Load shedding is impacting our personal lives – from traffic delays to cooking at home – and everything in between….and it heavily impacts South Africa’s commercial sector.
Small businesses are the hardest hit. So what are the most affordable ways for a business to survive load shedding?
Small businesses are less likely able to afford measures needed to cushion them from regular electricity cuts that average 2-4 hours at a time. According to News24 the lost revenue has seen businesses forced to close branches and retrench staff, as they struggle to keep revenue coming in amid stage 6 load shedding, local business forums say.
South Africans are having to use alternative means such as inverters, generators, chargeable equipment, paraffin lamps, cooking on a fire or gas, or simply aligning their operating hours with the load shedding schedule to keep their businesses going.
For many small retail businesses, no power oftentimes means inability to process payments or that customers shop the aisles in the dark.
Regular load shedding is crippling small businesses.
South African businesses need solutions.
The approach to power solutions has to be uniquely tailored to each client’s requirements. It depends on the appliances needed when the source is interrupted. The more power and time required, the more complex and costly a solution will be. This means finding the sweet spot between the client’s budget and their absolute necessities, while also leaving room to increase the power output if required at a later stage.
The ultimate solution is to say goodbye to power utility bills forever and go off-grid. Batteries can work in remote locations where there is absolutely no access to a power grid. While a solar panel set-up (with inverters and batteries) continues to prove itself as one of the best alternative energy sources, here we outline, in detail, other options that can help businesses survive load shedding cost-effectively:
1. Revolutionising the way we generate, use and store energy!
Energy is becoming increasingly expensive.
Many governments are looking to renewables, such as wind generation, solar power and hydroelectricity, as a solution.
Except for solar, they are expensive to buy and install and are mainly suited for large-scale installations.
One way that small businesses can survive many hours of load-shedding is by installing batteries. These can work with both single and 3-phase electricity.
Although they are often referred to as solar batteries, they needn’t be connected to solar panels (although they are designed to connect directly to solar panels). They can charge up from the grid directly and they can still save you money on your electricity bill. If a business already has an existing system, the inverter can be added alongside it.
Batteries can be mounted on the wall side-by-side, in a cabinet or, simply, floor mounted.
The battery requires an inverter (storage inverter) to operate. With the boom of solar panels, inverters have become more sophisticated. Nowadays, there are onboard computers (Battery Management System BMS) that communicate with the inverter.
An Auxiliary Connection can be connected to a generator and can switch a backup generator on and off to ensure that the business never runs out of power.
2. Prepare ahead for the risks
Another step is to plan for the risks your business faces with power shortages.
Risks could entail stock spoilage, burglary or power surges that can damage appliances. Appropriate measures that lessen risks might mean investing in extra security measures, making provisions to keep food cold or frozen, surge protection plugs or backing up your data.
3. Invest in an alternative energy source
For many small businesses, the cost outlay for an industrial-sized generator is simply not feasible. However, a small generator or a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) may only cost a few hundred or thousand rands. These can provide an interim source of power. This could save you hours of lost production.
Keep your laptop and smartphone charged. Alternatively, invest in battery packs or solar-powered charging solutions.
There are many solar-powered options to keep cell phones and laptops charged or to power certain lights. You could also take the plunge and completely swap electrical power for solar power.
There are finance options for merchants that accept credit cards. Some can assist with a cash advance solution to help finance a generator or long-term rental agreements. The flexible repayments ensure greater control over cash flow. The higher the swipe value, the quicker the business finance is repaid.
Another way finance can help keep the lights on is by applying for funding and including an alternative source of power in the proposal. A properly designed document could weigh up the financial aspects of such an investment and how it affects or benefits your bottom line.
Additionally, SMEs could pool their resources and invest in a generator that supplies multiple businesses.
4. Use rechargeable Tools
Rechargeable equipment can keep your business operational even during blackouts. Many office appliances can be charged using a USB cable.
There are plenty of rechargeable pieces of equipment on the market, from simple LED lights to electrical heavy-duty air compressors for roadside work.
A portable battery can power up rechargeable tools. Some fridges and stoves can use gas, or 12V from a car battery to stay powered. A gas-powered fridge could keep perishable items fresh, for instance. Business owners can carry stock based only on their projected sales if they are working with perishables.
5. Do what can be done without electricity
An advantage that small businesses have over large corporations is their ability to be more flexible in how they operate. Alternative working schedules for staff could be designed to adapt around power-outage hours. This may include giving staff flexible work hours. They can still complete the work on their own time when electricity allows.
If the load shedding schedule is known in advance, it can be communicated to clients.
For instance, not taking bookings when work needs electricity.
6. Plan around the schedule
The first step to dealing with a crisis is to have a plan.
Load shedding forecasts help a business plan activities.
Mobile apps like EskomSePush, Loadshed, Gridwatch and Loadshedder alert can keep them updated. Also, follow Eskom or the municipal provider on social media for news alerts: on Twitter, @Eskom_SA, @CityPowerJhb and @CityofCT, for example.
Cell phone network connectivity strength can be checked on Down Detector.
7. Adopt flexible working hours and allow people to work remotely
Employees may arrive at work late after fighting gridlocked traffic and find themselves sitting in the dark for hours when there is load shedding. Operating hours can be shifted (within reason) or work-from-home opportunities are allowed. Many people can work from anywhere, provided that they have an internet connection. This way, productivity can continue.
Remote working is an attractive option for many small businesses, not only mitigating load shedding but growing traffic and rising real estate prices.
A shared office environment may be an added expense to a small business if it invests in a hot desk equipped with a generator. However, crucial activities can be performed while power is off by multiple staff members.
Staff should have clear objectives to motivate them to complete the work, despite the challenges posed.
8. Adopt cloud-based business solutions
Cloud-based solutions can enable the business to remain productive.
Online software, rather than on-premise software, allows staff to work from anywhere there is an internet connection.
The latest data and work can be available in real time.
Cloud-based solutions promote efficiency. They also eliminate the need for constant backups. Businesses can pay for what they use, dramatically cut hardware expenses and lower their rental costs.
9. Consider regular backups and power surge protection
During periods of regular load shedding, data backups are a must.
For a small business, using cloud-based storage and backup solutions such as Dropbox or Microsoft’s OneDrive can be a lifesaver.
Power surges can damage the hardware.
To reduce the risk of damage to hardware, PCs should be switched off and unplugged from the main power source. Some devices are available to protect electrical equipment from surges. They look like multi-plugs and allow multiple components to work from one power outlet.
10. Get a power bank
Smartphones are not always fully charged when the power goes out. A power bank can help a business when there is load shedding. These portable chargers top up the battery of USB-powered mobile devices. This is especially helpful if landlines go down – at least the business will be reachable.
11. Invest in UPSes for your PCs, network hubs and switches
There are other options for small businesses that can’t afford to install generators or solar-powered batteries.
A backup power inverter system can keep routers, a couple of computers and some lights going for a few hours. A Double Conversation UPS can power critical equipment and machinery. A Line Interactive UPS will track incoming voltage and regulate it automatically.
12. Process payments while the power is out
Rolling blackouts impact the connectivity of card payment devices. This will negatively affect sales. It is advisable to have a dual SIM on hand or a mobile card machine that is 3G-enabled.
By having an additional backup device on another network, a small business can operate even if one network provider’s system goes down. Some solutions offer debit and credit card processing using a smartphone’s network connection.
13. Insurance cover
Ensure your business is covered for power surges and damaged equipment as a result of load shedding. There may also be options to insure a generator, including the costs of repair. A certificate of compliance from a qualified electrician will prove that it was installed correctly.
If the business already has a comprehensive business cover, confirm with the broker that it is adequately covered for such eventualities.
14. Adopt a positive attitude
Load shedding can be frustrating but a positive attitude can go a long way.
True entrepreneurs are always looking for opportunities, and this crisis is no different.
Perhaps selling goods online could compensate for quiet and dark times in retail.
Ultimately, maintaining a negative mindset will only worsen the situation. However, keeping positive morale may ignite creative thinking and allow the business to find solutions that will see it survive and thrive in the future.
Looking for a solution for your business? Contact our expert team for more information.