Eskom reluctantly resumes load reduction as electricity theft soars with impunity

An Eskom branded flag, right, flies alongside the South African national flag outside the headquarters for Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., South Africa’s state-owned electricity utility at Megawatt Park in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

An Eskom branded flag, right, flies alongside the South African national flag outside the headquarters for Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., South Africa’s state-owned electricity utility at Megawatt Park in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Published Jul 9, 2024


Eskom announced on Tuesday that it would resume load reduction.

Load shedding remains suspended to protect human life as a result of electricity theft.

Load reduction is a long-established process it uses in specific areas when there is sufficient electricity available, but a transformer’s integrity is at risk due to overloading. Load shedding is used when the national grid is constrained and there is not sufficient capacity to generate electricity to meet demand. It is a proactive measure that Eskom uses to protect human life, equipment worth millions of rands and people’s livelihoods.

The power utility had suspended load shedding for 104 consecutive days with sufficient generation capacity to supply electricity to the country.

The issue of network overloading has resurfaced with the onset of winter. Eskom said this issue is prevalent in the Eskom supply areas of Limpopo, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, and North-West.

About 94% of the total overloaded transformers are in these areas as a result of electricity theft and indiscriminate use of electricity.

Despite continued public information campaigns to customers about the implications of electricity theft activities, Eskom said it has no other option but to implement load reduction to protect its assets from repeated failures and explosions, which pose a risk to human lives.

The electricity theft activities are wide-ranging and includes illegal connections, network equipment theft, vandalism, meter bypasses and tampering, unauthorised network operations and purchasing electricity from illegal vendors.

“Overloaded transformers as a result of electricity theft present a serious risk to human life, we only implement load reduction as a very last resort for the shortest periods possible after all other options have been exhausted,” said Monde Bala, group executive for Eskom distribution.

“A transformer damaged by overloading can leave an area without power for up to six months, protecting Eskom’s assets is in the best interest of all South Africans,” said Bala.

Eskom said overloading of the transformers is recorded mainly during peak hours around 5am and 7am in the morning and 5pm to 7pm in the evening.

In the areas where load reduction has been implemented in the past, Eskom said it has seen a significant reduction in equipment failure and prolonged outages.

In areas where load reduction will be implemented, the relevant cluster or province will communicate with affected customers through the normal channels including SMS and Customer Connect newsletters.

There are people who are without electricity in parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and the power utility has promised to attend to the outages.

In Soweto, there are power outages in Central Western Jabavu, Emndeni, Klipspruit, Jabulani, Pimville, White City Jabavu, and Zondi, and some parts of Soshanguve in Tshwane.

The recent storm in Margate, KZN, has caused significant damage to the Eskom network resulting in widespread power outages.

Eskom apologised for any inconvenience caused.

“We are assessing the extent of the damages and will keep customers updated once all information is assessed. Residents are advised to treat all installations as live.”

Energy expert Chris Yelland told The Star on Tuesday that for the time being, citizens should be happy load shedding has not been there for over 100 days.

“We should be grateful, Eskom has put in a lot of work and has achieved a notable reduction in unplanned breakdowns as well as an increase in maintenance and this has improved the energy availability factor. Eskom has played an important role but not the only role,” said Yelland.

“The weak economy at the moment, the fact that the price of electricity is rising rapidly which has caused demand to shift away from Eskom electricity to alternative sources of electricity for cooking, heating and geysers. The rapid increase in prices has also made energy efficiency and demand management more important going forward as people try and use electricity more wisely and don’t waste it. All these factors coming together with the rapid uptake of renewable energy and battery energy storage both at residential, commercial industrial mining, agricultural scale as well as the public procurement of renewable energy are all making a big difference to reducing the burden on Eskom generation threat. This means less load shedding. So I think they have a handle on this, I’m not saying it all over, there is still work to be done and we need to work on this all the time.”

Yelland supports rotating manual load shedding which has come to an end. People might experience intermittent load shedding going forward but he thinks the bulk of it is not behind us.

Yelland said the entire municipal sector’s access to electricity, affordability and reliability at the distribution or local level, are all problems that need to be addressed head-on.

“The minister of electricity and energy is looking at this seriously. It’s a big issue. It impacts on Eskom’s sustainability because the municipalities owe Eskom R78 billion at the moment the debt is growing at R1bn a month or R12bn a year. This is completely unsustainable as dragging Eskom down impacts ts financial viability and its ability to do its own job.

“So no, we not going back to load shedding, but a new problem load reduction has emerged. And this is both a municipal problem, as well as an Eskom distribution problem going forward,” Yelland said.

The Star

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