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Cape Town copes with power cuts

The pressure of blackouts is real, but Cape Town’s residents, civic organisations and municipality have found ways to build resilience.

by Tia

South Africans, especially in the Mother City and its vibrant CBD, are displaying remarkable resilience and adaptability in the face of the country’s power cuts.

In the Cape Town CBD, they have developed effective coping mechanisms, saved energy, and embraced renewables which has been inspirational.

City centre resident and architect Brian Paul, who works from his home-based studio in an eight-storey residential complex just off Long St, and his wife Cecile, a Cape Town fashion designer, have not let power cuts affect their lifestyle and attitude.

“I use the stairs more now, even if the lift is working. I see it as an opportunity to improve my fitness. Having grown up in Europe, walking up four or five flights is commonplace,” Brian Paul says.

He adds that the power scarcity has also made them far more conscious about their electricity use. For example, keeping a geyser at boiling point for 24 hours for a 10-minute shower is “madness”.


It is precisely this thinking that the Cape Town Central City Improvement District’s (CCID) “Switch on to Switching Off” campaign, now in its third month, seeks to encourage.

The initiative is a step-by-step guide recommending various actions stakeholders who own or rent property or work, live, or visit the CBD can take to save electricity.

These include energy auditsto identify areas of high energy consumption, upgrading to LED lighting, optimising heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, promoting energy-saving behaviour, using energy-efficient office equipment, and installing renewable energy systems.

CCID Chairperson and CEO of Boxwood Property, Rob Kane, has praised Cape Town CBD stakeholders for embracing the campaign.

“We fully recognise the challenges they face due to the energy crisis, yet they have shown incredible spirit in helping to save power in the inner city,” he says.


Several City of Cape Town projects are starting to yield positive result, which have lifted residents’ spirits.

In February, it was announced that since the start of the 2022/23 financial year, Cape Town businesses and households had earned more than R25.8 million under the City’s Cash for Power programme.

The programme enables power sellers to earn credits against their total municipal bill and, beyond that, to receive cash for power fed back into the grid.

Matthew Kempthorne, the chairperson of Sub-council 16, which includes the wards of the CBD, Atlantic Seaboard and Paarden Eiland industrial area, says the City has been highly proactive.

“We were the first city in South Africa to allow small-scale embedded generation, where generators operate in parallel with the national grid. The City’s Power Heroes initiative has also been highly successful.”

This programme involves installing smart meter devices that can be operated remotely by the City’s Network Control Centre to switch off non-essential loads like geysers and pool pumps when the network is constrained.

“We have also converted all traffic lights to LED, which is saving R14 million in electricity a year, and are retrofitting our streetlights,” Kempthorne says.

Kempthorne and Paul agree that as “irritating” power cuts are, there is still plenty to love about South Africa and Cape Town, in particular.

“Unlike Europe, Cape Town’s warm climate means we don’t need central heating, whereas Europeans need a constant power supply for space and water heating,” Paul says.

“Europe has power outages too – they just don’t make the headlines!”

Read more about the CCID campaign here; download the digital booklet with eight energy saving steps for businesses, landlords and residents https://bit.ly/49Qi7QX and click here for the energy saving poster.

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