Child reading by candle light during load-shedding

Why your electronics are getting hammered by Eskom (and what to do about it).

Rotational load-shedding is now part of daily life in South Africa! Worse, load-shedding is here to stay for at least the next five years according to the energy experts.

I just finished reading an article on highlighting that the real reason for the current load-shedding is Eskom's "poorly-skilled staff and a subsequent decline in the adherence to standards of operating practices." The article goes on to say that Eskom is over-staffed but lacks skilled engineers and technicians. These skilled workers have left Eskom during the last five years because of inhouse politics. We all know that once a highly-skilled person moves to greener pastures, it is incredibly difficult to entice them back. The article does suggest a hefty joining bonus to get skilled technical staff back!

So, it's no surprise that load-shedding is here to stay as Eskom struggle with their terrible corporate culture, ageing power stations and internal corruption.

So, rotational load-shedding is fantastic for Eskom as it keeps the power grid from total collapse, but it has a genuine and negative impact on your electronics at your office and your home.

What is this negative impact?

Well, every time the electricity is switched off or on, surges are generated on your electrical circuits. These power surges come from 3 primary sources; i.e. the power grid, the electrical circuit in your home or office and from any inductive load.

The following diagram illustrates the waveform of a typical mains supply and that of the same mains supply with transients.

Overvoltage transients on 220Volt mains sinewave

What is an inductive load?

An inductive load is any electrical device that uses electrical windings like electrical motors. When power is turn off to an electrical motor, the motor continues to spin and in effect becomes a small generator until it stops spinning, creating uncontrolled electrical surges in your system.

Trasient caused by a load-dump

Load Dump from Inductive Supply or Load such as an electric motor

How does load-shedding hammer your electronics?

Load-shedding electrical surges leave us as consumers in a predicament. We can't all afford to go "off-grid" with solar energy. We can't or don't want to live without power. So we use electricity when it's available. But then we are left with another problem; this "on-off-on-off-on" hammers our electronics! Rotational load-shedding has become incredibly frustrating.

Most modern electronics use a switch-mode power supply; these are like the power packs for your notebook computer, and they convert the 220Volt wall socket power into the different DC voltages required by your electronics. The constant electrical surges that load-shedding causes wear the electronics down in the switch-mode power supply and eventually causes what is termed a Latent Failure.

When the switch-mode power supply fails, two things can happen:

  1. The switch-mode power supply stops working. This results in the best-case scenario; you can replace the power supply, and your electronic device continues to work.
  2. The switch-mode power supply collapses and passes high-voltage surges onto your sensitive electronic's control boards. In this scenario, the power supply and the electronic control boards will need replacing. Depending on the pricing of the labour and spares, this may render some electronic items uneconomical to repair. Or in simple language throw-it-away and buy a new one. Don't get the environmentally-conscience consumer started on this point, but the bottom line is that only about 25% of your electronic device will be recycled.

What's a Latent Failure? Here is a simple explanation.

Surges cause minor damage to electronic equipment, but the electronics experience an increasing rate of degradation. That means that the equipment will continue to work until the electronics degrade to the point that a hard failure occurs, i.e. it stops working.

We have also noticed a concerning trend in the electronics industry in South Africa.

Due to the slow economy, service providers are not recommending any form of surge protection. This failure on the part of the service providers leaves the consumer open to surge damage from rotational load-shedding and lightning strikes. Still, its repeat business for the service provider as they will keep repairing and replacing damaged equipment while charging for callouts, labour and parts.

What type of surge arrester will protect your home and office from rotational load-shedding?

There are mainly three types of surge arresters:

  1. Threshold Clamping Technology. This is traditional surge protection technology whereby surges are clamped once the threshold of a Metal Oxide Varistor (MOV) is reached. This is the most common technology as it's small and can be housed within most existing electrical distribution boards. The disadvantage of these devices is that the let-through overvoltage transients (surges) can be substantial, as much as the voltage threshold clamping rating of the surge arrester.
  2. Sine Wave Tracking Technology. This technology is active surge protection and:
    1. Suppresses high frequency, low energy ring wave transients (surges) at any phase angle that the surge may occur. This is typical of loads that generate a back EMF.
    2. Suppresses Radio Frequency Interference and Electro-Magnetic Interference.
    3. With conventional light bulbs being replaced with LED bulbs, household appliances being fitted with energy-saving electronics instead of mechanical controls and the use of inverters has led to EMC (Electromagnetic Compatibility) interference. Sine Wave Tracking surge protection suppresses the noise generated by EMC (Electromagnetic Compatibility) related interference.
    4. These devices only let-through very voltage transients (surges) but are substantially bigger than Threshold Clamping Surge Arresters.
  3. Hybrid Threshold Clamping and Sine Wave Tracking Technology. The best mains surge arrester is one that incorporates both Threshold Clamping Technology and Sine Wave Tracking Technology. This Hybrid Surge Arrester not only offers excellent protection from lightning but is also an excellent protector against rotational load-shedding.

Earlier in the month, I met up with an Italian restaurant owner. The chap had a Threshold Clamping Surge Arrester on his electrical distribution board. Check out this pic.

DB with standard Threshold Clamping Technology surge arresters

DB with standard Threshold Clamping Technology surge arresters.

During December last year, the controller for his pizza oven was damaged as a result of rotational load-shedding. At the time the local agents did not have a spare controller for the oven in stock, and one had to be ordered from the manufacturer. Can you guess the lead-time? Four-weeks! Can you imagine the stress in this restauranteur's life? Out of business during the busiest time of the year in South Africa!

Fortunately, the local agent managed to get an oven controller from an oven he purchased for another customer but which was only due for delivery in January. So, happy dance! The crisis was averted.

One of our Hybrid Technology Surge Arresters has now been installed, check out this pic.

DB fitted with BFR Digital's Hybrid Threshold Clamping and Sine Wave Tracking Technology Surge Arrester.

DB fitted with BFR Digital's Hybrid Technology Surge Arrester.

During this experience, it has come to light that customers shy away from installing surge protection because the process is a mission. Firstly you have to buy the surge arrester, and then you must get an electrician in to connect the surge arrester to your electrical distribution board. What a hack! Most customers get stuck on finding a reliable electrician.

Yep, finding a good electrician is tough because most of them have been snatched up by massive multinational companies or have been snatched up by larger economies like Australia, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates or Canada.

Fortunately, we have teamed up with a trustworthy and reliable electrician that services the greater Johannesburg area. This partnership has allowed us to offer all our Johannesburg and Centurion customers a package deal for our Hybrid Technology Surge Arresters and the installation of the Surge Arresters.

Cheers for now,

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