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MTN SA 'crowd sourcing' electricity for network

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MTN South Africa has decided to tackle SA's current power crisis by crowd-sourcing additional generator capacity from local small businesses as rolling daily power cuts continue.

Local mobile operators have been hard hit by forced power cuts – known locally as load shedding – which have put pressure on the reliability of their mobile networks and have already cost them millions of dollars in backup batteries and generators.

MTN said in a statement on Tuesday that so far two businesses – 24Solutions and SAMO Engineering – have stepped up and are now working with MTN as supply partners to provide additional generator capacity to help bolster MTNís network resilience.

"It is an absolute priority to ensure digital access is maintained despite the ongoing power crisis. We want to ensure customers stay connected, no matter the situation. and we're thinking out of the box, to find alternative solutions," said MTN SA CEO Charles Molapisi.

"Collective effort and relentless optimism are needed right now, and I am extremely pleased to see progress on our crowd-sourcing approach to the power crisis we're all facing. We plan to scale this up even further in future," he added.

SAMO Engineering is an enterprise providing holistic engineering integration and consulting services to the telecommunication, rail and power industries. 24Solutions is an energy, service and maintenance company operating in the telecommunications sector.

"We made the call to partner with companies with generators, whether they had two or 40, and are pleased to have found 24Solutions, SAMO Engineering to join us," Molapisi added.

Power predicament

Load shedding is the deliberate shutdown of electric power in parts of the power distribution system as a way to prevent the failure of the entire system when capacity is strained.

State-owned power utility Eskom began implementing load shedding back in 2007 and since then South Africa has had to endure intermittent blackouts, usually at very short notice. Over the past two months, South Africans have experienced almost daily blackouts, with load shedding moved back up to Stage 4 on Tuesday.

Different suburbs are turned off at different times – for two to four hours at a time – and the higher the load shedding "stage." the more frequent the power cuts.

At each stage, South Africa as a whole is forced to save 1,000 megawatts of power, so at Stage 2 the grid "sheds" 2,000MW of power and Stage 6 pushes that up to 6,000MW. If the system was to reach Stage 8 – the highest Eskom has planned for – it would mean that all South Africans would only have power for 50% of the day.

Battery back-up

Despite what MTN calls "an aggressive and successful battery rollout" to maintain network stability, the extent and duration of the ongoing power cuts have placed battery back-up under strain as well.

MTN said that back-up systems generally take 12-18 hours to recharge, while batteries have a capacity of about 6-12 hours. So MTN decided to embark on the crowd-sourcing initiative to find additional alternative energy sources.

"Consistent theft and vandalism of the batteries places another drag on the system, so additional generation capacity also provides a short-term solution to limit the downtime when batteries are being replaced or repaired," the telco explained.

In addition to the battery rollout, MTN has also deployed over 2,000 generators to counter the impact of load shedding.

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*Top image source: Image by jannoon028 on Freepik.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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