What load-shedding does to your home appliances and mobile devices

South Africans are currently experiencing the worst year of load-shedding recorded, and the rotational power cuts can profoundly affect electrical devices and appliances.

Head of Dialdirect Insurance Anneli Retief told MyBroadband that the claims relating to power surges have doubled since 2018, while claims for burglaries and vehicle accidents have also increased.

While load-shedding itself can cause damage to electrical equipment, the surges that can occur when power returns after rotational power cuts often pose a greater risk.

As the name suggests, a power surge is a rush of electricity exceeding the typical voltage supplied to households.

Any device connected to mains power when a surge occurs is at risk of being irreversibly damaged.

Different types of electrical devices suffer different effects and carry varying levels of risk when it comes to damage caused by load-shedding and related power surges.

Pure resistance devices such as stoves, kettles, geysers, and heaters are generally unaffected when the power is switched on and off.

Devices that carry reactive loads, including tumble dryers, dishwashers, washing machines, and electric gates, have electric motors that are exposed to power surges.

However, this kind of equipment often has built-in protective measures that typically prevent damage.

Cooling devices such as fridges, freezers, and air conditioners have gas compressors that could provide resistance and cause damage to the appliance’s motor when power returns.

Similarly, three-phase power systems are vulnerable as one or more phases could be lost when power is returned.

This can cause devices that use three-phase power systems, such as large air conditioners and induction motors, to run irregularly and burn out.

Imbalances within a three-phase system can also cause damage to single-phase devices.

Battery-powered devices like cell phones, alarms, and backup systems are indirectly affected by load-shedding if the batteries run down entirely.

Depleting a battery completely reduces its lifespan, with manufacturers only guaranteeing a certain amount of charge cycles.

Anneli Retief, Head of Dialdirect

The risk varies between battery types, with lithium-ion batteries offering substantially more charge cycles and a better discharge depth than lead-acid and gel batteries.

Retief explained that with sufficient knowledge and smart planning, people could take steps to prevent damage to equipment like cell phones, geysers, gate motors, and modems. This includes:

  • Switching off fridges and air conditioners during bouts of load-shedding. It should be safe to turn them back on one by one once power has been restored and is stable;
  • Switching off any devices that pose a fire risk when power is restored;
  • Using an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). UPSes provide a window during which electrical equipment will stay on, allowing you to switch them off safely; and
  • Having access to updated load-shedding schedules so that you can prepare for outages.

Criminals come out to play when the power goes off

Retief explained that Dialdirect burglaries are more common during load-shedding than when power is available.

“When it comes to accidents and burglaries, Dialdirect has compared the number of burglary incidents and the number of vehicle accidents when there is no load shedding to when there is from July 2019 to May 2022,” she said.

Dialdirect found that during the week, burglary incidents and vehicle accidents are 3.2% and 5.2% more frequent, respectively, while load-shedding is active.

“Over the weekend, these figures more than double, increasing the risk of break-ins by 8% and that of vehicle accidents by 13.5%,” Retief added.

She offered several precautions that South African residents could take to protect themselves during load-shedding, including:

  • Getting a few high-watt, solar-powered lights for your garden and rechargeable LED lights for inside as light is a deterrent to would-be burglars;
  • Preparing for load-shedding by keeping your cell phone charged so that you can call for help if you need it;
  • Arranging an escort for when you have to open and close your gates at home manually;
  • Installing power-independent security measures like padlocks, burglar bars, and deadbolts to provide an extra layer of home security; and
  • Installing backup battery systems for alarms, garage doors, and electric gates.

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What load-shedding does to your home appliances and mobile devices