Johannesburg City Utility Nearing Completion of New Microgrid in South Africa

Feb. 27, 2024
The 1-MW solar plus storage microgrid will provide power to around 500 homes in Alexandra, a suburb of the capital city.

The city of Johannesburg, South Africa, expects to complete a new solar plus storage microgrid pilot in Alexandra Township by the end of March.

Alexandra, or Alex as locals call it, is one of the poorest urban townships in South Africa. Located on the banks of the Jukskei River in Gauteng province, about 12 miles northeast of the capital, many of the township’s nearly 180,000 people lack access to municipal services, including electricity.

Nearly 17% of Gauteng province’s population live in informal settings, often corrugated tin or traditional clay and thatch dwellings, without access to water or electricity services.

The 1-MW microgrid system is being built by City Power, a public utility owned by the city of Johannesburg. It will provide power to around 500 homes in the township.

The city has plans to build similar solar microgrids in 14 of the province’s informal settlements upon the successful completion of the pilot in Alex. 

South Africa’s power crisis

As part of the Gauteng Energy Response Plan, which aims to develop sustainable, renewable energy power generation, the microgrid will also reduce demand on Eskom, the lone South African public electric utility.

South Africa is in the midst of a power crisis. For well over a year, Eskom has been using rolling blackouts – some as long as 12 hours – to manage persistent electricity shortfalls.

Load shedding, or the intentional shutdown of part of a power grid to prevent a complete failure, has become so pervasive across the country that the utility’s website includes schedules so consumers can prepare for outages.

In February 2023, the South African government took on $14 billion of the utility’s debt, with the hope that the bailout would help Eksom make necessary investments and avoid default.

Microgrids expected to stimulate the local economy

The Alex microgrid is not the first to be developed to combat Eksom’s load shedding practices. Danone, a leading global food producer, recently announced that it would build a 5-MW grid-connected, gas-fueled combined heat and power microgrid at its dairy manufacturing plant in Boksburg, South Africa, a suburb of Johannesburg.   

Community leaders in Gauteng province expect the microgrid will stimulate the local economy. The microgrid’s impact on local businesses is expected to be transformative as it will eliminate disruptions caused by Eksom’s load shedding. 

Nearly 80 people from the area were hired to work on the Alex microgrid project, and a dozen local, small, medium and micro businesses contributed to the project’s development.

“The impact of this project here in Alex and many others that have been rolled out will be felt across all the municipalities in the province, particularly here in Johannesburg, the country’s economic hub,” said Jack Sekwaila, a member of the Mayoral Committee for Environment and Infrastructure Services in the city of Johannesburg.

About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.

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