23 Jul
2021

Alan Cooper takes a look at the latest tech options to help you beat the load shedding blues.

With working from home and load shedding likely to be facts of life for many South Africans for the foreseeable future, staying productive, powered up, and connected to the internet has never been as important, or as challenging, as it is today.

The good news is that there’s now also more technology than ever before to help keep the lights on and the data flowing.

Beyond generators

Petrol or diesel fuelled generators are the go-to option for people who want to keep multiple devices and appliances running during power outages. But they have their disadvantages – most notably, they’re noisy and can’t be run indoors.

For home-based professionals who just need to keep their computers and internet routers running during shorter periods of downtime, solar, battery and inverter technology – or a combination of the three – may be a better solution.

Elon to the rescue

One of the slicker battery-based power options on the market is the Powerwall from Elon Musk-run electric power pioneer, Tesla. The latest model, the Powerwall 2, recently became available in South Africa.

It comes with 13,5kWh of usable capacity, and a continuous power output of 5kW, or 7kW peak power output for short durations. According to local distributors Rubicon SA (Rubiconsa.com), this makes it suitable to provide power to the average South African household for almost 12 hours on its own when fully charged.

The Powerwall can be connected to both the Eskom grid and solar panels to charge. Prices start at R159 000, which includes the Powerwall and an inverter, which converts battery (DC) electricity into wall (AC) electricity.

PC power options

For those with more modest budgets or needs – like keeping a computer running during load shedding – an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) will probably suffice. At its core, a UPS comprises a battery, charger for the battery and an inverter, and provides continuous power to devices that would normally plug into a wall outlet in the event of a power outage. You’ll want one with enough oomph to power a PC as well as a few extras like a monitor and desk lamp for several hours between charges.

The Mecer Winner Pro 3000VA UPS fits the bill nicely and comes with a variety of features to protect equipment including an automatic volt regulator (AVR) to keep the voltage constant, monitoring software, and built-in surge protection. It is also compatible with generators.

At the time of publishing, it’ll set you back R5 299 from wootware.co.za, or for more from other online sources.

Another option, especially if you’re in the market for a new computer, is to buy a laptop, which unlike a desktop PC, comes with its own power cell. Do make sure, however, that this battery has plenty of capacity – eight to 10 hours at minimum. Do an internet search for the model and read reviews rather than trust the manufacturer’s claims.

Also check that it has the processing power and storage to meet your work requirements and that the screen and keyboard are big enough. If you’re buying a Windows (rather than Macintosh) device, make sure it’s compatible with Microsoft’s recently announced Windows 11 operating system.

Staying online

Keeping your computer juiced up when the power is down is one thing. Staying connected to the internet in an era of video conferencing and virtual workspaces can be just as important.

If you access the web with a fixed line connection like ADSL or fibre, you’ll need to power your router. In the case of fibre, you’ll need a second power source for the optical network terminal (ONT) – that white plastic gizmo that connects the fibre box installed outside of your house to your modem.

A mini-UPS, like one of several starting at around R650 from Vizia (viziatech.co.za), should meet your needs. Choose the one with the biggest battery capacity you can afford and if you’re on fibre, make sure it has the jacks to power at least two devices.

If your primary internet connection is fixed LTE, which is delivered via a cellular network, you may still need a mini-UPS to power your router, although some models come with their own battery backup.

Go mobile

Even if you have a battery-powered backup for your fixed line or LTE internet connection, a portable Wi-Fi router (also known as a Mi-Fi device) paired with a prepaid data Sim card is a prudent fallback option.

Thanks to their built-in batteries, they don’t need to be plugged into a wall socket to run and most will keep going for hours on a single charge. Keep a portable power bank on hand to top it up if the power stays down for longer than expected.

If all else fails, you can turn your smartphone into a Mi-Fi device by enabling the “personal hotspot” feature. Be warned, this could cost you a fortune unless you have a generous mobile data package.

LED there be light

Candles may be romantic the first few times the lights go out, but they quickly lose their charm when regular load shedding sets in. Apart from being less than ideal to work or cook by, they also pose a fire hazard.

Wouldn’t it be great if regular lightbulbs came with their own battery packs, so they’d keep on working for hours after a power cut? Now they do, thanks to Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology.

Because LED bulbs draw significantly less power than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs – and even the florescent “energy saving” bulbs that largely replaced them – they’ve become increasingly popular in recent years.

A new breed of lightbulbs with built-in, rechargeable batteries make LED’s an even better choice. The Lightworx brand is available from Makro from just over R100 a bulb. Alternatively, type “rechargeable emergency lightbulb” into your search engine for a variety of online options.

 

 

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