Taking control of power

While it is not possible to avoid the national schedule of loadshedding completely, the KwaDukuza Local Municipality is showing how technology can minimise the impact.

The KwaDukuza Local Municipality is about to turn the key on a new system that will help residents and businesses to cope with planned, but also often unpredictable disruptions to their electricity supplies due to loadshedding.

The KwaDukuza Local Municipality is in the process of installing a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to monitor the energy supply in real time for outages and load conditions, and transmit the information to a central point. From this Control Room, the main sub-stations can be remotely controlled to better manage the electricity network and components.

This enables the entire electricity supply network to be remotely monitored and controlled from a central Control Room, providing greater predictability about the network’s performance, and allowing the municipality and consumers to manage the disruption to their schedules due to loadshedding. It will also allow an improved, rapid response to electricity outages, with the likely cause of outages immediately visible on the SCADA system.

The KwaDukuza Local Municipality and its contractor are installing equipment and developing the functionality of the SCADA software, suited to the municipality’s operations and needs. The full SCADA system and Control Room are expected to go live in August this year. It can only become fully operational once the KwaDukuza Local Municipality and contractor have performed the necessary factory, software, and site acceptance tests to ensure safe and functional communications and operations.

The initial functional design specifications for the R24-million SCADA system were developed under the Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme. This assisted the KwaDukuza Local Municipality to successfully apply for funding, with the technical support of the Vuthela Programme, from the European Union’s General Budget Support Programme’s (GBS) 5th Call for Proposals, facilitated through National Treasury.

Municipalities in South Africa cannot avoid the impact of loadshedding completely at present, but the SCADA system will allow the municipality to better manage the network and benefit from live communications on the electricity network and components operated and managed by the KwaDukuza Local Municipality.

Communicating with clients

It will allow the municipality to communicate with clients with certainty, informing them accurately about outages or the potential causes thereof and in turn, the turn-around time to restore power.

The SCADA system will not stop loadshedding, but it will help people to manage the impact better.

This project is a legacy of the Vuthela Programme. It demonstrates how innovation and technology can be applied in a developmental manner to improve the delivery of essential services and thereby contribute to economic growth.

The Vuthela Programme began planning this project in 2019. The support of many people in the municipality, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), technical partners and service providers were required throughout the project.

World Bank support

The World Bank provided technical and advisory support from inception through to implementation and it is hoped it will be able to continue to play an advisory and training role to ensure the successful operation of the SCADA system. This includes advising on the operational procedures suited to the KwaDukuza Local Municipality’s business and infrastructure environment, continuation of training and capacity building, establishing Standard Operating Procedures and ensuring SCADA communication protocols are optimal for the municipal system.

The system uses digital signals to relay critical information about the status and performance of the electrical system to the Control Room in real time, providing an accurate measure of the maximum demand and the load profile on the network. It is envisaged that the communication platform will make use of the GSM network.

Contractors are now completing the installation and commissioning of the Human Machine Interface (HMI) panels at main sub-stations on the network and testing software configurations to make sure they were compatible with the municipality’s systems and according to the specifications of the SCADA and Control Room functionality requirements.

Technicians have received initial training to operate the system and additional operators will be appointed and trained in the new municipal financial year (2023/2024).

Once it is operational, the SCADA system and Control Room will significantly enhance the capacity of the KwaDukuza Local Municipality to provide efficient electrical services to its residential and business consumers.

It will provide real-time monitoring and control of the electrical network, enabling operators to optimise the power available through measuring the demand and improving efficiency.

Reduced response times

The SCADA system will also reduce response times to customer queries and technical faults through quicker fault finding, power restoration and preventative maintenance. 

The system will improve metering and revenue collection and enable constant trend analysis of the network’s performance. 

The implementation of the project faced many challenges, including the lack of technicians who have had experience or expertise in designing, building, installing or operating SCADA systems.

Municipalities who are considering the installation of similar systems should appoint skilled and experienced technical project managers to interface with project contractors, as the project requires specialised technical expertise.

The KwaDukuza Local Municipality project needed to provide for delays in obtaining essential equipment, and coordination with the timing of other municipal projects proved to be critical. The timing of activities for the installation of the Control Room had to be coordinated with the municipal communications network to avoid disruptions.

Another valuable learning was that good functional design, with all the correct technical specifications and accurate cost estimates, assists hugely with applications for funding.

The Vuthela Programme with support from the World Bank, assisted the municipality to develop its successful application for funding from the European Union.

Vuthela is facilitating further engagement with the World Bank for the continuation of capacity building and support to the KwaDukuza Local Municipality.

The completion of Phase 1 of the project means that monitoring and communication equipment has now been installed at all major distribution sub-stations in the supply network and is in the process of being connected to the planned central Control Room in KwaDukuza.

Phase 2 will include installing equipment at the 36 key switching sub-stations.

Phase 3 will include a smart metering system that will measure the power flowing through all the feeder lines and the 1 405 reticulation transformers in the network. 

Once the entire system is complete, the SCADA system will be a model for other municipalities to consider.

The enormous benefits of bringing predictability to a situation which has become increasingly uncertain and disruptive recently will help communities, businesses, and the municipality cope better as loadshedding continues.