New South African electricity crisis raises alarm bells

South African municipalities are struggling with overloaded and crumbling distribution infrastructure, causing power outages despite Eskom’s load-shedding reprieve.

Thanks to Eskom’s improved performance and lower demand, South Africa has experienced nearly three months without load-shedding.

However, many businesses and households across South Africa continue to suffer power cuts because of distribution problems.

The reason is that the municipal distribution networks have not been maintained and upgraded to cope with increased demand.

Johannesburg’s City Power recently announced it had begun implementing load reduction in parts of the city due to overloaded equipment.

It had previously warned South Africa’s economic hub residents that it would begin cutting off electricity if they did not reduce their consumption.

As South Africa has been plunged into a spell of cold weather, electricity demand has increased, putting pressure on local infrastructure.

City Power said it had seen a 65% increase in the average evening peak load in some areas.

While Eskom has been able to meet this increased demand in winter, distribution infrastructure has begun breaking under the load.

City Power is the first utility to resort to load reduction, but it will not be the last, as other areas of the country face similar challenges.

“Our network is now at critical levels due to continuous demand, which is higher than the electricity equipment can withstand, City Power said.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland said load reduction protects overwhelmed distribution infrastructure from total collapse.

Yelland said this drastic measure is needed because municipalities did not perform the necessary upgrades in line with population growth.

He added that the poor financial state of most municipalities in South Africa is aggravating the problem as they do not allocate enough funds for upgrades and maintenance.

The problem lies with municipalities, which are not attending to population growth and electricity theft and not investing in new and upgraded infrastructure.

Many municipalities cannot pay Eskom for the electricity it provides, placing it under increasing financial pressure.

“This points to a completely dysfunctional electricity distribution sector. I do not see sufficient attention given to the reforms needed,” Yelland said.

Eskom warns about network collapse


This week, Eskom said it had replaced 400 transformers damaged by network overloading since the start of the year, with most issues stemming from electricity theft.

Roughly 2,500 transformers nationwide are frequently overloaded and are at risk of failing. Just under 1,000 transformers are isolated and awaiting replacement.

“Overloaded transformers due to electricity theft present a serious risk to human life,” said Agnes Mlambo, Eskom’s acting group executive for distribution.

“The time, funds and manpower used to replace these transformers could have been utilised to improve the reliability of our network,” Mlambo said.

Eskom explained that electricity theft is a wide-ranging issue which affects many areas around the country.

It includes illegal connections, network equipment theft, vandalism, meter bypassing and tampering, unauthorised network operations, and illicit electricity sales.

“A transformer damaged by overloading can leave an area without power for up to six months,” Mlambo added.

The power utility has launched its “Save Your Transformers, Save Lives” campaign to encourage users to reduce consumption and ensure that their connections are legal and paid for.

It also hopes the campaign will encourage South African residents to report illegal activities.


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