Can Maps Ease South Africa’s Electricity Cuts Problem?

Guest Post By David Stephen

South Africa is facing waves of unprecedented electricity cuts due to maintenance of its coal power stations. There are reports of some households having just 6 hours of electricity per day. The head of their power utility company, Eskom, recently resigned. South Africa’s neighbor, Zimbabwe also faces similar issues, with up to 19 hours of electricity cuts per day, due to low water levels for their main hydropower plant.  The experience for South Africa mirrors some countries across sub-Saharan Africa with hyper-intense energy poverty.

Can Maps Ease South Africa’s Electricity Cuts Problem?

There are power generation and distribution problems in some countries in the sub-continent resulting in hours of blackout at homes, workplaces and others.The extent of the problem in a country is sometimes masked, with varying stats and some neighborhoods having it worse than others. Looking at ways to solve the problem, with alternative energy sources and new players, it is important to expose the extent of the problem in a country, at any point.

Electricity Cuts Map

This will be a map of a country to show areas with electricity or not, at every moment. This will be similar to traffic maps for internet data and others, emanating from different locations.This is different from satellite images of a cross section of light, at night, of electricity spread in continents. This will be an actual user generated, real time data for availability and cuts.


People across the country will feed in data of electricity status from their locations, ON or OFF, via an app. The app will be used when GPS is activated and would have two basic buttons, ON and OFF. Clicking on either would send data into the server, to be visualized in a map that can be seen publicly.

The goal is to expose the extent of the problem, to governments, citizens, investors, stakeholders and so on.

There can also be a text version, where information in a particular format can be sent to a number, to then transmit it into data to be visualized. This function, for feature phones can come later, or for those with smartphones without internet connections. There can also be one for voice messages in local languages, using a format, which can be transmitted to OFF and ON.

As soon as electricity is restored somewhere, a person can go to the app, which would request that location is activated, to click ON. This can also be done anytime as long as there is electricity. The data will be verified by those around the same location who click ON. When it goes off, they can click OFF to send the data as well.

There will be a transformer, pole or cable feature on the app, so that those in places where their public electricity facilities are damaged can report it, and it goes live as well, for another segment on the map. The objective is so that what people experience is exposed, to prospect for change, which can be an incentive for most people to report things accurately.

The map can be based on any of the popular map services. It would show dark and gold, for light and blackout, with chances to zoom in to streets.

This will be a silent way to ensure that the problem is in center of priority for decision makers, so that whatever is improving or not, is noticed.

South Africa can lead with this solution, but it would far applicable, specifically in some other countries where they have been suffering hard cuts for years.

So long as there is no chat feature or social media, some governments may not be quick to crush it. Some may still do, but a few that would be opened to this accountability may find that the architecture is a useful guide towards infrastructural advance for the country.

If the app has to make money to pay for servers and up times, it is possible to allow for limited ads, in general, without tracking. There will also be a privacy policy on geodata of people not to be used for any external purpose.

South Africa has a problem that other countries in Africa have had. South Africa’s excellence is an opportunity to explore something for energy data visualization, with maps, so that there is a chance to help Africa do better, step-by-step from the new year and beyond.

David Stephen does research in theoretical neuroscience. He was a visiting scholar in medical entomology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, UIUC. He did research in computer vision at Universitat Rovira i Virgili, URV, Tarragona. He blogs on conscious experiences at

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