Tag: loadshedding

How rolling blackouts affected the economy

BankservAfrica’s monthly Economic Transaction Index (Beti), a broad indicator of the country’s economic health, showed that transactions declined by 0.4% from February to March.

“The March Beti declined across all measurement periods,” says Shergeran Naidoo, BankservAfrica’s head of stakeholder engagements, in a statement. Naidoo said the numbers are a clear indication of the “deteriorating state of the economy”.

According to a recent article in MoneyWeb,  Eskom’s load shedding in March hit the economy hard. Individual transactions increased in value but decreased in number during this period.

The standardised nominal value of the Beti was R875.7-billion while the average value per transaction was R8 444. This is the first nominal rise in 23 months, said Naidoo. This rise, however, is due to VAT refunds paid in March.

“Without the nearly R20-billion worth of VAT repayments paid into the National Payments System, the March Beti would have been worse off.”

Behind the EskomSePush loadshedding app

Source: 2OceansVibe

Nowadays, load shedding is as much a part of South African culture as using “now-now” to indicate your time of arrival.

And it’s only going to get worse.

Which is why when we heard about load shedding app EskomSePush last year, we knew it was going to be big.

Now it looks like the rest of South Africa has caught up.

Moving on to MyBroadband for more on the guys behind the app, and the humble beginnings of what’s been called one of “South Africa’s favourites”.

In 2014, Herman Maritz and Dan Wells were working in the same office, building apps for banks. They both wanted to know when load-shedding was taking place so that they could plan around it.

To achieve this, they began using PushBullet – a service that allowed them to send themselves notifications when load-shedding began.

This service was soon extended to their friends and family, after which they spent a weekend writing the initial app – which they named EskomSePush.

The name was in part inspired by conference calls talking about “push notifications”.

“Some of these meetings had folks with Afrikaans accents and the word ‘Push’ always made our day,” he added.

“The name was definitely inspired by some of those banking folks. But simply put, it’s Push Notifications for Eskom. EskomSePush.”

Six weeks after the app was released, it had acquired over 100 000 users.

Since load shedding started up again last year, and again this year, and is probably only going to get worse, an app like this is bound to go from strength to strength.

As of March 28, 2019, EskomSePush had 1,2 million users.

Maritz and Wells have three pieces of advice for anybody hoping to create their own viral app.

Firstly, users should make simple choices – even if it hurts.

“When starting out you need to iterate fast to find out which ideas work best. This means some of the things you’ve built might not be perfect. But you need to try out a lot of things to see what works,” they said.

They added that when they started to encounter scaling issues, they looked at their original code and were heavily critical of it.

“But, even though we would approach the problem differently now, the code still runs,” said Maritz.

Secondly, patience is the key to success. When load shedding was suspended in 2015, Maritz thought the app would cease to be useful. Wells, however, decided to keep the servers running and we’re all really glad that he did.

The pair have now launched EskomSePush’s “Nearby Chat” feature which allows you to talk to other people in your area.

For those times when you aren’t sure if it’s load shedding or if you forgot to load electricity…

You can download the app here.

You can also find more tips and tricks for staying sane during load shedding here, and here.

By Sibongile Khumalo for Fin24

Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan says that Eskom has come up with a detailed winter plan that includes several possible scenarios.

Gordhan said the first scenario was if no load shedding was implemented.

“In this instance, we will ensure that unplanned outages or breakdowns are kept to less than 9500MW and that planned outages are within this range of 3000MW to 5000MW, so that we have some flexibility.

“In scenario 2, if outplanned outages go beyond 9500MW, a maximum of 26 days of Stage 1 load shedding (will take place) throughout this whole five month period,” he said.

There was also the expectation that the coal plants, Medupi and Kusile would soon be able to contribute in a more significant way, hopefully by the end of April.

The media was also told that power plants generally performed better during the cooler conditions in winter.

Gordhan along with Eskom board chairman Jabu Mabuza was briefing the media on the state of SA’s electricity supply.

This follows a previous briefing about two weeks ago.

At the time the country was in the midst of Stage 4 load shedding, which lasted for several days.

The power supply was so constrained that Eskom also implemented Stage 2 load shedding during the night.

Gordhan could not say then when load shedding would come to an end, but said they would know more within 10-14 days after the technical review team had had the opportunity to access the power plants.

Eskom has previously blamed ageing power plants and insufficient maintenance, among other things, for the spate of load shedding.

Source: MyBroadband

Load-shedding continued to plague South Africa this month, and one of the reasons for Eskom’s electricity shortage is the damage caused to burners by poor-quality coal.

Cosatu General Secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali recently said rocks instead of coal were supplied to one of Eskom’s power stations, which caused damage to the burners.

This damage caused unplanned outages and electricity shortages which forced Eskom to implement load-shedding.

An Eskom engineer working at a power station confirmed that poor-quality coal which contains rocks caused serious damage to their equipment.

He added that in December, four of the six turbines at the power station he works at were seized up because of this problem.

“The piping that is supposed to transfer steam to the turbines from the boilers has ruptured due to the wrong grade of coal being used, that contains rocks that have exploded,” he said.

Rocks sold as coal
SABC News recently published photos of rocks which one of Eskom’s suppliers were trying to sell to the power utility as coal.

LontohCoal CEO Tshepo Kgadima told SABC News that the photos came from trucks which tried to deliver these rocks as coal to Eskom’s Hendrina Power Station in Mpumalanga.

“That is not coal. That is a lump of crushed rock which cannot be milled and cannot combust under any circumstances,” said Kgadima.

He said these trucks were thankfully turned away, but added that it highlights the challenges which exist at Eskom’s power stations.

“How is it possible that the power plant operators do not know the geological conditions of the mines where they are supposed to get their coal from?” he asked.

These rocks are shown below.

How loadshedding affects your security

By Ntwaagae Seleka for News24

Home owners and businesses have been urged to test their security systems as a matter of urgency and to pay particular attention to the battery back-up systems during load shedding periods.

“Many people are under the incorrect assumption that their home alarm system is deactivated when the power supply is interrupted. However, if you have a stable and correctly programmed system coupled with a battery that is in good condition, it will continue to protect the premises during a power outage – regardless if the outage is because of load shedding or not,” said Charnel Hattingh, national marketing and communications manager at Fidelity ADT.

The only time it may not function correctly is if there is a technical issue, or the battery power is low.

“Most modern alarm systems have a back-up battery pack that activates automatically when there is a power failure. There are a number of practical steps that can be taken to ensure security is not compromised during any power cuts.

“Some of these include ensuring that the alarm system has an adequate battery supply, that all automated gates and doors are secured and lastly to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to your security provider or the South African Police Service,” said Hattingh.

With the added inconvenience of the lights going out at night due to power cuts, candles and touch-lights are handy alternatives.

Home owners are also advised that it is important that their alarm systems have adequate battery supply and that batteries should be checked regularly. Alarms should be checked during extended power outages to keep systems running.

Power cuts can affect fire systems and fire control systems, so these also need to be checked regularly. The more frequent use of gas and candles can increase the risk of fire and home fire extinguishers should be on hand.

People are urged to remain vigilant during power cuts and be on the lookout for any suspicious activity and report this to their security company or the police immediately.

Hattingh said home and business owners should consider installing Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology, which is integrated into the alarm system’s wiring and automatically switches on for a maximum of 15 minutes when there is a power outage.

“If there is an additional battery pack, the small, non-intrusive LED lights can stay on for the duration of the power outage – or a maximum of 40 hours – without draining the primary alarm battery. Because of load shedding, there might also be a higher than usual number of alarm activation signals received by security companies and their monitoring centres.

“This could lead to a delay in monitoring centre agents making contact with customers. You can assist by manually cancelling any potential false alarms caused by load shedding, and thus help call centre agents in prioritising the calls needing urgent attention,” said Hattingh.

 

By Ferial Haffajee for Fin24

Eskom and government have started planning for Stage 5 and Stage 6 load shedding, according to officials who say that there is a race against time to ensure that a national blackout and grid collapse does not happen.

Stage 5 and Stage 6 load shedding imply shedding 5000 MW and 6000 MW respectively.

For businesses and residential consumers, it means more frequent cuts of the same duration, depending on where you live and who supplies your power.

Eskom’s website also contains load shedding schedules up to Stage 8 but has not implemented stages beyond Stage 4.

At the first major briefing to explain the fourth day of Stage 4 power cuts, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan said that the government and Eskom were determined not to go beyond Stage 4 load shedding where 4000 MW has to be shed in long and regular blackouts to business and residential consumers.

But it is now clear that there is planning to Stage 5 and Stage 6 in order to ensure that there is no national blackout.

“It will be a huge struggle to overcome this crisis,” said Gordhan.

An extensive briefing by Eskom executives and the Department of Public Enterprises on Tuesday has made it clear that the national power supply is more precarious than previously understood. South Africa has bought all available diesel on the high seas (to run emergency power), maintenance of power plants is in crisis because boiler tubes are bursting at eight units across three power stations and there is a planned strike early in April.

What does this mean for you?

Load shedding is here to stay and possibly at extended lengths now being experienced across the country. In addition, Eskom is in dispute with the National Energy Regulator with SA (Nersa) on its calculation of the Regulatory Clearing Account and it wants to be able to implement higher tariff increases.

Nersa gave Eskom much lower additional tariff clearances than it requested, but these already added four percentage points to the allowable tariff of just above 9% for 2019/20. Is there light? A little.

On Thursday, a ship with diesel stocks will dock and this supply will ease the crisis; in 10 days, the government will report back with a deeper diagnosis of South Africa’s power woes.

All that government could really offer on Tuesday is that there will be better communication of the crisis with the public and an effort to design blocks of blackouts friendlier to life and the economy.

“We are very far from a point of total black-out. The system operators main task is to defend and protect the grid,” said Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza in a briefing designed to shed light after four days of load-shedding which has left the economy teetering and the nation seething.

“We don’t want to remain in a vicious cycle where load-shedding shifts to other crises (like a water crisis because plants go down in power cuts). We are committed to rebuilding the energy supply and energy confidence,” said Gordhan. One of the reasons for the latest power crisis is that it takes too long to buy the parts Eskom needs to maintain its power station fleet, said Mabuza.

The government will be going to the National Treasury to seek an opt-out of strict procurement laws to provide for emergency and faster purchasing.

“We are talking to the Treasury, to the Auditor-General to design processes very quickly to enable Eskom to be more responsive. (But we will) make sure no malfeasance is allowed during that process. People will try to take the gap. We will make sure it doesn’t happen,” said Gordhan who earlier revealed that 3000 staff at Eskom are doing business with the utility.

An estimated 1000 of the moonlighters have been identified.

Staff trading with Eskom is a conflict of interest which has driven up prices and is one factor in the debt pile that Eskom is carrying.

Mabuza also disputed a growing narrative by former executives of Eskom who use social media to disseminate a view that independent power producers (IPP’s) of renewable energy are responsible for the utility’s financial woes and for load-shedding.

“The board has asked me to say it is not appropriate to keep quiet about the IPP’s. In the revenue determination of what is allowable, there’s a budget of R30bn for IPP’s. In so far as Eskom is concerned, what we buy on IPP’s we recoup from the tariff. We are neutral as far as Eskom is concerned – we pass it onto the consumer. If we spend more than R30bn we get it back through the RCA (the regulatory clearing account). We have many problems at Eskom; IPP’s are not the cause of our problems,” said Mabuza.

“We fully understand that frustration and we want to apologise. At the same time, I want to appeal for understanding [in terms of] the nature of the challenges,” said Gordhan who did not give a deadline of when the deep and long load-shedding will stop.

He appealed for understanding from the country and said that South Africans should conserve as much electricity as possible. Eskom will reintroduce its programme of buying spare capacity from industrial users who may not need all the energy they are producing at private power stations.

South Africa has 48000 megawatts of installed energy but it only currently has 28 000 megawatts available daily, causing the gaping deficit that leads to ricocheting power cuts.

There are three senior fix-it teams working on the problem, said Gordhan. A presidential task team has presented one report to Cabinet; the Eskom board and management have presented their own 9-point turnaround plan and there is a team of between 12 and 14 private sector engineers combing through the Eskom power stations to present their own diagnostic report of what is going wrong.

Asked if too many cooks did not spoil the broth and whether government risked throwing structures at the problem, Gordhan said the power crisis needed more rather than fewer eyes on the problem or the risk of groupthink (where people begin to think alike and no longer question each other’s assumptions or points of view) was high.

“There is an eagerness and determination to get to the bottom of what the problems are. To answer the question: ‘How long will load-shedding last’? We will come back to you in 10 to 14 days. We have no magic formula. There is no magic wand to say load-shedding is over. It will be a huge struggle to overcome this crisis. We want to give the public as much information as possible,” said Gordhan.

In the parking lot of the hotel in which the briefing was held, a generator droned loudly. Rosebank in Johannesburg faced Stage 4 load-shedding for the entire period of the briefing – a graphic display of the crisis being described.

How loadshedding has impacted local businesses

By Prinesha Naidoo for Bloomberg/Fin24

Businesses in South Africa have spent the past week struggling to operate amid rolling blackouts that affect their operations for as many as five hours at a time.

The power cuts by cash-strapped utility Eskom, which provides about 90% of the country’s electricity, are a “hugely damaging reality check,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said Thursday amid a fifth straight day of blackouts.

The reductions may cost the country as much as R5-billion rand a day, according to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, a civil-society group.

Bloomberg visited some businesses during blackouts to see how they were coping with the situation.

Suzanne van Weely said she is throwing out as many as 15 loaves of unbaked bread daily – about a 10th of what she produces at her Supercalifragilistic bakery and coffee shop in Linden, Johannesburg.

“People don’t get the things they want and they walk out,” Van Weely said. With fridges shut down, cheesecakes, mousses and trays of tiramisu “are going off. It’s all stuff that costs money to make,” she said.

Across the road, trading at her father Ronald’s store, Magnificent Paints and Hardware, is at a standstill. When the power goes out, his regular customers – local contractors – stop working and so do his orders and sales.

Three of his six delivery trucks are parked in the yard while he sits in a back office lit only by a rechargeable lamp and the light from his smartphone screen.

“The power outages are way too long,” he said. “Four and half hours is way too long – most people work for eight hours so more than 50% of the workday is lost. They should make it two hours then we can at least get some business done.”

Around the corner, the screens on electronic fuel pumps at the Linden Garage gas station are blank. While owner Marco Dalle Ave jokes that his old mechanical pumps were seemingly more advanced and better suited to rolling blackouts, he is worried about turnover and having to pay staff.

“If you can’t operate, you can’t make money,” he says. According to him, a generator would cost more than R100 000 rand – which he can’t afford.

Francois Labuschagne, who also can’t afford a generator, said electricity shortages are killing business at Print2Go, his printing shop.

“It is like the economy has just been cut in half – half of the economy is operating half of the day and it is not like there is a plan,” he said. “As a business owner, this is a ridiculous situation, we’ve got staff to pay – if the business goes under then staff lose their jobs.”

While the Rembrandt butchery has a back-up generator, power cuts still have a devastating effect, said Marco Huisamen, its manager.

With petrol prices close to record levels, running the generator is expensive and doesn’t provide nearly enough energy to keep all the lights on, fridges cold and meat band saws working all at once.

By James de Villiers for Business Insider SA

SA’s two largest cellular networks warn that network connection might be lost if load shedding continues.

Batteries take up to 18 hours to recharge, and if electricity is repeatedly disrupted, it may result in network downtime.

Cellular network connectivity might soon be disrupted if load shedding continues or worsens, South Africa’s two largest network providers said.

Eskom implemented stage four load shedding for the first time in history on Monday morning, after seven generating units tripped, leaving up to 20% of South Africa without electricity at a time. Load shedding (stage 3) continued on Tuesday and into Wednesday.

Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN South Africa’s executive for corporate affairs, said the operational impact will first be felt where the frequency of the load shedding exceeded the capacity of the back-up batteries.

She said their batteries generally have a capacity for six to 12 hours and require roughly 12-18 hours to recharge.

“Where consecutive load shedding took place, batteries were unable to fully recharge, resulting in reduced back-up times,” O’Sullivan told Business Insider South Africa.

She said MTN spent more than R100 million in the past year dealing with acts of theft and vandalism, and had to deploy security teams to protect the equipment.

“These crimes tend to spike during load shedding when the lack of power sees substations being vandalised for copper wire which then further exacerbates the power supply problem.”

Vodacom said their clients will not be able to access any services when backup power at their towers becomes depleted.

It said when the power is restored, customers will be able to catch up on missed calls and messages which would not have come through.

“It is, however, worth noting that when compared with our total network traffic, the recent impact on Vodacom’s network has been limited due to our back-up power facilities,” a Vodacom spokesperson said.

MTN’s O’Sullivan said the uncertainty surrounding load shedding and the duration thereof, particularly, puts additional strain on their network.

She said the duration and frequency of load shedding compromised their batteries which increases operational costs.

“We want our customers to be able to continue communicating and working, despite the electricity interruptions and we have operations teams working 24 hours a day to mitigate the impact on our customers, as far as we possibly can,” O’Sullivan said.

SA’s go-to loadshedding app

By James de Villiers for Business Insider SA

Load shedding application EskomSePush went from 2,500 active users a week ago to over 400,000 on Tuesday. This after Eskom implemented load shedding stage 4 for the first time in history.

Two friends created the application, which is currently the most downloaded South African application on iOS, as a side project in 2014.

Load shedding notification application EskomSePush went from 2,500 active users a week ago to over 400,000 users on Tuesday, co-creator Herman Maritz said.

This after embattled power utility Eskom, for the first time in history, implemented stage 4 load shedding on Monday morning, leaving up to 20% of the country without electricity. Around a third of Eskom’s 45,000 MW capacity is offline.

EskomSePush is now the most downloaded application on the South African iOS App store, and the second most downloaded application, behind WhatsApp, in the South African Google Play Store.

Maritz said the application is likely to reach 500,000 by the end of the week, when Eskom is reportedly set to suspend load shedding.

He said they’ve received some 1,400 emails every day since Monday, from three last week.

“Sorry, we’re not replying to all the emails anymore,” Maritz jokingly told Business Insider South Africa.

Maritz co-created EskomSePush with Dan Wells in 2014 while they were building banking apps.

“We wanted to know when load shedding was happening so that we could plan around it over our December holidays,” Maritz said.

“We laughed about making this simple push notification service.”

They originally used a service called PushBullet to send us notifications, and in 2015 – six weeks after launch – they had over 100,000 users.

“[We] peaked at around 250,000 active users before load shedding was suspended later that year,” Maritz said.

The app received awards at MTN’s 2015 App of the Year awards for both People’s Choice and Breakthrough Developer App.The application automatically detects and alerts users when load shedding stage changes occur. It provides detailed information of over 50,000 locations in South Africa.

“The system is 100% automated in terms of load shedding stage changes and push notifications,” Maritz said.

Maritz, who now works as a engineer for online Classifieds OLX in Germany, said the application was until recently fully funded by themselves, but they brought in a few ads to “keep the lights on”.

“I hate ads, and we’re thinking of different solutions, but Dan needs some cash flow to keep the app running,” Maritz said.

Wells added: “We enjoy keeping it running! It’s a rush!”

The duo encouraged anyone who is an experienced mobile or JavaScript developer who is keen to work on a useful side-project to contact them at iwanttohelp@sepush.co.za.

How to choose a UPS for your needs

Judging by the state of Eskom, loadshedding is here to stay. So what is the best solution to get you through the average 4-hour load shedding schedule? A generator, or a UPS with long life batteries?

It really all depends on your circumstances.

If your business or home is located in a low noise area, such as office blocks, flats or apartments, then a silent UPS solution is probably the best way to go, even though the initial capital investment may be three or more times that of a generator.

Of course, the new type inverter type generators are more silent, but the cost is more than double that of conventional generators of the same size.

What most people don’t realise is that even though the upfront cost of a generator may seem an attractive proposition, there are associated hidden costs in the form of fuel costs, maintenance costs and spare parts. If the generator is a “cheapie” from China without local support from an official distributor, then beware. You could be forced to dump it after only a few months.

Installation costs of a generator may also be slightly more than that of a UPS, as you would have to install a manual changeover switch, to switch to either generator power or to grid power, depending on the situation.

With most UPS systems, changeover is an automatic process; when Eskom or City Power fails, the system automatically switches to battery power through an inverter.

Yes, it is true that a generator can be fitted with an automatic change over switch, but with costs exceeding R15 000 to R20 000, you may as well go the UPS route.

With a UPS there are no fuel or maintenance costs. Reputable UPS systems have intelligent battery chargers that ensure maximum battery efficiency for long life. Yes, depending on the type of deep cycle battery used (5 or 10 year lifespan), as well as the frequency of re-charges, one would have to plan ahead to replace batteries when they reach end of life. The benefits however will far outweigh the costs.

A pure sinewave UPS offers seamless, clean and stable power during load shedding, enabling you to power sensitive devices such as computers and modems.

To cut down the initial investment of a UPS, consider a system with fewer batteries.
Do you really need 6-8 hours backup, or will 3-4 hours do? Remember that during load shedding you can extend the length of the rated backup by simply connecting the bare minimum equipment.

For example, in a home environment, lights, TV/DSTV and Internet; or in an office environment, lights, the telephone system, computers and Internet. Most of this can be achieved with a 2-3KVA UPS or generator.

Insistence on buying large generators, far exceeding power requirements during a power outage, results in fuel going to waste.

A generator is only a true necessity if the power outages in your area are over 8 hours or longer.
In those cases, the cost of a UPS with backup batteries would become prohibitive – unless of course, it has a solar power option that would deal with daytime power outages.

Choose wisely and never over-capitalise if the main focus is to simply get through the load shedding sessions.

By Henri Pereira for FocalCom

 

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