South Africans are adapting to continual rolling blackouts, more politely known as load shedding. But, while everyone is cursing Eskom for being left in the dark or stuck in traffic for hours at a time, the damage caused by load shedding is far more than lost time and the macro impact on the economy.

The financial problems caused by load shedding will also impact individuals in their homes and businesses as they are faced with electrical products that, seemingly for no reason, stop working. This will naturally also affect suppliers and installers of electrical equipment who will be accused of either selling poor quality products or doing an inferior installation job.

The reality is that, while poor quality products and bad installations can cause problems, load shedding will damage even the best electronic products on the market, eventually leaving them broken beyond repair. The reason for this is not the loss of power, but the surge of current and voltage spikes when the electricity is switched on again, says Major Tech’s Rhodam Evans.

While many think switching the power on or off is a simple task, the way load shedding works means that every time the power comes back, some technician has flipped the switch at a substation, suddenly sending a stream of around 11 000 Volts back into the circuit.

Single-phase power in the average home runs on 230 V. Therefore, when the lights come on again, all the appliances in that particular suburb suddenly get a surge and voltage spike much more powerful than 230 V. This only lasts for a microsecond, but it is enough to damage electrical equipment, from your television to your lights.

Electronics can’t last against voltage spikes

“Even the most well-designed equipment of the highest quality can simply not handle these surges time after time. Many electrical devices are built with some form of protection against voltage spikes, but these are designed to handle surges that happen occasionally, not daily or even multiple times daily. For example, many circuits have metal oxide varistors (MOV) to protect against occasional surges, but even these wear out and can’t protect the circuits after the constant spikes due to load shedding.

“Major Tech has seen lights which have actually exploded after one spike too many,” adds Evans, “as well as USB ports that are black shells of what they once were. These results are not common, thankfully, but damage to electrical equipment is.”

Surges and voltage spikes cause damage each and every time, although most often the equipment carries on working. Eventually the equipment will fail and it may seem illogical which particular device or LED light fails or what path the current takes (it looks for the shortest path to the earth), but damage is a given

What can be done to protect yourself?

Since electricity users in South Africa are at the mercy of Eskom and can do nothing to resolve the problem, the only solution is to take precautions and protect your electronics. These precautions cost money, but will save money in the long term because few suppliers are willing to constantly replace devices that have been damaged by electrical surges. A warranty does not cover malicious damage to the system and it does not cover surges and voltage spikes.

“Surge protectors have therefore become vital necessities in a world with load shedding,” explains Evans.

Level 3 surge protection happens at the wall sockets. These surge protectors plug into the wall socket and your equipment is then plugged into the protectors. This will protect your equipment from all surges. Level 2 protection is the ideal as this is added to the circuit board by a qualified professional to protect the whole premises.

Evans warns that surge protectors don’t last forever either and while they will protect the electronic equipment you use every day, they will also eventually need to be replaced. He also advises that there is an enormous difference between a surge protector and lightning protection. A lightning strike in your vicinity can release far more power than Eskom and a surge protector will not stand up to the pressure.

“Dealing with load shedding is a challenge and we should all take responsibility for the equipment in our houses and businesses,” concludes Evans. “Suppliers will not simply continue to replace equipment damaged by load shedding as this practice will devastate their businesses. The best remedy is to unplug as many electrical devices as possible during load shedding and install surge protection on those that are not or cannot be unplugged.”

For more information on how to handle surges and voltage spikes, please view the interview at https://www.enca.com/news/impact-load-shedding-appliances.

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