Electrical transmission pylons are silhouetted as the sun rises at dawn in the Saulsville township, Pretoria, South Africa, on Friday, May 31, 2019. While South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. is considered too big to fail, it could be too big to support because of the costs associated with stabilizing its finances, Engineering News reported, citing S&P Global Ratings Director Ravi Bhatia. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

By Ethan van Diemen

After more than a decade, the inconvenience and deleterious impact on homes and businesses and the broader South African economy caused by power cuts has been well documented. In July this year, the South African Local Government Association (Salga) noted that not only do Stage 6 blackouts have “devastating effects on households, communities and businesses, but also on economic growth”. Eskom’s inability to keep the lights on also “places local government in a very unfavourable position” as it impacts on “other services rendered to communities.” “Water and electricity are intrinsically linked, where one cannot be supplied without the other,” the statement read, adding that “electricity is used in the water sector for pumping, treatment of raw water, distribution of potable water, collection and treatment of wastewater and water discharge. At reservoirs, some pumps push water into towers, which then provides enough pressure to feed the water supply network, especially high-lying areas.” “The pipelines in the network deliver this water to the taps at home, hospitals, schools and businesses. Pumps require electricity to work,” the Salga statement said.
In a statement on Sunday 18 September, the Western Cape government outlined its plans to ameliorate the impacts and prepare for higher levels of power cuts. Anton Bredell, MEC for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, said: “We are monitoring diesel levels for backup systems, security at critical infrastructure, and the situation at hospitals and old-age homes.
“Eskom cannot at this stage say for how long high levels of load shedding will be implemented — we must ensure essential systems that provide for water and sewage can function on backup power for the near future.”

Potential impacts
A day earlier, the City of Cape Town’s water and sanitation directorate warned residents about some of the potential impacts of the latest level of blackouts. “Some higher-lying areas may experience low pressure or supply disruptions in the event of a power outage affecting the booster water pump stations which are required, in some areas, to convey water to the reservoirs supplying the higher lying areas across the City. “Should residents in these areas – particularly in the northern and southern parts of the city – experience low pressure, this could likely be due to the impact of load shedding.”
The provision of water in Johannesburg is also affected by the increased frequency and duration of power cuts. The City of Joburg noted that “in the event of load shedding for the duration of four hours and more, pockets of areas of the city will have water shortages or low pressure” because Johannesburg Water uses electricity “to pump water from the reservoir into the towers”.

Criminal activity
Another consequence of rolling blackouts is their impact on criminal activity. Daryl Johnston, MMC for Utilities and Regional Operations in the City of Tshwane, noted on Monday 19 September a “trend” that network infrastructure is “deliberately targeted during load shedding by criminals to either steal or vandalise” critical infrastructure. Daily Maverick has previously reported that Eskom’s relentless power cuts are being linked to an upsurge in crime in some Cape Town suburbs. The City’s Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith, said at the time that “the lack of lighting in areas experiencing load shedding does make it more difficult for officers during their patrols and, of course, there is also an element of staff safety that comes into play”. Smith said the city had maintained, and in some cases redirected, resources to areas “particularly vulnerable to crime during outages” to ensure that its staff were on hand to deal with any incidents.

The impact of extended power cuts is also felt from farm to table. Agri SA, the largest body of agricultural organisations in the country, noted in July – when Stage 6 first hit South Africa – that “the extended period of Level 6 load shedding threatens the viability of the sector”. “Electricity is central to modern farming practices and the recent increase in load shedding has seriously disrupted farming operations,” said Agri SA. “Pumping stations, irrigation, cooling and other systems all depend on power supply. While some farmers have the means to move away from the power grid, most are unable to do so. This is especially true for the most vulnerable small-scale farmers.” Agri SA said the “power outages are also causing waste and financial losses due to the impact on food storage. Retailers are starting to reject fresh produce, mainly vegetables, due to delays in delivery and disruption in the cold chain. In summer this challenge increases exponentially. “This will reduce the amount of food available and increase its cost to the consumer.” – dailymaverick.co.za

This article was first published in Daily Maverick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *