Energize Inbox, March 2014

March 13th, 2014, Published in Articles: Energize


This month’s letters focus on the lack of maintenance of City Power’s infrastructure, the use of PV for small businesses, and the value of monitoring wind turbine output.  Send your letters to: energize@ee.co.za

Our winning letter!

Maintenance is where City Power falls short


I noticed that City Power has installed 153 smart meters in Ferndale and 2500 with large power users in Johannesburg as part of a project business trial. Judging by past experience, I am totally convinced that these trials will be called a great success in all of the government controlled newspapers, but in reality, it is a complete disaster.

Not too long ago, City Power “implemented” a smart metering project in Blairgowry which became such a disaster that one hardly hears of it anymore. It stirred up so much negativity that those who spearheaded that project probably disappeared in thin air, or perhaps, they are now in charge of this one.

Planning new “infrastructure” is only part of the entire process. Once the new equipment has been installed, it needs to be maintained … and this is where City Power falls short. They are unable to maintain their existing networks, so, how would they be able to maintain such sophisticated new technology. They would probably employ contractors with very few skills and knowledge of the technology to look after the installation, contractors that cannot even repair an overhead line that fell down properly.

For two days, 26 and 27 November 2013, the residents of the southern part of 4th Street in Linden, Montroux and a section of Northcliff experienced another one of the regular power interruptions. Something that happen so often that one may start to believe that it is meant to be so. Some of the residents — and shops on Beyers Naude Drive — are of the opinion that it is planned to happen once or twice every month. This has been going on for over 20 years and little is being done to fix the problem.

After a power interruption of about 30 hours, the power was interrupted once again after approximately five hours. That interruption lasted for about four hours. A day later, the power was interrupted once again, but I sort of ignored it since I thought that they were making repairs. Later on, I went for a stroll and came across a contractor working on the line. I soon realised that he only connected a shop in 5th Avenue and did not do any repairs on the line, and ever since then the line remained “half-fixed”. The situation remains unchanged despite an email that I sent to City Power’s CEO — with photos — on the 3 December 2013.

I do not believe that its employees would notice the mistakes. At 09h25 on the 3 December 2013, I saw one of City Power’s “cherry picker” trucks driving along that section of 5th Avenue. I first thought that they are doing some sort of inspection to check whether the repairs were done to standard, but then I noticed that there were really no repairs since the overhead line was still laying on the street-light arms, and not replaced into the hangers.

It is scary to think that the power line could have been alive while it was laying on the ground for 30 hours, also blocking off the entrance to the Trinity Church in 5th Avenue Linden.

I believe that the next power interruption is coming soon, since the way in which the work was done, is such it is just a matter of time for the end of the power line to pull out of the termination block and the entire overhead line to fall down again; so that their employees and/or contractors can make some overtime pay and the residents be inconvenienced once more.

One can only think that training is another issue that need urgent attention at City Power. For the repair of overhead power lines, the use Crosby Clamps to join aluminium and copper conductors, without knowing that it would soon cause hot connections. A section of the overhead line in Salerno Street in Montroux, is made up of very short lengths of copper and aluminium conductor, interchangeably. It almost looks like the line consists of joints only.

About four years ago, after completing NERSA’s complaint form and trying to force NERSA to do something about the power interruptions and extremely low voltages in the area, I realised that NERSA is a really toothless watchdog. They told me that they cannot even conduct an audit without the permission of City Power or the Metro. City Power finally replaced that overhead power lines in several streets in Linden, and it was at that time that we realised that maintenance is that last thing that the officials at City Power would think of, because the contractor that did the work told me that the last time that the logbook at the substation down the road from us was signed, was in 1977. It meant that — if they also follow the same rules as everyone else that anyone entering the substation must make an entry in the logbook, stating the reason for the visit, and finally sign the logbook on leaving — no one entered that substation in a period in excess of 30 years.

This is not the only area being plagued by power interruptions. In this week’s Northcliff Melville Times, there is an article in which Ward 89 Councillor Ingrid Reinten complain about power interruptions of about 36 hours in Northcliff/Fairland area. Fourways is also having similar problems.

My question remains, can City Power maintain a new Smart Metering system if they cannot even maintain its existing network? I believe not.

Bertie Bezuidenhout

Editor’s note: This letter was sent to City Power twice for their comments. To date no reply has been received.



Monitoring on-grid wind turbines


An article in the technical media, on 29 January 2014, reports that ten of the Jeffrey’s Bay wind farm’s turbines have begun to supply power to South Africa’s national utility, Eskom. It further reports that the site was chosen for its optimal wind conditions and minimal environmental constraints, as well as its close proximity to a 132 kV Eskom grid line. The wind farm spans 3,700 ha and is one of the first wind farms being developed by the South African government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme.

We hope that this “optimal” site with “minimal environmental constraints” will provide an effective demonstration of why South Africa really can or cannot afford to divert resources to on-grid wind turbines. We would need to ensure the performance is comprehensively reported in reputable media from the beginning.

Could this provide material for final year undergraduate, masters, and doctorate work at some of our better higher education establishments? Or Eskom Science Expo projects? It might be something that our banks should be required to monitor closely to demonstrate how effective or otherwise their due diligence studies have been, which they must have done really thoroughly before providing the finance.

Can we look forward to in-depth technical presentations at fora such as SAIEE and SANEA by the Eskom national grid planning and operating staff detailing how they will keep up their heroic efforts to avoid brown-outs and black-outs and yet cope with increasing numbers of these machines being connected to their grid, with respect to supply continuity, back-up for fluctuating and non-schedulable generation, contribution to fault-clearing and short-circuit capability, actual expected reduction of CO2 emissions, disruption of economic scheduling of highly dispatchable plant, and any other criteria that matter to them?

Alan Mitchell


Call for off-grid PV systems for small businesses


With Eskom’s prices set to increase at 8% per annum for the next five years, South African businesses and consumers are under pressure to make further provisions for their rising energy costs so as to prevent the crippling financial effects of these price hikes on business activities. Furthermore, I believe that we will soon be experiencing rolling blackouts of electricity because Eskom is not functioning properly, and is no longer able to keep up with the higher demand. The recent NERSA audit revealed that most of the South African distribution networks are in a very poor state. Power failures are a certainty, and these blackouts are all too often the result of the municipalities inadequate maintenance, refurbishment and upgrading of their electricity distribution infrastructure over these last 20 years.

Power outages are expensive, inconvenient and dangerous. Businesses lose millions of Rand each year due to electricity outages, and many have to resort to running their own generators – at a cost many times greater than grid electricity, while smaller ones have been forced to close up and stop trading. SARS, in a recent report stated that 40% of tax revenue is contributed by small businesses and professionals (all working from homes or small offices).

There is a growing trend towards businesses investing in solar systems. There are two ways of going about this: Either grid-tied or off-grid. The grid-tied system provides an embedded generation environment by integrating solar energy with electricity from the national grid so as to reduce the overall electricity requirements of the business. But since the grid is unreliable, I do not see a case for the grid-tied system. Therefore, I believe it is time for small businesses to start to look after themselves and their own needs by installing an off-grid system with its own solar infrastructure, and break away completely from the national grid, thereby setting them free from dysfunctional municipalities which fail to supply the clean electricity that we were used to.

Richard Rothbart



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