The City of Joburg has unveiled a R400 million plan to mitigate load shedding and reduce rolling blackouts by three stages over the short to medium term.
Announcing the plan on Thursday (26 January), Joburg mayor Mpho Phalaste said that the city is facing an economic emergency due to the high and persistent levels of load shedding hitting the country.
As the city accounts for 16% of South Africa’s GDP and 40% of Gauteng’s GDP, when the lights go out in Joburg, the entire country suffers.
The situation has become untenable for the city’s power utility, City Power, which is seeing huge losses – financially, in terms of infrastructure and employee costs – and is being forced to spend more money to try and keep things together.
On top of this, the mayor said, criminality in the city has escalated, with thousands of incidents of theft and vandalism, driven by organised crime.
“This is not the work of amateur criminals, but it is criminality committed by highly armed and resourced syndicates,” she said.
In the face of the growing crisis – as well as the politicking taking place, threatening to further disrupt order and administration of the city – the local government is launching an energy strategy to mitigate load shedding.
The broader plans look to secure short and long-term procurement of power from independent power producers, while the city also aims to change and upgrade its systems to allow for other mitigation strategies.
Following a two-day Joburg Energy Indaba in 2022, City Power put out Requests for Proposals for Short-Term Power Purchase Agreements, which is a programme by City Power to secure energy from independent power producers for up to 36 months.
The first round of RFPs went out in November 2022, with the closing date being 10 February 2023.
Parallel to the Short-Term Power Purchase Agreements, the City is currently undergoing an approval process for Ministerial Determination to procure power on a longer-term basis from independent power producers.
“By going out into the market now, City Power seeks to secure extra capacity from diversified energy sources, including solar, gas, battery storage, waste-to-energy, as well as the dispatchable option of gas-to-power,” the city said.
Ultimately, the city’s officials are working towards procuring an additional 500MW of electricity, with the aim of offsetting five stages of load shedding in Joburg.
In the short- to medium term, however, City Power has costed a R401-million budget for a load shedding mitigation plan, which it said could avert up three stages of load shedding.
The plan includes:
- R20 million can be used to recommission two existing Open Cycle Gas Turbine Stations. This would require the city to procure and burn diesel. The city said it currently has 1.2 million litres of diesel for these sites. This would add 74MW to the network when needed.
- R85 million could be sued for Ripple Relay Systems. Through this measure, City Power would be able to remotely regulate high-energy use products such as geysers, swimming pool motors and the like. This would save 80MW when needed.
- R175 million will be used to procure and distribute Smart Metres and communication that will enable City Power to be able to limit the amount of power distributed to homes – so instead of completely turning the power off, the city would be able to supply homes with enough energy to power essential needs. This will save an additional 322MW when needed.
- R28 million would be needed for the communication system around the smart metre project as the implementation cannot be done on a whim but but needs to be communicated with customers.
- R120 million would be used to upgrade the city’s Energy Management System upgrade, to enable City Power to better monitor, control, and optimise the performance of its transmission system.
The challenge the city faces is that it does not have the R400 million on hand to implement the plan.
“We are therefore exploring the establishment of an infrastructure fund, and we will be approaching development finance institutions (DFIs), the private sector, the Provincial and National Governments to fund this project, where we will be leveraging our status as the economic hub of the country,” it said.
City Power said that if the money were immediately available, it would take up to six months to activate the motivation plan since much of the infrastructure is already in place.
Aiming to cut load shedding by as many as five stages is an ambitious goal for Joburg, which is still tracking behind the City of Cape Town when it comes to load shedding mitigation.
Cape Town’s government has been building on plans for the last few years to cut load shedding by as many as four stages. The city has in the past been able to mitigate load shedding by at least one stage for residents.
The city announced this week that it has been granted an exemption from National Treasury that will allow to start paying commercial solar users for their extra power, feeding it into the local grid from June 2023. Residential customers should see the benefit from 2024.
Beyond this, Cape Town aims to provide at least four stages of load-shedding protection progressively over the next three years under the Mayoral Priority Programme to end load-shedding over time.
To achieve this, plans include:
- Buying power on the open market, with the second phase of its major IPP procurement due to be announced soon;
- Paying businesses and residents to sell power back to the city;
- Incentives for voluntary energy savings under a new Power Heroes programme;
- Municipal generation projects such as Steenbras Hydropower, solar PV, and gas turbines.
In addition to Cape Town’s head start, the city is run by a single-party government and does not suffer the disruptions brought about by shaky coalitions, as is the case of the major metro municipalities in Gauteng.
Joburg’s Phalatse is currently once again under siege by opposition parties in the city and will be facing another vote of no confidence, calling Joburg’s mitigation plans into question.