South Africans should expect more power cuts, as the distribution grid will gradually collapse from 2015 unless a maintenance backlog is addressed, an expert said on Thursday.
"We are three years away from collapse," Deon Louw, the deputy director of electro-technical services in Overstrand municipality, Western Cape, told MPs.
"It is going to collapse in stages, as some parts are older than others. We will see power failures."
Louw told public hearings on the electricity distribution industry --hosted by Parliament's portfolio committee on energy -- that the lifespan of a distribution network was 50 years, and said the various components of South Africa's had an average age of 47 years.
He said power failures were often wrongly blamed on Eskom's generation capacity, when in fact the fault lay with ageing distribution infrastructure.
Two days of hearings have seen experts reiterate warning that the country faced a R35 billion backlog in distribution maintenance, of which R10 billion was needed on the Eskom network, while the rest referred to municipal networks.
But Louw said municipalities often "stole" from their maintenance funds to cover other unforeseen expenses, such as higher than expected public service salary increases.
"That is often the one area where they can reduce expenditure."
Louw said at the moment R3.5 billion was spent annually on maintenance, but the figure needed to increase to R6.5 billion.
The hearings have heard calls for maintenance funding to be ringfenced, which can only be done through legislation, and for a one percent levy to be charged on distribution.