This is why we can’t have nice essential things. According to Eskom’s September 2020 interim reports hailing from the hard-lockdown era, a total of 3.513GWh’s worth of electricity was stolen from South Africa’s embattled power utility in just six months.
Following a few quick calculations, that equates to 3% of the total electricity consumed throughout that period. At R1.41 per kWh (cost per unit in areas where power theft is a problem), that accumulates to a whopping R4.95 billion — money that could have filled a small hole in Eskom’s production schedule.
Eskom vs the People’s electricity
Of course, illegal connections aren’t new. As early as 2013, Leandi Kolver (Engineering News) reported that “33.5% of households in formal rural areas and 17.3% of households in tribal areas did not have access to mains electricity.” That means, at least some of these communities were connecting to illegal power sources to access electric appliances.
While illegal connections are problematic and can cause major damage to the country’s power infrastructure, the biggest blow is inevitably dealt to Eskom. The power utility revealed that there was a backlog of 455 transformers and mini substations that must be replaced in 2020. Most of these have been damaged due to illegal connections and vandalism.
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Now, areas prone to illegal connections are suffering a load reduction — which is different to load shedding. Load reduction generally happens between 05:00 and 09:00, or 17:00 to 21:00 in the evening.
The only course of action following findings like these, would be to sniff out and disconnect all illegal connections, and make sure they don’t happen again. But considering Eskom barely has the forces to keep its hardware maintained and functioning across the nation, that’s a big ask.