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The pressure that the electricity supply in South Africa is under, was highlighted recently by government’s announcement of yet another multi-billion rand bailout for Eskom. Against this backdrop, the ever-present threat of supply interruptions is increasing.

Fortunately, with backup power solutions you can safeguard your household against cold food and chilly showers. Worried that it’s too expensive and complicated for you? Read on for peace of mind as we answer your backup power questions.

What backup power solutions are available to homeowners?

Home or residential solutions typically fall into four main categories:

•              Small uninterruptable power supplies (UPSs)

•              Inverters

•              Solar systems

•              Generators

Each of these technologies has its own advantages and disadvantages. The best way to determine which solution is right for you – and thereby keep size and cost to the minimum – is to calculate what you need to keep only your most important appliances going during a power outage.

What is the difference between a generator and a UPS?

There are several, but the main one is that a UPS gives you immediate, or virtually immediate, power when the utility supply is interrupted, while a generator can take a few minutes to start. A UPS is generally used to keep critical devices operating until a generator can be started for longer power outage support.

Furthermore, UPSs are powered by batteries while generators run on diesel or petrol. They are also almost maintenance free, don’t produce the noise levels of a generator, and don’t require the hassle of storing or topping up with fuel. 

Which solutions are suitable for what type of household uses?

The most suitable solution depends on what you need or want to do during a power interruption. Generally, UPSs are adequate for smaller power needs, while inverters and generators can give you more power for longer.

The standby or entry-level UPS is most commonly used to run a computer and a printer, or other appliances that use less than 2kVA or 3kVA. Should you want to add your TV, decoder and a light or two, a Line-interactive UPS would be a better solution. It is more expensive than the standby UPS when comparing similar power sizes, but offers better equipment protection and higher power ranges.

If you need more than 5kVA, consider an On-line UPS. Although these UPSs are the most expensive and least efficient, their design guarantees continuous power with the greatest protection against voltage spikes and fluctuation. They are therefore ideal for larger, expensive electronics in the home. 

For longer standby times, where you are not running mission critical operations, inverters or generators are the better options.

What are reasonable costs for backup power solutions?

Backup power solutions for one’s home shouldn’t break the bank. A decent, quality backup power product can cost anything from R3,000 up to something really fancy in the region of about R30,000. It will be a worthwhile investment and should be considered.

What kind of maintenance should be considered?

Regardless of the system you choose, some level of maintenance is part of the deal.

UPSs and inverters are far lighter on maintenance than generators, but replacing their batteries can be expensive. Having said that, the batteries have a life of between 5 and 10 years, depending on the number of charge and discharge cycles and the temperatures they are kept in. Home application batteries should be stored at 20 and 25 degrees. The more load shedding the batteries experience, the shorter their life expectancy will be.

Generators must be serviced regularly and can be heavy on fuel.

How important is the choice of service provider?

Extremely! You owe it to yourself to know that the equipment you buy is of high quality, comes with warrantees and after-sales service, and will be installed correctly. Therefore, shop around before you decide on a supplier. Get references and reviews where possible, and ask specific questions about warrantees, spares and services levels.

Apart from the smaller UPSs, inverters, plug-ins and manual-start generators, your backup power solution will have to be installed and commissioned by a qualified electrician for compliance and insurance purposes. It’s an added bonus if the supplier includes expert installation and commissioning. Should this not be the case, ask about their approved partners to ensure warrantees are honoured.

Everything might be quiet on the load shedding front at the moment, but electricity industry experts agree that we are not out of the woods yet. Now is therefore the perfect time to investigate your options and invest in a backup power solution that will keep the lights on in your home.

Contact Master Power Technologies for expert advice, quality products, support and service.