Energy & Environment

Sunday, 24 July 2011 22:27

Gautrain slowing progress elsewhere

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A shortage of low-bed heavy transport, cranes, the alarming rate of cable theft and a lack of skilled electricians has lead to a backlog in the installation and maintenance of vital electricity substations leaving many urban areas in the dark, in spite of efforts by Eskom to remedy the situation.
Cable theft in South Africa is booming mainly due to a sudden spike in international demand for scrap copper and aluminium. This in turn has led to an increase of up to R60 per kilogram in the local scrap copper price and R35 per kilogram for aluminium.

Earth wire in substations and transformers have a high copper content, and are now regularly targeted by organised crime syndicates creating a loss of at least R25 million to Eskom annually.

“It is a challenge to meet the ever increasing demand for new substations and transformers, coupled with the need to headhunt artisans sufficiently skilled in maintenance and installation,” says Sydney Mabalayo, Director of Southern Power Maintenance (SPM), one of South Africa’s leading suppliers of power transformers and related electrical infrastructure.

Whilst Gauteng is fast developing from all angles, it is projects such as the Gautrain and the 2010 World Cup are inadvertently slowing down progress elsewhere. This is highlighted by the scarcity of cranes and drivers to man them.

“A substantial number of cranes in the province are presently being used continuously by both the Gautrain construction and the 2010 Stadium, leaving us battling to find cranes in order to replace substations and transformers swiftly,” adds Mabalayo.

Gautrains initial works program, which kicked off in May, also includes the relocation of infrastructure such as water, sewerage, electricity and telephone lines adding additional pressure for cranes, building and electrical equipment.

“Companies such as SPM may be forced to purchase their own equipment in order to provide fast and efficient service, especially when it comes to replacing transformers or installing new ones in substations,” continues Mabalayo.

The booming building industry is also facing a severe shortage of trained artisans, affecting companies in the business to the point that jobs need to be scheduled around the availability of trained employees.

“We are headhunting artisans in order to be in a position to deal with the increase in electricity substation upgrade and construction activities, and are experiencing an alarming shortage of trained electricians able to do the work. The building industry is booming and therefore skilled workers are snapped up as soon as they are available,” says Mabalayo, adding that there is an urgent need to initiate more training programs for artisans.

Skills development dominated the agenda of President Thabo Mbeki's meeting with local business leaders in Cape Town identifying it as a key focus area for business, with research showing that South African companies are generally spending about 4.7% of their payrolls on training, including the one percent already going to the skills development levy.

The training of artisans was highlighted as an urgent need in light of the construction boom during the meeting.

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