City Power’s fault.

“With regular maintenance conducted, if not interfered with, our infrastructure, even in its current state, is not the cause of the existing pressure,” he said.

“The high rate of illegal connections, meter bypasses, and unauthorised operations on our network overload our system.”

“If this inappropriate behaviour does not cease, we will continue implementing load reduction to protect our equipment.”

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, Minister of Electricity

A new electricity crisis

These comments follow Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa saying that South Africa’s next electricity crisis is the deterioration and collapse of municipal infrastructure across the country.

This results in outages in areas despite no load-shedding occurring, and Ramokgopa said the country’s focus must begin to shift to this “next front” in the battle against electricity outages.

Ramokgopa said that the municipal-level challenges are significant because the collapse of this infrastructure is accelerating.

“We know many municipalities are illiquid and not in a position to meet their financial obligations as a result of an eroding revenue base. I think the situation is going to become acute,” said Ramokgopa.

Ramokgopa said he has been asking the government to give municipalities the financial support they need to address this infrastructure collapse.

Yelland echoed Ramokgopa’s concerns, noting that although substantial progress has been made in reforming South Africa’s electricity industry, these have mostly focused on the transmission grid.

The distribution sector — mostly comprising municipalities — has seen far less progress.

“This sector really needs more attention now, much more attention because that is where a big crisis is brewing,” Yelland said.

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South Africa’s next major electricity crisis