Electricity-theft-meter-tampering-1-photo-by-Eskom
Meter tampering in informal settlements is done to avoid the payment of electricity. Pic credit: Eskom

Last week, South African parastatal Eskom, said that the recent power outages in the Gauteng region are the result of illegal connections and non-payment, which has placed unnecessary pressure on the local network.

The power utility explained: “The network overloads because too many people are trying to use a network which is designed for one household per stand.

“Also, customers who are not paying for their electricity tend to be wasteful in the way they use it,” the company explained.

Non-compliance of the system results in power outages

The utility added: “Eskom installs fuses or Circuit Breakers that switch off when the load gets to dangerous levels, thus preventing the transformer from exploding. Sometimes residents bypass these safety features and the transformer does explode.”

Such activity is not only dangerous, but it may take hours or days to repair the damaged transformers.

The power company stressed that it is concerned about the safety of the communities, which may be at risk due to the escalating number of illegal connections, meter bypassing or tampering (electricity theft) and vandalism to electricity infrastructure.

Illegal connections

With a high regard for safety, Eskom highlighted: “Every year, innocent lives are lost as a consequence of the unsafe use of electricity, particularly in the form of illegal connections.  We believe that one injury or fatality as a result of the unsafe use of electricity is one too many.

“We have identified that the biggest contributors to electrical accidents, injuries, and fatalities are contact with low-hanging conductors, unsafe connections, vandalism, illegal power connections and cable theft.

“Residents and businesses regularly connect to the Eskom network illegally, and not only is this dangerous for the individual making the connection, but it also puts the rest of the community at risk.  In addition, illegal connections and electricity theft cause unnecessary power failures/outages that overstretch our resources slowing down our service delivery to legal power users. Eskom has found that most people understand that connecting illegally can be dangerous, but they continue to use illegal connections.”

The company added: “Due to the fact that illegal users believe that they are getting ‘free electricity’ there is no incentive for them to use electricity responsibly and efficiently. This leads to overloading and instability of the electricity network, especially during peak times.

“Eskom wants to remind all South Africans that, although electricity is an essential part of life, it can be dangerous if not used correctly. Remember that only Eskom employees and authorised contractors can work on networks, meters and substations.”

Minister Brown highlights concern

In response to these illegal activities, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown on Wednesday criticised the continued use of illegal connections which over the past few days have led to massive power outages in Soweto and other parts of Gauteng, SANews reported in a statement.

The minister noted that Eskom has not implemented load shedding for 10 months, except for 2 hours and 20 minutes during this period.

“Eskom will inform its customers, including municipalities and the general public, before it implements load shedding. The network overloads because too many people are trying to use a network which is designed for one household per stand. Also, customers who are not paying for their electricity tend to be wasteful in the way they use it,” she said adding that the utility had informed her that there are areas that have smart meters in Soweto, which are unlikely to have overloading.

Brown said: “So there is a need to accelerate smart metre deployment and for the communities to support this programme as it improves the quality of their supply and ensures safety.”

The Minister said illegal connections as well as electricity theft overstretch resources slowing down Eskom and the municipalities’ service delivery to legal power users.

“This also includes overloading call centres where agents handle over a thousand calls every 30 minutes.

“It is unacceptable that people are still continuing with illegal connections, while government has a free basic electricity policy to protect the indigent from high electricity prices.

“These illegal connections are putting residents and especially children at risk of being electrocuted,” explained Minister Brown.

Ensuring safety of consumers

We are doing our best to minimise incidents of faults and restoration times, however due to the nature of an electrical network, these can occur at any time.

Eskom is busy with programmes that will need the support of the community in implementing them, which would also assist in dealing with these outages.

Safety is a major concern and Eskom is asking customers to:

  • not to bypass circuit breakers in houses because this it not only dangerous but also causes trips for the bigger area supplied from the same transformer
  • not to tamper with electrical boxes
  • not to supply other customers from your house as this will overload your supply

Some tips to help reduce electricity usage:

  • Switch off geysers during the evening peak hours of 17:00 to 21:00
  • Avoid having too many appliances working at the same time such as electrical heaters and stoves (use gas if you can)
  • Use microwave cooking as it uses less energy
  • Switch off lights in rooms where there is no one
  • Only boil the amount of water you need
  • Install CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights)