Keeping the Lights on at the World Cup

on October 09, 2013 at 4:30 PM

Netherlands v Spain: 2010 FIFA World Cup Final

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup less than a year away, Brazil is rapidly preparing its power grid to support the millions of visitors that will travel to the country for the event. Many of the transmission and distribution infrastructure challenges that Brazil is currently addressing were similar to the issues South Africa confronted during its preparation for the 2010 World Cup.

With the exception of the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994, the 2010 FIFA World Cup (FWC) was arguably the most important event in the evolving history of South Africa. Although it was termed an African World Cup, the spotlight was on South Africa to deliver a successful event that would position the nation and shape perceptions about the continent . Eskom, the country’s state-owned utility, played a vital role in “keeping the lights on” throughout the duration of both the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2010 FWC.

Ahead of the World Cup, South Africa was still grappling with electricity shortages that had prompted rolling blackouts in 2008. There were questions and worries as to Eskom’s ability to supply electricity during the FWC, as power outages would severely damage South Africa’s success in hosting the event. Eskom, which supplies about 95% of South Africa’s power, began preparations for the FWC in 2007 to ensure all the risks were addressed and uninterrupted electricity supply was provided during the event. The initiative was coined the Eskom 2010 Mega-Watt (Eskom 2010 MW) project.

Eskom 2010 MW

This initiative was to be rolled out in a period where challenges facing Eskom were – and continue to be – keeping the lights on, investing in new sources of power generation, financial sustainability, public confidence in Eskom and the system, electrical distribution industry restructuring and climate change.

Eskom successfully managed electricity demand throughout the FWC, which hit a peak load of  36,705 MW, supplying reliable and uninterrupted power to all 64 FWC matches, host cities and key 2010 FWC sites (fan parks, public viewing areas, training venues, etc.) There were zero generation- or security-related outages during the 2010 FWC.

The company also conceptualised, tested and successfully operated one national and nine regional situational awareness centres that served as the intelligence gathering and information co-ordination hubs, allowing Eskom to manage proactively the various issues pertaining to electricity delivery for the FWC.

On 12 July 2010, while the Spanish team was returning home as world champions and South Africans were basking in having delivered one of the safest, most successful and most memorable FIFA World Cup Tournaments ever, the lights continued to burn as brightly as ever.

All Eyes on Brazil

As another emerging economy, Brazil faces similar challenges in preparing for the 2014 FWC that South Africa faced at the launch of the Eskom 2010 MW project. Eskom has highlighted key learnings to stakeholders in Brazil responsible for preparing its power grid for their upcoming event:

Tackle the project in small steps: Auditing a country’s entire power grid, identifying gaps and developing strategies for addressing these gaps can be a daunting task. I worked with my team to develop several well-defined workstreams (i.e. technical, communications and employee engagement) aimed at solving single issues, rather than massive ones. We also rolled the programme out in four phases that had specific, quantified goals attached to them.

Partner with key stakeholders: Eskom would have never been able to achieve what it did during those three years without the partnership of regional and national organizations. Nine collaborative “electricity task teams” were established for all 2010 host cities, including Ekurhuleni (OR Tambo International Airport). Task Teams consisted of representatives of Eskom, municipalities, government officials and host city units. Together with the Association for Municipal Undertakings (AMEU), Eskom also established the 2010 Electricity Supply Industry (ESI) Forum as a monthly information sharing and collaboration point between the various municipalities, host cities, local organizing committees and Eskom. This enabled our team to evaluate progress being made regularly so that it could be shared with the public and other key stakeholders.

Message to the public simply, clearly and consistently: The public – both domestic and foreign – had its doubts that Eskom could achieve its power supply goals. Given this climate, Eskom made a point of regularly communicating status updates externally. Updates were factually-based and we were very careful not to overstate our progress. The communication team, within the larger project team, focused on marketing, communication and stakeholder relationships, with a dedicated resource focusing on crisis communication and reputation management. The team worked together in ensuring all communication across the country was aligned.

Inspire confidence from within: At the end of the day, our success was driven by our employees deployed in key regions across the country. It was important to first convince them that Eskom could achieve such ambitious goals in order to convince South Africans and the world of our capabilities. During the planning stage, I spent many months traveling around the country to meet with the local teams and gather a complete understanding of the challenges they were up against. By identifying key role players/employees that had strong leadership skills, we were able to affectively inspire our employees to push through to the end and deliver a spectacular event to the world.

Sanjay Bhana was the Country Project Manager of the Eskom 2010 MW Project and is currently working as a strategic advisor in Eskom’s organization strategy unit.