Most South Africans must brace themselves for at least another 10 days of intense load shedding, but in Bryntirion Estate the lights will stay on.
This is the small suburb where the official residences of the president, his deputy and many ministers are situated.
This even though the national standard that regulates load shedding – known as NRS 048-9 – makes no provision for the exemption of politicians’ homes at any stages of load shedding.
Apart from stating that it adheres to the standard, the City of Tshwane refused to answer questions about properties it exempts from load shedding, citing national security and contractual agreements with customers.
The standard, which was compiled by stakeholders in the electricity industry and approved by the board of energy regulator Nersa, consists of more than 100 pages. It sets out under which conditions and how load shedding may be implemented, and how load must be restored after a system emergency.
‘One of the most important standards’ in SA
Vally Padayachee, special advisor to the Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities (Ameu), who played a leading role when the standard was written and adopted, says NRS 048-9 is one of the most important standards in the country.
“It is very important that we adhere to the standard. If we don’t the whole power system may collapse,” he says.
The principles underpinning the standard include that “all customers should by default be shed” and that users must be treated equitably.
The standard also states that load shedding must be implemented in a pragmatic manner to limit its impact as far as possible.
Explicit and other exemptions
Only two properties are explicitly named in the standard for exemption – the Union Buildings (the seat of government in Pretoria) and the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town.
Big power users, usually industrial customers, who participate in load curtailment programmes, may be excluded from less intense phases of load shedding. These are entities that enter into contractual agreements with their suppliers that allow the supplier, be it Eskom or a municipality, to interrupt power supply to the property for a specified number of times per month for a specified duration.
Over and above that, some critical and essential loads may be excluded as provided for in the standard.
Critical loads are “critical for maintaining the operational integrity of the power system, or for avoiding a cascading impact on public infrastructure in the event of a system emergency”.
These loads should be protected from the impact of load shedding, according to the standard, but this may be done through the installation of back-up power, for example.
It provides that “critical loads would only be excluded where it is practically possible (network dependent) and be limited to cases where the load can be isolated so that other loads that should be shed are not also protected from the load shedding schedules”.
Similarly, essential loads involve the minimum power supply customers require to “avoid a direct and significant impact on the safety of people, the environment, and physical plant or equipment (or both) for nationally critical products”. The customer must notify the electricity supplier of such, and it must be agreed upon in writing.
Examples include deep level mines, certain hospitals with life-support requirements, sewerage systems, prisons, refineries, national key points reliant on electricity for their core operations, and potable water systems.
The approved exemptions can be summarised as follows:
Source: NRS 048-9:2019 (the national standard regulating load shedding)
The City of Cape Town, according to its mayoral committee member for energy Beverley van Reenen, does exclude major hospitals, major central business districts with high concentrations of people, and vehicles and areas where major crowds gather for specific events where load shedding stages allow.
Part of the Cape Town CBD is excluded due to the volume of the population in the CBD at certain times, which is permissible in terms of the standard.
Van Reenen said the city will consider excluding an area from load shedding if it is prone to high levels of violent crime or gang activity.
“However, the decision to exclude a suburb is based on a number of considerations. We have to see if it is technically possible [due to the way the grid is structured] and the broader implications that the exclusion will have [on] the whole city.”
Both Cape Town and the City of Joburg also assist organisers of events attended by large numbers of people by temporarily excluding them from load shedding where possible, as provided for in the standard.
According to City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena, installations that are exempted from load shedding include water pumping stations, refineries, rail operations and some hospitals, especially if requested when their back-up power is faulty.
He says “there is no person or institution within City Power supply areas that is exempted from load shedding – this includes the president, premier [and] even our mayor”.
Where areas have suffered long outages, City Power tries to lighten their burden for a while when supply is restored by excluding them from load shedding temporarily.
This recently happened in Hyde Park, where President Cyril Ramaphosa’s private house is situated, and neighbouring Rosebank.
Due to technical problems the area was without electricity for a few days, and was given a short reprieve from load shedding once supply had been restored.
Although the standard specifies that any client may apply for its load to be noted as a critical load, neither Cape Town nor City Power have a formal application process.
Eskom said any client who believes they qualify for exemption under the standard may apply to their customer executive.