The City of Johannesburg on Wednesday launched a timetable of possible four-hour power cuts to help industry and residents plan ahead.
The timetable, effective from March 1, divides the city into eight geographic blocks and sets out the times when planned power cuts could occur, explained Vally Padayachee, director of engineering operations for City Power.
These power cuts are aimed at preventing a collapse of the national grid, which is being strained by old power-supply infrastructure and closures due to maintenance on the equipment.
Previously the city would get five minutes’ notice before the power cuts, and some of the city’s 13 000 industrial customers, who consume up to 65% of the city’s power, complained that this put their plans in disarray, said Padayachee.
Making the power cuts last four hours instead of the previous average of two-and-a-half hours means that each area should have no more than two power cuts in a seven-day week, he said.
However, it had been extremely difficult to exclude certain buildings, like hospitals, from the cuts.
Padayachee said the choice for a system in which hospitals are not excluded had been a difficult decision.
”But since the hospitals now know when the load shedding could occur, they can plan appropriately. We believe it is not an insurmountable problem for hospitals,” he said.
The plan, devised by Eskom and the industrial and residential customers consulted, is in response to requests for longer, less frequent cuts, and more equitable distribution of the cuts.
Commercial enterprises had been complaining that their competitors in other areas had power, which they felt was unfair, and businesses had also pointed out the financial effects of having to stop a project midway because of unexpected cuts.
Mining houses have already been forced to close for short periods, and have warned of possible job losses due to the widespread power cuts in January.
However, according to the timetable, the time between 2pm and 6pm has been set aside for power cuts in Johannesburg’s CBD, whenever they become necessary.
Louis Pieterse, general manager of supply availability for City Power, said that in the evening there was not enough power to cut and there were also security concerns. He said the earlier slots also appeared to be unsuitable.
”We didn’t have much of a choice but to slot the Johannesburg CBD into that time slot,” said Pieterse.
He suggested that commuters start work earlier and leave earlier on days with potential cuts to avoid the inevitable traffic jams.
”If the Johannesburg CBD is shed, traffic literally freezes,” he said.
The geographic blocks and different blackout times would help ease congestion at Johannesburg’s approximately 10 000 intersections as pointsmen could move from one area to another.
The plan had been made available to the metro police and Johannesburg Roads Agency, who said they would put staff on standby to assist.
Earlier in February, power supplier Eskom said planned power cuts had eased because industrial customers were cutting back their use by 10%.
Jacob Maroga, chief executive officer of Eskom, said if residential, commercial and agricultural customers could follow suit and also reduce power usage by 10%, then Eskom would reach its power-saving target without having to resort to power cuts.
The timetable will be reviewed every month. — Sapa