Erratic power supply throughout many parts of Gauteng will continue during the coming cold winter days until smart meters have been installed in all households.
And the installation of smart meters and bigger substations with increased capacity would take anything between “three to five years”, said Khulu Phasiwe, spokesperson for power utility Eskom.
He added that the bigger substations would have more capacity and reduce overloading of the system. Crucially, they are made in a way that “residents cannot fiddle or tamper with them, and connect illegally”.
The new installations have been completed in some parts of Soweto, Sandton and Midrand.
“We have seen very few illegal connections and less unrest where we have installed smart meters. Because of that, we feel it is very critical to migrate everyone,” Phasiwe added.
Icy and wintry weather conditions across Gauteng this week exerted pressure on numerous electricity substations, causing them to trip and leaving hundreds of thousands in the dark amid rising fears that load shedding has returned.
In Dube and Zola, residents went on the rampage, looting businesses and damaging property. They plundered a KFC branch, a bakery, Pep Stores branch, and damaged Jozi FM’s studios.
In Zola, they closed streets and damaged vehicles, accusing Eskom of “unplanned load shedding”.
Phasiwe said the utility had not had load shedding in more than 10 months “and we don’t plan to have it”.
“We had a situation where people were damaging property. When you have people connecting illegally, they know that the substation will be overloaded and subsequently trip. So they opened substations and fiddled with them.
Many fiddled with the switch that is meant to trip when the system is overloaded to prevent them from tripping and, in some cases, the substations exploded,” Phasiwe said.
“For now, we are back to normal, but if [the weather] gets too cold again, we will have problems.”
He said Soweto particularly was experiencing serious problems because many families have since extended their houses and built back rooms.
“But many of their meters were not designed to cope with electricity demands for the back rooms. Those meters need to be changed to accommodate a higher voltage.”
The areas that were affected in Soweto include Mofolo South and North, Mapetla, Zondi, Dube, Meadowlands and some parts of Zola. Illegal connections, power and cable theft cost Eskom about R2 billion every year in repairs.
“Illegal connections are a problem, not only for Eskom but for municipalities,” Phasiwe said.
City Power’s managing director, Sicelo Xulu, said the City of Joburg had problems in Lenasia, Eldorado Park, Vlakfontein, Klipspruit West and Zandspruit.
“It is because there are back yard, illegal connections and the network takes a strain. Once we had dealt with the illegal connections, we were able to restore the power and normalise the infrastructure.
“In Honeydew we had a cable-theft [situation] and in Florida we had technical faults, but power has since been restored,” he said on Friday.
He said the city was losing about R900 million annually as a result of illegal connections, electricity theft and cable theft. He encouraged residents to use power sparingly and also use proper heating equipment.
Councillor Timothy Truluck of Ward 117 in Johannesburg, said areas such as Rosebank, Hyde Park, Dunkeld, Parkhurst and Saxonwold all experienced technical glitches: “Our problem is probably a bit different.
We don’t have illegal connections. It was technical glitches caused by old and failing infrastructure,” he said.
Cable theft caused outages in Benoni, Thokoza and Palmridge, said Ekurhuleni spokesperson Zweli Dlamini.
Mamelodi in Tshwane also had blackouts.
Spokesperson Lindela Mashigo said authorities were connecting some areas to the grid and had overloaded the system. She said the problem would be sorted out in two weeks’ time.