South Africa: City Power Johannesburg network in danger of collapsing, says board chairman

By Elena Kachkova in Johannesburg March 21, 2024

Drastic measures are needed to avoid power network collapse in South Africa’s City of Johannesburg metropolitan municipality, according to Bonolo Ramokhele, board chairman of electricity services company City Power.

Ramokhele delivered the warning at the Future Energy Show Africa, the continent’s largest renewable energy exhibition, which took place in Johannesburg from March 18–20.

The board chairman of the municipal-owned entity said the issues with the network mainly stemmed from its age, and estimated it would cost ZAR50bn ($2.6bn) to fix the century-old infrastructure.

“We’re hoping that some of those solutions are going to come from the people sitting here,” he said, adding that City Power had multiple challenges.

Many communities across Johannesburg metro know that City Power’s network is not in good condition, writes Daily Maverick, with residents often reporting broken substations and blown transformers.

“There are certain parts of our network, like the inner city and Roodepoort, that have been in place since the 1930s,” Ramokhele said, adding that it was difficult to find spares for equipment that was nearly a century old.

According to Ramokhele, the entity now allocates about ZAR1bn for capital expenditure annually. “So you can do the maths. It’s going to take us about 50 years to be able to catch up to our current state,” he said.

Ramokhele stressed that urgent measures were required to avoid a potential disaster.

“My view is that we’re going to wake up one day and the network of Johannesburg would have collapsed if we don’t take drastic measures,” he said as quoted by Daily Maverick, adding that he was counting on getting help from the forum’s participants.

“We are of the view that the government alone is not going to be able to fix this,” Ramokhele insisted. “And that is where colleagues, like those sitting in this particular forum, come in.”

The board chairman shared City Power’s plans of going to the market to deal with the immediate issue of power outages (load shedding) while trying to salvage the network that is falling apart and waiting for Eskom’s generation to stabilise.

According to Ramokhele, the utility is planning to “aggressively increase our partnership and build a compact with the private sector so that we’re able to deliver for the 5.6mn residents of Johannesburg”.

City Power started as an electricity distributor for the City of Johannesburg, receiving about 90% of its power from the state-owned power utility Eskom and 10% from a privately- owned Kelvin Power Station.

The customer-centric energy services company now builds, operates and maintains the electricity distribution network to provide power to the residents in one of the continent’s biggest metros.

City Power can now start bringing in independent power producers (IPPs) after finally getting approval from the board and the City Council at the end of January. The capacity allocated under the first bid window (BW1) is 700MW - 1,000 MW.

“I think I’m winning the debate internally that if we’re able to get, let’s say 2,000 megawatts of really good projects, that would ensure grid stability,” Ramokhele said.

Moreover, City Power was adding open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) to their business model, which were owned by the utility, the chairman said, but had been dormant for more than a decade.

This initiative will be launched later this month and will provide an additional 100 MW of generation capacity.

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