Cold snap leaves Eskom snowed under
The power utility cancelled a media briefing on their annual electricity safety week on Wednesday, citing the need to concentrate on restoring capacity to affected areas of the country.
"Transmission and distribution points have been severely affected by the inclement weather," Eskom spokesperson Hilary Joffe told the Mail & Guardian, in reference to the bitterly cold snap that on Tuesday left a huge swathe of the country – including Johannesburg – covered in snow.
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Early on Wednesday morning, the national power utility dispatched helicopters filled with engineers to parts of KwaZulu-Natal in an effort to assess and repair five transmission lines that had interrupted the electricity supply to parts of the province
It is estimated that over 70 000 people were affected in parts of Durban, the Midlands and southern KwaZulu-Natal.
Technicians are also attending to problems experienced with local distribution points across the Transkei in the Eastern Cape.
Parts of Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg, were also in darkness on Tuesday night after transmission line circuits malfunctioned.
"At this stage 95% supply has been restored to affected areas and we will be back to full power by midday," City Power spokesperson Louis Pieterse told the M&G.
"We can't pinpoint the problem at this stage but it could be related to the bad weather."
Eskom said that while capacity had been tight throughout winter, this is the first major problem it had experienced.
"If it weren't for the mitigation processes we already have in place it could be far worse. We build networks to factor in risks such as this, but severe weather cannot always be factored in," Joffe added.
Last night's evening power usage peaked at 35 800 MW, close to the highest experienced this year to date.
The available generation for this evening is pegged at roughly 37 000 MW.
But Joffe said Eskom expected no further issues in the coming days.
"At a national level, Eskom has met demand for electricity, which has increased in response to the cold weather and there is sufficient generation capacity to do so over the weekend," she said.
The power utility encouraged South Africans to be stingy with their power usage.
"We're coming to the end of winter but that doesn't mean we are out of the woods – people need to continue using power sparingly. We still have a few difficult years ahead of us," Joffe said.
Meanwhile, the South African Weather Service is predicting the cold weather will continue over coming days, as the country reportedly experienced snowfall in all nine provinces for the first time ever on Tuesday.
In Johannesburg, snow was lying up to 20cm deep in some areas, while Golden Gate in the Free State got the most snow in six years.
In the Western Cape, snow fell on mountains in the Boland as well as in towns like Richmond and Touws River while snow was lying thick on the Matroosberg in Ceres.
In Bethlehem, snow was up to 70cm deep and schools were closed due to the weather. There was also snow in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, while light snow fell in the North West.
Traffic routes have been severely affected by the weather.
The N3 has been closed southwards from Wilge Toll plaza until further notice, and vehicles on the route have been snowed in near Mooi River.
Motorists have been urged not to travel long distances until the weather improves.
The South African National Defence force has also been put on standby to assist with evacuations and assist those affected by the cold where necessary.