In the event of a total blackout

1 September 2015

When we have ordinary load shedding, South Africans experience the inconvenience of a cold supper by candlelight without TV (except for those lucky enough to have a generator and gas stove).

power lines

A total blackout, however, would be a different story altogether. This would occur if unplanned outages resulted in electricity consumption exceeding generation and “tripping” the national electricity grid.

Should such an unlikely event occur it could take two weeks before the grid could be fully restored. At first it would seem just like the “normal” load shedding, with which we have become all too familiar.

The real implications would hit us within 24 hours. And unless there is very careful pre-planning, not even generators can ameliorate the consequences.

Generators need fuel; and once the generator has used up the available supply, what then? Cellphone companies can no longer transmit signals (even if your phone is charged). Radio transmitters also die. So do Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs).

Water cannot reach suburbs located at elevations above the bulk storage dam. Within hours, sewage pump stations would overflow, with sewage running into the storm water system, into our rivers and beaches, and onto our crops, with devastating consequences for agriculture and the environment, not to mention public health.

Core Surf

Hospitals and clinics would stop functioning. So too, police stations. The criminal justice system, including courts and prisons, would grind to a standstill. Public transport would come to a halt. Shops would close. Criminals would spot their gap.

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In this context it is easy to see the potential for public panic on an unprecedented scale. Life as we know it, in a modern economy, cannot function without electricity.

And what about Koeberg? Although Koeberg generates electricity, it needs electricity to keep going, and to pump water into the cooling mechanism in order to avert meltdown.

The city of Cape Town has contingency plans in place, should the unlikely scenario of a total blackout occur.

“Every strategic installation requires a generator, and the guarantee of an adequate fuel supply; for this reason the City is negotiating an emergency fuel stock pile to ensure an ongoing supply to key points across the City and Province,” explains Western Cape Premier Helen Zille..

“Koeberg would be kept going by gas and diesel turbines enough fresh, standby fuel, to prevent a meltdown; the City has more than 350 sewage pump stations all of which are being fitted with modern generators, as are all hospitals, clinics and fire stations; the City/Province Project Team will shortly be meeting national government to ensure that police stations also have a back-up plan; meetings have been held with the major cellphone companies to synchronise the generation systems required to keep networks operating.

Further meetings will soon be held with banks, radio stations and retailers to ensure that their contingency plans are aligned with those of the Province and the City. All major retailers have contingency plans.

The logistics are extraordinarily complicated, with the cost running into hundreds of millions of Rands. New generators, for Cape Town alone, amount to more than R 200-million.

Children would stay home from school, and only essential service workers would report for duty. Clinics will be used as communication points where government officials will be on duty every day to inform people of the latest developments,” concluded Zille.

Lets hope it never happens to South Africa.

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