South Africa

Joburg risks total power collapse

Johannesburg’s electricity network is facing the possibility of total collapse due to the effects of prolonged outages and load-shedding on its operations.

This is the warning from City Power CEO Tshifularo Mashava, who recently spoke to Rapport about the problems they experience.

City Power is owned by the City of Johannesburg and services more than 300,000 households and businesses in the city.

Mashava told Rapport that Joburg residents logged around 4,000 electrical faults with City Power per day, but it only had enough resources to attend to 800.

One of the major problems is that about 60% of Joburg’s substations still require manual switching. Therefore, if a substation does not want to turn on after a load-shedding shift, technicians must first find and then fix the fault.

These frequent repairs are depleting the city’s supply of spare parts. City Power used up the stock that was supposed to last a year within three months. 

New contracts exist with suppliers, but now the city fears the money will run out, Mashava told Rapport.

To address the problem, she said the city wants to use the 180 MW it bought from Kelvin Power Station to cut load-shedding by up to two stages lower than the proclaimed national rotation.

By doing this, technicians would be less preoccupied with frequently switching areas on and off.

However, Eskom will not allow the city to use this power because the station forms part of the city’s base load profile.

Johannesburg uses an average of about 2,000 MW of electricity, including Kelvin’s power.

The city has approached the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) about the issue but was told nothing could be done.

“You haven’t been told the half,” Mashava told Rapport. “The system is giving in.”

“We are also subject to vandalism and theft, and the network must withstand power surges when the power supply is restored after load-shedding.”

Tebogo Amad and Tshifularo Mashava
Tebogo Amad and Tshifularo Mashava

Prolonged outages

For months, parts of Johannesburg have been subject to prolonged power cuts on top of Eskom’s load-shedding.

City Power recently told News24 that its network was in a “critical state”. It said its power network’s wear and tear was increasing faster due to load-shedding.

The power utility loses R3.6 million daily to load-shedding, with most of it going towards the material needed and overtime for technicians, News24 reported.

City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena said that the network was buckling under pressure, with more plants going out of service due to the relentlessness of load-shedding.

In addition to more plants going out of service, the utility had to replenish stock at a higher-than-usual rate to respond to outage backlogs.

“By last month, we had used 27,000 cable joints in six months, an amount we normally used in three years in the past. This would provide you with a picture of the challenges the entity faces,” he told News24.

In recent months, multiple suburbs in Joburg, like Bromhof and Montgomery Park, have experienced outages lasting for anything between 12 hours to 120 hours. 

These extended power cuts, which City Power often blames on cable theft and vandalism, have also affected the metro’s water supply.

In June, theft and vandalism at the Orlando Power Station in Soweto left several areas in Joburg without water.

Johannesburg Water said in a statement that a power failure had affected its water infrastructure and that of Rand Water.

“City Power technicians have been dispatched to the site and are working on resolving the power failure,” it said. 

“According to City Power, initial investigations point to theft and vandalism, where the station’s batteries and linkages were taken, causing feeder jumpers to be broken and bringing the station down.”


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