Business Unity of South Africa recently stated that the ongoing power cuts
had cost businesses, particularly SMEs, "millions of rand with no end in
sight". On the back of this, Eskom has assured the country that rolling
blackouts will continue until consumers decrease power usage.

This scenario presents both a challenge and an opportunity, says Christelle
Larkins, area manager: South Africa at MGE Office Protection Systems. The
challenge, she says, comes in ensuring it's business as usual when the
lights go out, and the opportunity is to maximise energy cost savings
through the employment of high-efficiency energy devices.
"It remains good practice to evaluate the power quality status of your
business, to know what is at risk and to take the necessary steps to keep
your business going during a power cut. While it is advisable to have a
detailed assessment conducted by a trained professional, answering the
following pertinent questions will give you a good indication of how at risk
your business is of experiencing power quality problems," says Larkins.
* Do you have electronic equipment that is especially sensitive to power
quality disturbances, like computers, laser printers and fax machines?
* Is your office building more than 10 years old? Older buildings were not
designed to handle the demands of today's business equipment.
* Do you have equipment that operates 24 hours a day? The Highveld is
notorious for its summer lightning storms. Lightning strikes are responsible
for more than 10 percent of outages and other power quality disturbances.
* Do you have a modem line or coaxial cable entering your facility?
* Does your business have more than five users on a computer network system?
The larger a computer network grows, the more susceptible a system becomes
to power disturbances.
* Does your business lack adequate protection against power quality
disturbances, like point-of-use surge suppressers and uninterruptible power
supplies (UPSs) for critical equipment.
"If you answered "yes" to three or more of these questions, your business
has a higher risk of experiencing power quality problems," says Larkins.
"High availability power is the key to business continuity. Businesses must
ensure they are protected against any type of power supply fault, and should
proactively monitor power to ensure data integrity."
A good starting point is to determine which devices would benefit from
continued operation in the event of a power outage and to then support these
with a UPS. Larkins advises selecting a model with the option to add extra
battery units to increase the runtime of critical devices. Also, protect and
manage structured wiring and networking applications with a UPS that enables
remote management of automation functions, and ensures protection in the
event of a power outage.
Be aware though, she adds, that no matter what UPS system you select, there
will be some energy lost between the utility and the output. However,
high-efficiency UPS systems can dramatically limit the energy loss,
resulting in substantial cost savings. Energy efficiency of a UPS can be
expressed as the difference between the amount of energy that goes into a
UPS versus the amount of useful energy that comes out of the UPS to power
your loads.
"In all UPS systems, some amount of energy is lost as heat when it passes
through the internal components. Just how much energy is lost between the
input and output can be significant when you consider how much the wasted
energy is costing. Energy efficiency advantages of as little as 1% between
one UPS and another can translate into thousands of rands saved per year
depending on the size of the UPS."