The generators’ humming outside every shop sounded like a million bumble bees. Added to the noise of the traffic, it killed any chance of conversation. I had arrived in Arusha on the first stop of a long-planned trip to the famed game reserves of Tanzania. Names like Serengeti, Ngorongoro crater and Selous had beguiled us for years, but in the bad old days they were out of bounds for South Africans. At last we were here, but the run-down state of the place was a shock.
I’ve since been to a number of other African cities north of us, and it’s much the same everywhere. I stayed with a medical doctor who lives in a large luxury house in a suburb of Kampala. He’s hooked to the grid, but as it’s down most of the time, he has to generate most of his own electricity. A borehole in the garden is his source of water. A large and deep hole in the back garden is his refuse pit, and the toilets operate with septic tanks and french drains.
The last 500m of litter-strewn suburban road to his house can be travelled in a sedan car, but a 4×4 would be better, especially in wet weather. Municipal service delivery is a tough and demanding management job, and it’s always underrated by residents and government alike. Now that many municipalities are experiencing the beginnings of Kampala-style collapse, hopefully this is changing. We need our brightest and best managers and engineers in municipal jobs, otherwise Kampala, here we come!
But as a farmer, you know all about this. You’ve always had to manage your own municipal services, and how are you doing? How much time and disruption is there in your life due to your own poor service delivery, and how much is it costing you?
How often are you experiencing power outages due to factors under your control – trees interfering with power lines, poles rotting below ground level and falling over in the mildest storm, overloads caused by not expanding the reticulation; conductors, switches and insulators failing due to age; switchgear overheating due to ventilation hole blockages by insect nests? Let’s ask the question another way – do you have a preventative maintenance programme? If your answer is no, then you are losing plenty of money.
Well-planned and well-executed preventative maintenance will eliminate power outages due to factors under your control. I know, I’ve done it, and here’s how:
Step 1: Identify and register every piece of electrical equipment on the farm. Number each item, every transformer, each piece of switchgear, each pole and each motor.
Step 2: Prepare a detailed maintenance checklist for each item. Here are some examples of what should be on the list:
- Transformers: Excessive heat is the enemy. The cooling qualities of transformer oil deteriorate, so it needs to be regularly topped up, filtered or replaced. Silica gel colour in the breather tells you whether it’s still trapping moisture. If blue or purple, it’s okay. If white or pink, it needs replacing. Insulators deteriorate and heat up. You can measure heat with a very nifty infrared-sensitive gadget – get one.
- Switches: Insects, especially wasps, love switchgear. Use a good insecticide and remove nests. Compressed air is a great way to get them squeaky clean. Excessive heat build-up signals the impending failure of individual components – measure it.
- Reticulation: Wooden poles might look great higher up but rot below ground level. Open up the pole base below ground and check the state with a small core sampler. Use your infrared heat sensor to check all insulators and joints.
- Electric motors: Motors covered in dust and dirt don’t radiate heat to cool effectively. Keep them spotlessly clean. Dead insects cause havoc with insulation. Use compressed air to blow out all the rubbish. Bearings don’t last forever – check them for noise and/or vibration. Use the sensor to check for excessive heat at the junction box.
Step 3: Set a routine for each item on the checklists – daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, six-monthly, or annually.
Step 4: Now pull it all together in a comprehensive preventative maintenance plan. “What’s” to be done, by “whom” and “when”. Remember to include the reporting requirements and to diarise dates on which reports are to be generated.
Okay – so now you have a plan and power failures are virtually zero. Congratulations, but what about wastage? Electric motors might be clean and running smoothly, but how do you know they’re operating efficiently? What are your power factors – the measure of how efficiently they are converting electrical energy into work? What about lighting? How much electricity is wasted by using energy-inefficient globes? What’s your load factor – the measure of how efficiently you’re using installed Eskom capacity, and are you operating on the most cost-effective Eskom tariff?
Get moving on preventative maintenance and measuring power and load factors, and I guarantee your power outages, other than those caused by our unbeloved Eishkom, will be over, and your electricity bills will go south.
Peter Hughes ([email protected] or call 013 745 7303).