People's Post

Long-term solutions to load shedding woes at popular Cape Town mall ‘months off’

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Residents frequenting Cavendish Square in Claremont are getting hot under the collar, and not just because there is no air-con running at the premium shopping destination during loadshedding.

In a Facebook message posted to the Lynfrae Community Group in December last year, Brigitta Huggett wrote that the shopping centre’s attitude to loadshedding was unacceptable.

“We need to vote with our feet. The poor shop owners, and we shoppers. This is their busiest time of the year. No generators for those paying rent. Only a few (stores) have lights on – others are in the dark or close up shop,” Huggett wrote.

In the 43 comments that followed, it was clear that many of the group’s members supported Huggett’s outcry with the words “shocking” and “terrible” used to describe the absence of in-store lights, credit card pay-points and computerised access at many of the centre’s tenants.

There was also quite a bit of speculation as to what load shedding measures were, or weren’t, in place at the centre.

Posing these questions to the Cavendish Centre management team, People’s Post was told that the shopping centre had experienced an extremely difficult three years with Covid “and now relentless power load shedding”.

Assuring People’s Post that there were both short- and long-term projects underway to alleviate the pressure of ongoing load shedding, they added: “We are, however, living in unprecedented times and we are all navigating stormy seas.”

At present, the centre accommodates 198 tenants in total. According to the centre’s management team, “quite a few tenants do have access to emergency power”.

“It’s a combination of being connected to their own generators, the mall’s generators or an internal UPS/inverter battery back-up system,” their statement read.

Although the centre does have a large (1-megawatt peak) solar power plant, it is grid-tied which means that when municipal power goes out, this system must be shut down for safety reasons.

That leaves six large generators that serve as the centre’s main backup power which feed mall areas such as common area lights, toilets, and other life-safety (such as fire systems, evacuation and smoke ventilation systems) and critical infrastructure systems.

These generators also keep the lifts moving between the centre’s multiple floors.

“All passenger lifts do operate during load shedding. During the period that we expect load shedding to start or stop, we prepare for a change-over period. During this period, we switch the lifts off. This is a very awkward time as we can’t accurately predict when the change-over happens. We do this to prevent occupied stops. We can’t risk customers getting stuck in lifts when loadshedding stops and starts.”

Escalators (and air conditioning systems), however, shut down during loadshedding.

“The power requirements for escalators are considerable and we do not have the capacity to operate these on generator power at this point.”

As far as connecting tenants to the centre’s generators, the centre’s management team said they have contracted up as many tenants as they can “and have reached capacity”.

“Since the start of last year, we have connected up close to 60+ tenants on our generators. 

“There is a cost to be added to the generator as it includes installing additional cabling and certain (often extensive) electrical works. 

“In addition, there is the operating cost of diesel and maintenance of generators.”

They also list the building’s age under the challenges being faced.

“The building is 50 years old at its core and was never designed to run for long periods on generator power. It has multiple feeds and requires a complex alternative power solution. 

“We increased capacity this year by adding an additional generator but we need more. Plans are in place to do so, but it’s a long-term solution. It will be months off before we can increase generator capacity.”

The centre is also in the process of installing more solar power on one of their adjacent roofs, “but again it can’t fully support the centre”, centre management said.

In the meantime, smaller tenants are being urged to explore the option of inverters and battery back-up;

“For tenants that simply have a few LED lights and a point-of-sale system, this will be the obvious solution. We are working with some of the large power user tenants to get their own smaller generators or assist them when we have increased our capacity.”

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