Councillor Lorenzo Arendse, Mayoral Committee Member for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture at Drakenstein Municipality opening the launch event.

Drakenstein Municipality in the Western Cape province of South Africa has become the first municipality in Africa and South Africa, and the third in the world to implement specific, cutting-edge green electricity technology. It has adopted Schneider Electric’s green RM AirSeT air-powered ring main unit, which will reduce the Municipality’s carbon footprint by using pure air instead of SF6 gas.

This RM AirSeT project, which also brings significant digital connectivity and safety benefits, was launched in Paarl outside Cape Town on Thursday, 14 September 2023. While the Municipality’s previous electricity communication network system only allowed for radio frequency communication, the latest upgrades will communicate through wireless ethernet or fibre.

“We are extremely proud and excited to embark on this journey with Schneider Electric,” says Alderman Conrad Poole, Executive Mayor of Drakenstein Municipality. “Sustainability is in the DNA of our organisation and our community, and this project is a perfect fit for our sustainability vision and best practices. It underscores our ongoing commitment to excellent service delivery, while ensuring a sustainable future and protected environment for the coming generations of Drakenstein.

“This project comes at a time when South Africa faces immense energy challenges. Being an early adopter of this pioneering technology will enable us to share lessons learnt with our peers. As the largest Western Cape municipality (outside Cape Town), and one of the most financially sound, well-governed and stable municipalities in South Africa, we are honoured to now also be leading by example in this regard,” says Alderman Poole.

“Drakenstein Municipality is undoubtedly leading the way in establishing a modern, digitised infrastructure that enables it to remotely monitor equipment like the RM AirSeT switchgear which in turn allows for expanded network visibility, as well as preventative and proactive maintenance and problem solving,” explains Vladimir Milovanovic, Vice President: Power Systems for Schneider Electric Anglophone Africa.

Vladimir Milovanovic, Vice President, Power Systems at Schneider Electric Anglophone Africa presenting at the launch event.

“Furthermore, by implementing green technology such as our SF6-free switchgear, the Municipality is undoubtedly showing its commitment to mitigating its environmental footprint whilst benefiting from improved operational performance and efficiency.”

Drakenstein Municipality is also partnering with global energy management leader, Schneider Electric, and system integration partner, Altek, to implement a groundbreaking electrical monitoring system, further benefiting the area’s residents and businesses by improving service delivery. This collaboration will enable the Municipality to find and fix electrical problems faster and maintain and safeguard equipment better.

The Municipality, serving a population of 305 281, will gradually replace its current monitoring system with Schneider Electric’s ETAP system, incorporating a range of features that will revolutionise how Drakenstein Municipality manages its electrical infrastructure. Three of the Municipality’s altogether 36 substations are already online; in the 2023/24 financial year eight more substations will be brought online.

Jerome Micheli, Global Launch Manager, Power Systems at Schneider Electric presenting at the launch event.

“This is the part that makes me really excited,” says Alderman Poole. “The beauty of it is that Drakenstein Municipality can now guarantee our residents and businesses less downtime. Our community, as the rest of South Africa, is loadshedding fatigued. Not only does Eskom loadshedding mean hours of inconvenient outages, but it also creates a breeding ground for criminals to steal cables and damage infrastructure. In addition, it puts tremendous pressure on our sanitation, water, and electricity infrastructure. Smart technology to assist us in dealing with these challenges could not have come at a more opportune time. With this added tool in our management toolbox, we can now raise the service delivery bar even higher.”

The fact that Drakenstein Municipality already had a solid fibre communication network in place made it more than ready for this new technology. “The new ETAP system integrates well with our geographic mapping system and offers many exciting features, such as real-time insights into the power grid. This will enable us to swiftly pinpoint the precise areas affected by power outages, which will drastically cut down on fault finding and repair times, as well as man hours. What is more, is that ETAP allows remote monitoring on various devices,” says Leon Laing, Manager: Planning and Customer Services at the Electro-Technical Engineering division of Drakenstein Municipality.

“Another significant feature of ETAP includes technology-driven preventative maintenance of equipment, which will better safeguard our infrastructure through a heat-triggered alarm system. This is made possible by digital twin technology that uses historical and current data to simulate maintenance and upgrades to the system. This will ensure that when we perform maintenance, no unnecessary unplanned system tripping will occur,” explains Herman Rossouw, Senior Engineering Technician at the Municipality.

The Executive Mayor concludes: “Drakenstein Municipality has taken a forward-looking approach to invest in this kind of sustainable and digital technology right now, as we believe this is what South Africa needs at this point in time, for social governance. We need this shift in local government. In my opinion, it’s a trail-blazing move.”

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Lesedi Mabitla, Product Application Engineer at Schneider Electric presenting at the launch event.