MONEYWEB 18/05/2023

There are two types of South Africans … those who attempt to mitigate the impact of load shedding on their daily lives as far as possible, and those who kind of just let load shedding happen to them.

We all know the latter type – they’re the people who are surprised to wake up in the dark in the morning or who discover on their way home from the office that there’s no power at home and have to make an alternate plan for dinner (usually takeaways).

In case it isn’t obvious, load shedding is not going away in the medium term (the situation is not going to be fixed in six or 12 or 18 or even 24 months). Making it as irrelevant as possible in one’s life is key to removing as much of the unnecessary mental load and stress as one can.

Not every household can afford to install a 5KVA inverter and battery backup system at a cost of around R60 000 (this is a good first step before adding solar – make sure the inverter is a hybrid one).

If you can, or if you’re prepared to rent/rent-to-own, this is clearly first prize – expect more on this on Moneyweb soon.

Portable power stations are an alternative.

There are, however, a number of solutions that will make one’s life immeasurably easier and more comfortable, and which aren’t going to cost tens of thousands of rands. Some are common sense, while others aren’t as obvious.

Freezer ice bricks

Make sure you have blue ice bricks (or cooldrink/milk bottles filled with water) spread throughout your freezer drawers to keep items cold. This is especially useful during four-hour load shedding blocks, and if the freezer isn’t opened during this time, its temperature will barely rise in summer and likely stay the same during winter months.

Fibre/Wi-Fi battery backup UPS

Buy a direct current (DC) mini uninterrupted power supply (UPS) for your fibre box and Wi-Fi router. The tendency has been to use clunky computer UPSs for this purpose, but they aren’t designed for it at all (a lot of power is lost in the conversion from AC to DC, back to AC and back to DC). Your fibre box and Wi-Fi router need 12V power – get a backup battery that’s purpose built for this.

The Gizzu 8800mAh Mini UPS is constantly recommended on neighbourhood Facebook groups (it has 2 600 reviews on Takealot!), but there are plenty of similar options available. Don’t pay more than R1 000 for this. It’s the best R1000 you’ll spend. Even at Stage 6, this backup lasts for four hours, except for particularly brutal schedules. One option would be to get two – one for your fibre box and one for your Wi-Fi router (this will last twice as long).

Gate/garage door battery

Make sure you install a larger backup battery for both your gate motor and garage door. The standard versions installed will not last for four hours (or multiple opens of a garage door), which poses a safety risk. Any reputable security company will be able to recommend a cost-effective solution that will last.

Gas stove

Replace your electric hob with a gas stove. This should cut your electricity bill by anywhere from 20% to 30% which means payback will be easy to calculate. A 9kg cylinder of LPG (costing around R300) will last months and months and months.

Importantly, you’ll be able to cook or boil a stovetop kettle during load shedding! (If you’re renting, negotiate with your landlord – most are reasonable and would see the benefit of having this in the long term).

Smart geyser switch

Get an electrician to install a smart switch for your geyser on your distribution board (DB). There are many options available (at sub R1 000). These connect to Wi-Fi and allow you to configure a daily schedule or to manually turn it on/off from your phone. Being able to switch it on from the office for an hour before 4pm to 8pm load shedding or to schedule it to switch on before a 4am to 8am block will make a massive difference to your sanity. And you’ll save electricity too!

Surge protection

While you’re at it, get the electrician to install a surge protector at your DB. Municipal electricity circuits are not designed to be turned on and off constantly, and surges can and will occur. If you’re renting, use proper surge protector plugs/adapters for your major appliances. Microwave ovens, fridges and home entertainment systems (including TVs) are particularly sensitive to surges. Make sure you’re protected.

Emergency bulbs

Rechargeable light bulbs are pricey (around R100 a pop) but are useful as supplements to the Magneto lanterns all middle-class South Africans have. They aren’t going to last for days-long bouts of Stage 6 but will provide a comfortable amount of light for an hour/two/three.

There’s no use replacing all your bulbs with these (unless you have money to burn, in which case install an inverter!), but a few around the house will make a difference. While you’re at it, install some solar-powered floodlights outside your home.

Proper power bank

Buy a decent, sizeable power bank to keep your electronics (phone/tablet/etc) charged. Stop battling along with the promo item that was re-gifted to you by your cousin/aunt/nephew and trickle-charges your phone. A 20 000mAh power bank with fast charging (input and output) and multiple ports is a good starting point. Ideally keep one in your car/work laptop bag and one at home.

With any of the above solutions that use batteries, accept that the performance of batteries will degrade over time. Generally, this is a few hundred discharge and recharge cycles; sometimes it is a few thousand cycles on higher-specced products.

With the current severity of load shedding, budget on replacing frequently used items (like the mini UPS and emergency bulbs) about once every 12 to 18 months.

26 May, 2023
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