The winter months have arrived and South Africa is setting in for its uncharacteristically cold period. As we like to say, the country has a lazy winter: it can’t be bothered to go around you, so it just goes straight through you!Winter means more people will be using heaters and other electric appliances, adding far more pressure on the country’s struggling electricity grid. The result could be sporadic and even prolonged power failures as supply struggles to cope with demand.
Are you prepared for such a prospect? Do you have backup power for your home or business if the grid takes strain? Here are a few questions you should be asking:
How will I manage more hours of darkness?
The definite sign of winter is how much shorter the days are. At its height many of us are already on our daily commute before the sun has even poked out of the horizon and most only get home in dusk or darkness.
This creates a security concern – what if you just arrive home to find all your lights are out? – and a big inconvenience – imagine the joy of starting your day stumbling through the dark to get dressed and ready.
A battery backup system can make sure you have light in the hours we’re accustomed to experience daylight and well into the night, while a standby generator can ensure that those batteries are always charged.
What will power my electronics?
Power outages used to make everything stop, forcing us to huddle around a candle. Thankfully modern technology enables us to still do our work, play our games and browse online when the lights go out.
This is about more than keeping busy: technology can help us keep track of power failures. For example, the City of Johannesburg’s City Power has a responsive Twitter account to announce progress on restoring electricity.
A backup power system, such as batteries combined with a generator or solar setup, will make sure your gear can be charged during power emergencies.
How will I heat my home or office?
Unless you live on the equator, winter is a chilly time and South Africa’s cold snaps can be pretty brutal. A simple solution would be to wrap yourself in every blanket you own or to finally wear that sweater you got for Christmas and stuff it with socks.
More comfortable approaches would be to use heaters or air conditioners, most of which require electrical power. These keep us cozy and even productive: not a lot of work gets done in a freezing office. In some cases it’s more than a luxury, such as an electric blanket for someone who is bedridden.
But heaters and air conditioners are heavy power consumers – backup batteries won’t last long under their demands. If you have concerns about keeping the heat going, invest in a standby generator and plan your heating strategy to make sure you stay warm.
Will I have enough hot water?
Nothing heats up our bodies like a hot bath or shower. Winter is also a great time to get the dishes done, since some will leap at the opportunity to dunk their hands into a steaming basin of water.
But while it is bad when there is no hot water in other seasons, during winter that becomes a nightmare. Geysers are fortunately pretty good at retaining their heat, depending on where they are installed. Adding a geyser blanket will also significantly improve heat retention. But also make sure to plan with everyone who uses the hot water and ration accordingly.
Geysers are heavy electricity users and a battery backup won’t be able to carry that responsibility for long. Invest in a powerful generator or gas geyser if you need hot water in the dark.
Will I be able to cook food?
So many of us have stumbled through a power cut, hankering for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat, then after absentmindedly flicking the switch realised we need backup power to sort our cravings.
Prolonged power cuts can be particularly painful when they run through mealtimes. One option is to buy a gas stove or a generator that can power an electric stove. Another is to invest in battery backups, then cook food in a microwave or desktop oven. If you make pre-cooked meals that you freeze, those can be ready in a matter of minutes.