City Power Johannesburg: Meeting the challenge of energy demand

The challenge of delivering a reliable supply of electricity to the city of Johannesburg is anything but straight forward. With power shortages, increasing demand and theft, the role of City Power Johannesburg has been put in the spotlight in recent years.

City Power was established in 2001 as an independent municipal entity, wholly owned by the City of Johannesburg. Its vision is to be a world class energy utility.

The company purports to have approximately 396,000 customers, ranging from agricultural companies to domestic and pre-pair, commercial and industrial properties.

During 2015/16, City Power’s net asset worth was valued at approximately R8 billion, with a revenue base of R14 billion.

It boasts an infrastructure including over 17,500 kilometres of cable, over 18,000 substations, and over 270,000 public lights.

City Power is the only utility in Africa with four ISO accreditations (9001, 14001, 18001 and 31000). It is also accredited with ISO 26000 compliant and the website reports that the company is currently implementing 16000.

According to the official website, The Utility is committed to providing excellent service to its customers, continually improving efficiencies to keep tariffs as low as possible and generating a return on investment for its shareholder, the City of Johannesburg, to help offset other residential rates. It is also moving to the “Smart City” concept via a Smart Grid and integration with other City initiatives.

“City Power Johannesburg (SOC) Ltd (City Power) is accountable for providing electricity and network services to all its customers. These include: the purchasing and distribution and sale of electricity; constructing networks; connecting customers; repair and maintenance of networks; and installation and maintenance of public lighting.”

City Power was awarded the 2016 Utility of the Year Award at the Africa Utility Week Conference by industry leaders and can partly attribute this success to its ability to attract the top talent in its field, joining a team of 1,600 employees.

The importance of City Power’s role needs to be put into context. Johannesburg accounts for a third of South Africa’s GDP and it is therefore critical that there is a stable and uninterrupted supply of energy to fuel these economic activities.

To meet these needs, City Power has defined a number of key drivers for the organization, which it outlines on the website:

“Increase and secure the supply of energy; acquire electricity from renewable and alternative energy sources; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; strategically make use of a mix of technologies comprising of renewable energy sources and adhere to corporate governance.”

One of the challenges that City Power faces is undoubtedly peaks and troughs in demand. South Africa’s winter began to bite in May and City Power made public an announcement that it has contingency plans in place for expected increased power outages during the cold weather.

Speaking about the utility’s winter campaign, City Power said that during winter, the city’s network was prone to outages in most, if not all, areas supplied by City Power.

This was mainly due to an increase in the demand for electricity usage resulting in overloading of the network as well as equipment failure. Whilst this represents a tough challenge, the company has planned as much as possible to anticipate issues.

City Power spokesperson Virgil James said a winter plan had been prepared.

“We will be focusing on areas of the network that experience repeated outages on the same day or week. Our plan also prioritises resources to address these challenges. This includes equipping technicians with fast-moving spares, strategic material and consumables in the event of unplanned outages.”

“We also plan to increase the number of technicians attending to outages in our areas of supply. More teams will be dispatched to attend to outages as well as to respond to emergency calls. The plan has already driven us to proactively replace and repair sections of cables that have contributed to repeated outages,” he said.

“In as far as possible, aluminium cables are used, which have no value to thieves, thereby further ensuring an uninterrupted electricity supply. Constant monitoring of the network, maintenance and new technologies are part of ongoing efforts to reduce outages,” James added.

“The effectiveness of the winter plan is not only dependent upon measures put into place, but also requires co-operation from all of us who use electricity. With May being Energy Month, City Power wants to raise awareness about saving energy. We urge everyone to use this month as a stepping stone to becoming more conscious of saving electricity every day as winter approaches,” he said.

City Power was reported to attribute some of the outages to the ongoing issue of cable theft.

The month of May also saw City Power offer an amnesty to the end of June, for customers who have tampered with electricity meters.

James‚ said meter tampering includes any action that results in the breaking of a seal; opening‚ adjustment or removal of a meter; bypassing a meter; opening of a meter box; or interfering with the meter or municipal wiring‚ piping or any other installation in any manner whatsoever.

Categories of meter tampering include bypassed meters; faulty meters or keypads (customer interactive units); connection through stolen meters‚ meters bought illegally from electrical contractors‚ technicians; and illegally connected meters.

Customers whose meters have been found to have been tampered with are liable for their actions‚ except during the current amnesty.

James urged customers whose meters have been tampered with to come forward and use the amnesty period as a window of opportunity to get City Power to “normalise” their meters free of charge.

He says registering the tampered meters during the amnesty period will help customers to avoid penalties such as reconnection fees and average monthly consumption charges for the period the meter has not been vending. City Power’s technicians will then visit the premises of the amnesty applicants to “normalise” the meter.

The challenge of keeping the power on remains crucial to the Gauteng and national economy. It is one the City power remains committed to meeting.