To protect the grid from total collapse, Johannesburg’s City Power has implemented load reductions in parts of the city where high usage levels threaten to overload the system. While primarily impacting residences, these outages could significantly disrupt local businesses as well.

This is according to Dr Andrew Dickson, engineering executive at CBI-electric: low voltage, who explains that businesses are keenly aware that when the power goes out, production stops, resulting in reduced output and lower profitability.

“However, for a number of companies operating in Johannesburg’s industrial sector, the switch-off of machinery could render them unable to operate for extended periods as it can take equipment anywhere from a few hours to more than 24 hours to return to operation.

“With outages now occurring multiple times a day in parts of Johannesburg, this will bring business to a standstill and could even force several companies to close,” he points out. “Moreover, this could have significant knock-on effects, especially as the city’s businesses enable it to contribute around 14,9% to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 40% to the Gauteng province, while also employing approximately 2,13-million people.

“But if companies and residences voluntarily reduce their electricity consumption, it may be possible to alleviate strain on the grid and avoid the complete blackout of electricity supply, thereby minimising disruptions not only to business operations but also to the community and economy at large,” notes Dr Dickson. “Doing so puts the power – so to speak – back in consumers’ hands.”

For this to work, he stresses that businesses and households must implement plans to curb their electricity usage. “The first step should be measuring how much power is being consumed as well as when, where and why. This information can then be used to build a plan that takes energy demand patterns into account. For example, this could help companies change when they use the most power by restructuring their operations, determine which processes should happen when in order to minimise peaks and dips in daily power usage and adjust how shift structures work.

“Using timers or load controllers to schedule when loads turn on or off could also help to reduce electricity consumption,” adds Dr Dickson. “These could be deployed to prevent systems like air conditioners and hydro boils from running unnecessarily after business hours or to limit how long household geysers are switched on for. Load controllers, combined with room occupancy sensors, could also be used to switch off electrical equipment in unoccupied offices or meeting rooms so that power is only consumed when and where it’s needed.

“Additional electricity saving measures could include installing natural lighting options like light pipes instead of electric lighting and putting in draught-doors to reduce heating and cooling costs,” he says.

Dr Dickson concludes: “Businesses and residences must change their consumption patterns so that we can not only keep the lights on, but also keep producing, profiting and propelling economic prosperity. If we fail to do so, the fallout will affect us all.”