Residents of the City of Johannesburg were outraged on Friday when rotational power cuts did not correspond with City Power’s stage 2 load-shedding schedule.
Frustrated citizens took to social media to find out what was going on, only discovering hours after load-shedding started on Friday that City Power had overhauled its schedules.
Block designations had been renumbered, with blocks 1A to 8A losing the “A” and simply becoming 1 to 8, while blocks 1A–8A became 9 through 16.
In addition, load-shedding was now scheduled in two-and-a-half hour intervals, where previously each block was load-shed for four hours at a time.
Based on one of City Power’s posts on Twitter, it has essentially appropriated Tshwane’s load-shedding schedule.
This is really unacceptable. You could have at least warned us like the rest of the other areas
— Gopolang (@GopsMbewe) February 5, 2021
City Power said that two-hour load-shedding in Johannesburg was impossible
City Power’s switch from four-hour load-shedding intervals to two-hour periods is curious, as the organisation told MyBroadband in January that it was impossible for Johannesburg to migrate to a 2-hour load-shedding schedule.
“We chose four hours because of many reasons – including our capacity to manage it, the interconnectivity of our network, and the ability of our infrastructure to handle the load-shedding demand,” City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena told MyBroadband.
Mangena explained that in Johannesburg the grid is so interconnected as to make it impossible to switch of specific areas like Tshwane and Ekurhuleni are able to.
For example, if City Power switches off the Orlando substation it feeds into almost twenty other substations that may impact twenty suburbs or townships such as Lenasia, Eldorado, Mulbarton, Nirvana, and Mondeor.
“Unlike other municipalities, we don’t have the luxury to separate our network blocks for now,” Mangena stated at the time.
Mangena also said that four-hour load-shedding was preferable as it spares the senescent municipal electrical infrastructure the stresses of being switched off and on regularly.
“By its nature, electricity infrastructure is not meant to be switched on and off,” he said.
“Our aging infrastructure won’t stand two-hour frequent switching. Already, we have a challenge of substations blowing up due to on and off of load shedding.”
On 19 January, City Power told MyBroadband that it had no plans yet to adapt its load-shedding schedule, though it noted that it had received a number of suggestions.
“If anything changes, we will involve our customers and communicate accordingly,” City Power promised.
While Johannesburg residents will no doubt be happy that their load-shedding intervals have been shortened, they were infuriated by the lack of communication from City Power.
City Power’s decision to shorten its load-shedding intervals has also raised questions about the dire warnings the utility gave in January about the consequences of shorter load-shedding periods.
Will this cause more substations in the Johannesburg area to explode, as City Power suggested? What plans does it have to mitigate the risk to its aging infrastructure that comes with shorter load-shedding intervals?
City Power did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding its change of heart.
EskomSePush also caught off guard
City Power’s schedule change also caught the developers of the popular load-shedding notification app, EskomSePush, off guard.
Dan Wells, who co-developed the EskomSePush app, told MyBroadband that they received no advance notice from City Power regarding the change.
“We have asked many municipalities to inform us when schedules change — we’re very open to a collaboration!” Wells said.
“Ultimately we ‘help’ their Customer Service departments by providing information to their customers and softening the blow during load shedding. We want to help!”
Wells said that City Power’s new schedule is fairly straight-forward compared to the old one, but that an important part is still missing — the list showing which suburbs are contained in each block number.
Despite the initial confusion, Wells and co-developer Herman Maritz said that they were able to figure out the new schedule and have updated EskomSePush.
Asked how they were able to puzzle it out in the end, Wells said: “A lot of Google Sheets! We’ve become quite good at the sheets.”
Wells said that they are seeking an open collaboration with the municipalities so they can provide a common format for the schedules.
“The tough part is that every municipality has a different format for their schedule so we have to decipher them every time so our system can understand it.”
— EskomSePush (@EskomSePush) February 5, 2021
City Power apologises, blames Eskom
Following the outrage on social media, City Power apologised to residents and business in Johannesburg.
“City Power has just started implementing a new two-hour load shedding schedule which comes into effect immediately,” the power utility stated.
“We are aware that the implementation of this schedule at such short notice does not allow our customers to plan their lives and the lives of their businesses, and for that we apologise for the inconvenience caused.”
City Power emphasised that it does not want to load-shed its customers, but that constraints on the Eskom network has made it necessary.
It explained that the City Power technical team has “in recent weeks” been in discussions with Eskom to align its load shedding schedule with theirs.
This would result in City Power migrating from its current four-hour schedule to a two-hour schedule similar to that of Eskom.
“In preparation for this, we developed a two-hour schedule which we were preparing to discuss, communicate and workshop with you, our customers, as we do before making any business changes that affect you and your lives,” City Power said.
However, City Power said that its talks with Eskom and the to align their load-shedding schedules were overtaken by power generation and supply challenges on Eskom’s side.
City Power stated that this compelled it to implement a two-hour load shedding schedule before embarking on a proper engagement and communications with its customers.
“We now have to communicate the two-hour load-shedding schedule as we implement it and we understand the inconvenience and shock it causes to you and your business and for that we apologise.”