THE extreme cold weather experienced across South Africa has resulted in a huge increase in national electricity expenditure, power utility Eskom said on Monday.

CE Brian Dames told a business executives' meeting in Pretoria that the power consumption bill between 5pm and 9pm daily had been staggering.

"This is what has been happening in this winter. We know that we are experiencing extreme weather in the country. The big issue for us (Eskom) is about the time between 5pm and 9pm every night," he said.

"Between five o'clock and around 7.30 in the evening every night we use as much electricity as most of our neighbouring countries combined just in those few hours. In some cases it's in excess of 3000MW," Mr Dames said.

He said the substantial consumption was largely driven by the use of swimming pool pumps and electric heaters.

"We have been putting (out) specific tips focused on what's happening every night and how we can save energy. We don't need swimming pool pumps running during those hours," he said.

"Every night we are keeping all the power stations available, just to meet the highest hour at night with the highest demand. After 9pm most of the stations come down to minimum power (output) - we all go to bed," said Mr Dames.

"We think as a country we should consider changing our working hours. We may offer companies special fees and rates to use electricity from about 10 at night to four o'clock in the morning," he said.

Mr Dames said the power utility had been well prepared for the emergencies during the snow and severe storms in parts of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and Free State.

"We prepared so well for that. Eskom people were deployed to the remote parts of the country in helicopters and vehicles for the first time. When the roads were snowed (under), our people were there already," he said.

Eskom's preparedness ensured minimal disruption of electricity in the communities affected by snow and storms, said Mr Dames.

However, he lamented the illegal connections to the power grid, which he said were rampant in the townships, and the theft of cables.

"We do have a challenge in our townships. Most of our communities who experienced not having power in winter . it had to do with illegal power connections. These connections overload our network so we cannot meet the supply due to uncontrolled demand," he said.

Mr Dames said there had been a steady decline in electricity usage for the first half of this year, compared with 2011.

"Year on year, we have had a seen a negative electricity growth of 3%."

Dames said South Africa had not had enforced power shutdowns caused by a shortage of electricity since April 2008.

"We have had adequate power in the country and demand has been met. The lights have stayed on this winter, they stayed on during the last winter and we intend they stay on for the rest of the year," he said.

Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba said the government was committed to keeping the lights on even though power generation was under pressure.

"I trust we shall all heed the call for efficient and prudent usage of electricity. We remain resolute in our efforts to keep the lights on during this supply-constrained environment we are currently in," he said.

Sapa