In the Berg River Valley, along the aptly named Broodkraal feeder line around twenty farms, which include black economic empowerment (BEE) farms, growing a mix of table grapes, wheat and wine, have embarked on an experiment: in exchange for lowering their electricity usage when Eskom asks them to, they do not get loadshedding (power cuts).
It is called load curtailment, at a time when South Africans experience power cuts for close to half the day.
“We applied load curtailment for the first time last year during January and February. It worked well, and we again applied for load curtailment this February, which is our hottest month,” explains Eurica Scholtz, chairperson of the Berg River Table Grape Producers Association and director on the board of the South African Table Grape Industry (SATI).
Two years ago when loadshedding intensified, SATI approached Eskom, South Africa’s state electricity supplier, with Eurica as part of the negotiations. She was, she says, fortunate to meet Eskom’s marketing operations manager in Cape Town, Lodine Redelinghuys.
“We discussed how we could move forward from loadshedding and she explained the system to me: load curtailment is only possible on electrical lines with a user mix of 80% agricultural, 20% residential.”
Eurica combed through all of the feeder lines in the Berg River Valley looking for suitable candidates but only the Broodkraal line fulfilled the 80:20 requirement.
“Lodine has gone out of her way to help us. Eskom is also under tremendous pressure. We have tried to combine Eskom’s interests and the farmers’ interests and challenges in the pilot study.”
A portion of the Broodkraal feeder line near Piketberg
Full cooperation from diverse group of farmers
Eurica compiled a matrix of all the machines requiring large amounts of electricity on each farm and she coordinates the different farms’ electricity usage during the times that they need to collectively lessen their usage.
She remarks that most farms don’t have a meterage system connected to an app, which makes it more difficult to calculate the exact amount dropped by each farm, but Eskom gives them feedback on how close they’ve come to their targets.
“I myself was a grape farmer, I know exactly through what difficulties farmers are going but I have to say, they are all cooperating unbelievably well. What works wonderfully well are those with solar panels, their grid-tied systems can now continue without disruption.”
She continues: “If it’s successful we could undertake to have lower usage over coming months to maintain the relationship. We’re still negotiating how we could take this further over coming months
There are a number of small communities on this line that also benefit from no loadshedding (they’re not expected to reduce their usage). Unfortunately, the large grape cold rooms in the area are not located on this line and therefore still depend on diesel generators. One of the farms, Lac du Soleil, not on this Feeder has a more permanent solution by packing grapes in the vineyards, which seems to be the more productive option.
“It has been really wonderful to see how farmers cooperate across crop types and across cultures. Theoretically other farming communities elsewhere in the country could follow this same principle, but it has taken us many hours of homework and a spirit of complete cooperation to get to this point.”
Bergrivier Table Grape Producer Association
Tel: +27 82 9530185