Higher learning institutions' budgets strained as they spend millions to cope with load-shedding
Rolling blackouts are slowly crippling institutions of higher learning as they put a strain on their budgets.
Institutions like Wits, the University of Johannesburg (UJ), University of Pretoria (UP) and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) have confirmed to TimesLIVE that load-shedding has placed increased pressure on their operational budgets.
Deputy vice-chancellor: systems and operations at Wits Prof Ian Jandrell said the university spends millions a month running diesel generators.
“Unfortunately this expenditure takes away resources that could be used elsewhere in the university. At this stage, we are operating as usual aided by generators across all our campuses and residences. Additional redundancy measures, i.e. another layer of generators and/or uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) have been deployed for critical areas and equipment such as the ICT infrastructure, research facilities and dining hall kitchens to further minimise the disruptions” said Jandrell.
Jandrell said the university is also assessing options to provide for large capacity venues which can be dedicated as student study and learning areas where backup power is prioritised and network connectivity will be available.
He said these efforts come at an enormous operational cost for diesel and gas, maintenance and repairs, and support staff.
UJ spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said UJ’s budget had been increased to accommodate alternative power supply during power cuts.
The water supply has also been affected, due to constraints from Joburg Water partially as a result of load-shedding, he said.
The University of Pretoria said the cost of diesel to run generators at its campuses and residences was about R1.5m a day during stage 3 load-shedding, R2m a day on stage 4 and almost R3m during stage 6.
TUT spokesperson Phaphama Tshisikhawe said the price of diesel over the last year has added to the institution's consumable budget strain.
She said the institution has budgeted R15m for the 2023 academic year for diesel for standby generators.
Tshisikhawe said this amount is up from R2m in 2021.
“For a university operating over a number of provinces, the combination of these means serious budget review. Can we sustain it? A question of time.”
Like other institutions, Tshisikhawe said load-shedding has increased the university's budget.
“Increase in both consumables ( increased diesel consumption), and capital budgets (more generators to obtain wider coverage). In cases where the university does not have standby generators for certain critical events or venues, the university rents standby generators. This also increases costs.”
She said solar is being seriously considered as a mitigating source.
Jandrell said the university is working to improve its operational efficiency and reduce its consumption by deploying more energy-efficient equipment, and alternative generation technologies such as renewables (photovoltaics and solar thermal) and “co/tri generation” gas-based systems.
“In the coming weeks, Wits University will roll out an awareness campaign to promote responsible use of electricity and water on campus aimed at staff and students. This is part of the broader sustainability strategy to ensure we reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to a better world. The national energy crisis and climate change disaster calls on every one of us to use our resources wisely and reduce unnecessary consumption,” he said.
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