The ECA’s Technical Adviser, Anthony Schewitz chatted to Radio 702’s Bongani Bingwe on his breakfast show last week about how loadshedding affects consumers and what they can do to mitigate the risks that come with losing power frequently. There wasn’t enough time on the show to go into detail so, to help South Africans protect their expensive appliances and equipment and offer advice on alternative solutions, the ECA has compiled some loadshedding tips and guidelines.
Loadshedding is not just being without power – it’s also disruptive and comes with inherent risks for electrical appliances and electronic equipment. Without backup power, it can mean hours of being without wi-fi, eating cold food and not having a cup of coffee to kickstart the day. But seriously, what can we do to mitigate the risks and minimise disruptions and ensure that we stay connected?
For those who can afford an alternative electricity supply such as generators, solar installations, UPSs and other expensive equipment, it’s vital to know that your alternative supply has been safely installed – and that means that you need a registered electrician to install equipment and to ensure compliance with this country’s laws and regulations.
If you have a small gas stove, battery-powered or solar lights and all you need is Wi-fi battery back-up to stay online during loadshedding, a cheap and easy solution is to invest in lithium battery packs for your router. A fibre optic modem can be bought for anything from R400 to well over R1 000. It’s easy to set up and the batteries last anywhere from two to six hours, which comfortably covers the average load shedding times. Depending on the number of discharges, the batteries face could last a few years.
If you want more than Wi-Fi back-up and are considering a comprehensive solution, here are some guidelines and tips from the ECA on alternative and back-up power solutions as well as advice from our technical experts on how you can protect your electrical appliances and sensitive electronic equipment from the effects of loadshedding.
ALTERNATIVE AND BACK-UP POWER SOLUTIONS
Anthony Schewitz, ECA technical adviser says that generators can be tricky as the most frequently bought and utilised generators for households are the smaller sub 10 kVA type generators, which are actually not designed to handle the load of an average house … and are not usually installed according to the legislated wiring specifications.
Any type of generator comes with a precautionary list of what to do and what not to do, and while the outlay for a small generator isn’t huge, the cost of diesel quickly adds up. Do your homework before investing in a generator – speak to specialist generator companies or ask an electrical contractor to evaluate your energy requirements, suggest the appropriate type and size of generator and to install the generator according to legislative requirements and issue the Certificate of Compliance according to SANS 10142-1 requirements.
Types of generators
There are many uses and types of generators to consider before making an investment in an alternative energy supply and your choice should be geared towards the best solution and one that would not easily fail.
These are only intended for the running of appliances and are generally mobile but should not be used indoors as the fumes are toxic.
These generators are intended to be used in parallel with the supply for standby purposes and can be for extended periods but not continuously.
Larger than standby generators, prime generators are intended to run continuously.
When sizing your generator, it is crucial to understand that there are many factors that would alter the perceived power output. Many factors could affect the power output delivered by the generator such as the power factor rating of the alternator, which in most cases is around 0.8. Other considerations are altitude, temperature, running time and load requirements of the generator.
These must all be considered to ensure generators run efficiently and for long periods. There are also environmental issues – diesel fumes and noise – to consider.
It would also be a good idea to read the Environmental Regulations in the Occupational Health and Safety Act because a downside of generators is the release of carbon monoxide gases which can kill you. Always ensure that your generator is placed in a well-ventilated area (and no, your garage will not do!). The other environmental risk is noise pollution – there are strict laws in place to comply with and special consideration needs to be taken when installing generators near boundaries and where they can disturb neighbours. According to law, the maximum decibel range is 85 dB.
If you go the generator way, do your homework and get professional advice before investing – there may be other better solutions, such as inverters, UPSs and solar PV – and be aware of the unforeseen risks that arise from the incorrect use of generators.
Quality inverters are more costly than generators and do help keep the power on, and even some of the smaller cheaper options come with built-in protection for sensitive electronic equipment such as computers and televisions.
Uninterrupted power supplies are becoming more sophisticated and cheaper and are a good option, particularly for computers and electronic equipment, and have built-in protection against the sudden cut-outs and possible voltage surges and dips experienced during loadshedding. UPS costs vary and installing a UPS would provide additional support to an installation with a generator.
Solar photo voltaic solutions
Having a grid-tied or a hybrid setup is a huge investment, and this is an ideal solution whether there is loadshedding or not, because solar PV is clean and has the added benefit of saving energy in the long term and removing reliance on grid-tied power. However, such installations must be done by a registered electrician who is experienced in solar PV and who will issue the correct compliance certification. To find out about qualified solar PV installers, contact the ECA or the SA Photo Voltaic Industries Association (SAPVIA).
It is vitally important to remember that it is a legal requirement to get a Certificate of Compliance for any alternative supply and this must be done under the general control of a registered electrical contractor. To find a registered electrical contractor in your area, go to the ECA website www.ecasa.co.za and click on ‘Find a member’.
PROTECTING APPLIANCES AND EQUIPMENT
The hardest hit devices during load shedding are typically devices that have electronic components already mentioned, and those with battery back-up such as alarm systems and garage doors. Loadshedding wears down battery-operated devices as these intricate devices have components that are not designed to withstand the sudden spikes and dips that come with load shedding and the batteries can fail prematurely.
Here’s what you can do to protect your appliances and equipment:
Flip the switches
The most basic thing you can do is when the power goes off is to flip the switches in the distribution board (DB) except for the main switch and one or two lights circuits (so that you will know when the power is back on). When power is restored, wait a few minutes, and then return the switches to the ‘on’ position one at a time.
Another cost-effective option is to use basic surge protection plugs and adaptors for sensitive equipment. They protect electrical appliances and electronic equipment against the switching spikes that loadshedding causes. It’s advisable to buy good quality products – and buy local SABS-approved products.
Over- and under-voltage relays
Overvoltage is less common than under voltage and arises due to system faults, in turn causing problems for electrical devices with motors such as fridges and air conditioners. Problems include overheating, malfunction, and premature equipment failure. An over- and undervoltage relay is connected to the voltage transformers of the object to be protected and must be installed by a registered electrician.
More widely used in the commercial and industrial environments, this is an expensive solution for homeowners although these devices assist in keeping voltage levels stable and, in deliver long-term savings on running costs. These must be installed by a registered electrician who should first assess what is needed.
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