Johannesburg City Power: Keeping the grid switched on

Within South Africa, without a doubt one of the biggest threats to economic and social development in recent years has been the reliability of energy supply. Within the vast urban sprawl of Johannesburg, with its huge population, keeping the lights turned on is an imperative.

Step forward Johannesburg City Power, a company with a vision “to be a world-class electricity distributor”.

City Power’s customer base is segmented into key customers, large power users, and pre-paid, domestic, agricultural and commercial customers, with the domestic segment forming the biggest part of the company’s customer base.

shutterstock_155731067“To meet the needs of corporate customers, City Power has concentrated on improving the wire network to reduce outages and power surges. Considerable progress has been made, with 70 per cent of customers rating the service as good,” states the corporate website.

“For residential customers, and in line with the government’s commitment to ensure all South Africans have access to electricity, the introduction of 50 kWh basic free electricity per month in June 2002 has been very well received. In context, this enables a householder to run two 60 W lamps and a TV set for four hours per day for the month and consume just over half the free allocation. This was one of the first-and highest-initiatives in the country and is a considerable benefit to customers in poor communities,” the site continues.

“Customers have access to a sophisticated call centre, which manages over 63 000 calls in the peak winter months and provides a single-source service for all queries, applications and payments. City Power also has employed customer service managers in all its areas of operation. Regular customer’s forums are providing a valuable base for feedback and improved customer service,” the site adds.

Not just a provider of electricity, Johannesburg City Power is also committed to enhancing the lives of the community it serves, as the website explains:

“As a utility provide, City Power has a responsibility to the communities in which it operates to educate customers about the safe use of electricity, the impact of cable and electricity theft and the importance of account payments.

“A major component of the company’s social responsibility has been the introduction of free basic electricity.

“City Power has also invested a substantial amount in community empowerment projects in Alexandra, eastern Johannesburg, and a sprawling township that is undergoing a multi-faceted renewal phase. City Power has outsourced certain tasks to companies in Alexandra and supported schools in the area with sports equipment to improve general health and reduce crime. An educational campaign aimed at learners covers electrical safety and prevention of vandalism of electricity equipment.​​​​​”

That commitment was illustrated in October 2015 when it was announced that City Power had unveiled a R200 million plan to power informal settlements

There are currently over 100 informal settlements in Johannesburg, some of which are on undeveloped land.

“Some of these informal settlements have been there for the past 20 years and will probably be there for the next 25 years and they are connected illegally. Two to three lives are lost every month to illegal connections,” Phetole Moagi, City Power’s senior engineer, said

The city has budgeted R200 million in the current financial year to provide electricity to 3 informal settlements: Thembelihle and Lawley, south of Johannesburg, and Stjlwetla in Alexandra.

“Informal settlements contribute 13 per cent to the energy loss due to illegal connections, which is 1 million units of the 12 million units we buy from Eskom annually,” said Xolani Lembede, City Power’s acting director of engineering.

shutterstock_192479294Thembelihle has more than 7000 dwellings, most of which have been illegally connected to the electricity grid.

City Power will install independent grids to supply the informal settlements with power separately from formal housing.

Solar-powered panels will also be installed to feed into the grid to minimise pressure.

Residents of these informal settlements will initially be supplied with 3kg gas cylinders and two-plate gas stoves to avoid cooking on electrical stoves.

City Power’s considerations stretch further and it has worked hard to create a dynamic culture for its employees, providing the best working environment in its industry and operating at consistently high levels of productivity. This has enabled the company to attract the top talent in its field, joining a team of 1,800 employees.

“Attractive benefits and leading human resources practices and policies have positioned City Power as a preferred employer. All employees enjoy retirement fund and medical aid benefits, while the new and much-used employee wellness clinic offers primary healthcare and occupational health management in-house, working with leading private healthcare groups.,” the company website describes.

Of course the supply of energy remains a challenge, particularly for a city the size of Johannesburg. Labour disputes are a further challenge that City power has to face and in October the company went to great lengths to reassure its customers that planned strike action by the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) has resulted in the company putting together contingency plans to remain switched on.

“The threats that have been attributed to the union of a total blackout would if correct‚ constitute an act of sabotage against the City of Johannesburg and its residents‚” it asserted.

The power provider added: “City Power wishes to assure ratepayers that it has already put contingency plans in place to ensure that Johannesburg power supplies are not affected in the lead up to‚ during and after the threatened period of the strike.”

Keeping the grid online remains a challenge, but Johannesburg City power continues to strive for operational excellence, to benefit the city’s long-term economic future.