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The impact of load shedding on South African consumers

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Businesses and households were left scrambling to keep the engines and the lights on after the national power utility, Eskom, suddenly plunged South Africa into darkness over a week ago. Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday last week, Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan alluded to the fact that Eskom was facing structural, operational and financial challenges.

The load shedding break-out caught many unsuspecting South African households unaware as little to nothing had been announced about it. Businesses, especially petrol stations without any form of back-up energy were forced to close shop for close to five hours while others quickly cranked their generators to life just to keep the lights and the pumps on. Individual households were not spared either as they were also left in the darkness. The South African Insurance Association is acutely aware of the risks that comes with such intermittent power surges to household appliances.

Nico Esterhuizen, SAIA General Manager: Insurance Risks says: “As an industry, there isn’t much we can do to prevent load shedding. However, we strongly advise our consumers to take all precautions humanly possible to prevent possible power surges from inflicting damage to their household appliances. We urge them to unplug all their appliances during a power cut. This will not only serve to protect their appliances from damage but will also act as a fire prevention precaution should there be a power surge.”

A power surge is basically a spike in a household’s electrical current. The spike is very brief, usually lasting less than a thousandth of a second, but it can still cause damage to your home and appliances. There are numerous devices available in the market that can lessen the probability of a power surge and these include surge protector plug adapters. Below is advice on how to prevent a power surge in your home:

  • Inspect your wiring – Faulty or substandard wiring can make power surge problems worse. It is advisable that you have a qualified electrician inspect your household wiring for any possible issue, especially if the house is old.
  • Unplug electrical appliances and electronics during a power outage – Unplug all your sensitive electrical appliances and electronic devices during an intermittent outage to ensure that when power returns, and there is a surge, your appliances are safe.
  • Use surge protectors – Sensitive appliances such as computers and televisions should be plugged into power surge protectors to try and prevent damage caused by power surges.
  • Install a whole-home surge processor – This option may be a tad expensive but once correctly and professionally installed, it may just protect your entire households’ appliances. It is a surge protector device installed at the primary breaker box between your home’s electrical system and the grid.

Esterhuizen also advised that there are different insurance products available to address the potential risks associated with load shedding for both businesses and individuals and urged consumers to talk to their insurers and/or brokers to ensure that they are covered for risks related to load shedding.

In conclusion, Esterhuizen also warned consumers to be vigilant during this time as home break-ins spike during such periods. “If you have an alarm system installed, please do ensure that you have an operational or fully charged back-up battery as you are required to fully arm your household in case you leave the premises, even if there is load shedding. Should there be a need for you to leave your house, do lock your doors, arm your alarm as you normally do and if possible, also inform your security company to do frequent patrols.”