By Satyagraha Reporters
It has been called South Africa's biggest economic crisis yet. Weeks of power cuts have cost the country tens of millions of rands and many South Africans are up in arms.
According to the Eskom website, the service provider currently finds itself in a position where the demand for electricity may exceed the available supply from time to time and in order to manage the situation in the best possible way, planned supply interruptions (load shedding) has to be carried out.
Eskom officials assure consumers that load shedding is a last resort method. Eskom will cut supply to other customers only when all other options at its disposal have been exhausted, such as running its power stations at maximum capacity and interrupting supply to industrial customers with special contracts.
Load shedding is also done in a controlled way by rotating the available electricity between all customers. Schedules have been drawn up to ensure that a few areas do not bear the brunt of the shortages. By spreading the impact, affected areas are not interrupted for more than two hours at a time, and in most cases customers can be informed of interruptions in advance.
Where possible, Eskom tries to avoid load shedding in areas where there are critical and sensitive services like hospitals, economic hubs such as shopping centres, strategic product areas and high security areas. So, if your lights go off unexpectedly, it might be a local fault affecting a comparatively small area around you, or it might be a problem at a power station that takes time to fix.
The power outages affect all appliances that require electricity to function. It is important to note the following useful tips to minimize inconvenience when the power is off:
Think about communication:
Ensure that your cell phone is always fully charged when power is available.
Think about transport:
Ensure that your vehicle always has fuel in the tank since during power outages, petrol stations cannot pump fuel.
Think about cash:
Ensure that you have adequate cash as auto teller machines cannot operate without electricity.
Think about access, security and safety:
Release automatic electric garage door mechanisms to allow you to gain access to your property during a power outage.
Release electric security gates and switch to manual operation to avoid being either locked out of or into your home.
Keep temporary lighting readily available, such as electric torches and candles. Be sure to locate these items in places where they will be easy to find in the dark.
Keep a torch (with fresh batteries) by your bedside at all times
Obtain a small LP gas lamp, as they provide good quality lighting for a large area.
Think about keeping things cool and heating them up:
Boil water and keep in thermo flasks for hot drinks for when the power is scheduled to be switched off.
Use a thermal cover on tea pots and other pots and pans to keep hot drinks, and meals warm.
Prepare meals beforehand in readiness for periods when there will be power cuts.
Obtain a small stand-by bottled LP gas heating ring for essential cooking and to boil water for hot beverages.
Keep adequate stocks of essential foodstuffs.
Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed, as a power outage of four hours should not cause food spoilage, and a freezer should keep frozen food safe for at least a day. It is a good idea to have alternative available snacks that do not need refrigeration.
Most medication requiring refrigeration can be kept in a closed fridge for several hours without spoiling. To be sure about this, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Fill plastic containers with water (still leaving some space inside each container for expansion during freezing) in a deep-freeze or the freezer compartment of your fridge. This (frozen) water will help keep food cold during a power outage.
Many consumers have complained that the power outages have damaged electrical appliances in their homes. It is important to note this warning from Eskom. If the power goes off, it is safer to simply turn off or disconnect any electrical appliances that you were using. When the power comes back on, it may do so with a momentary surge, which can damage electronically controlled appliances such as computers, televisions sets, VCRs and DVDs.
Keep one light switched 'on' to alert you when the power returns. Clearly mark on/off switches and remember to re-set time control clocks on cooking ovens, pool pumps, geysers and other automatically controlled appliances, unless these are battery operated. Also remember that householders are responsible for all electricity usage and appliances in their homes.
We spoke to residents on this burning issue and this is what they had to say:
“Its very hard when the lights go off. Sometimes we get home and there is no food because there was no power. I find it very hard to study and do my work and have to use a candle to learn sometimes.”
Themba Khumalo – Kwa Mashu
“It makes things very difficult when there is no power. Its very challenging for me as I have a baby who is on bottled milk. I have to boil water and keep them in flasks because the power goes off for a few hours and my baby needs to be fed in that time.”
Michelle Madurai – Phoenix
“Having no power makes it very inconvenient for us. Sometimes it goes out without warning and takes longer than the two hours to come back on. We are forced to use gas cookers at home. It makes it very difficult especially when there are visitors at home and not hot water to bath!”
Denise Bloem – Tongaat
“Although the power situation is a trying one, I hope that the Government, Eskom and the people can use this situation as an opportunity to look at energy conservation and alternate renewable long term solutions. We need to understand that depleting energy is a global problem and we need to brace ourselves for the real cost of energy.”
Fran Fearnley – Musgrave
The burning question from South Africans is: When is the power crisis expected to end? In the short term, load shedding is expected to continue for as long as is necessary to help alleviate the problem around the country.
We encourage our readers to send us their views and tips on reducing the use of electricity.