For more than a decade, South Africa has been plagued with rolling blackouts, more commonly known as loadshedding. These power cuts have impacted all walks of life in the country, including small businesses and how they operate.
In an effort to stay afloat amid these power restrictions, small business owners have banded together to share resources, tools, and ideas. This communal property arrangement has allowed businesses to remain open and provide the goods and services that their customers desperately need.
So today, we will be taking a closer look at some loadshedding solutions, and how business owners can help each other to ensure that their companies stay afloat through these dark times.
Want to know more about loadshedding and your small business? Check out Loadshedding Survival Tips: How to Run a Small Business in the Dark.
What Loadshedding Means for Small Businesses
Loadshedding has had a devastating impact on South Africa’s economy. Despite forcing businesses to slow down or even stop production entirely, these power restrictions have also raised the general costs of doing business.
As such, South Africa is officially in the grips of an energy crisis, one which has seen a negative impact of 2.1% on the country’s GDP in the third quarter of 2022. This means that SA is losing a staggering R4 billion a day from the GDP whilst loadshedding remains in effect.
But like a rainbow after a heavy downpour, business owners around the country are starting to work together to help alleviate the strains of loadshedding. So don’t throw away your small business idea just yet, there is still hope for it to thrive amidst the turmoil.
Still searching for the perfect business idea? Check out 27 Innovative Kasi Business Ideas for the Emerging Entrepreneur in South Africa.
Loadshedding Solutions for Small Businesses
From mega-corporations to individual households, South Africans are now seeking alternatives to the power that is being supplied by the national grid. So, before we examine how the sharing economy can alleviate loadshedding pain points, let’s first take a look at how you can keep the lights on in your business.
1. Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS)
Also known as an uninterrupted power source, a UPS is basically a battery in a box that delivers electricity through the attached plug points. Energy can only be drawn by plugging directly into the UPS, and the size of the UPS will determine how many devices it can power and for how long.
A UPS is great for providing electricity to small devices during short power outages. So, if you are the sole employee of your business, a UPS will be perfect for you as you can plug in your WiFi, charge your phone, and fire up your laptop or computer.
You can get your UPS from many places including Takalot, Amazon, Game, Makro, and your local store for electrical appliances. Depending on your particular needs, you can expect to pay anything from R600* to R13,000* for your UPS.
2. Rechargeable Lights
While you won't be able to power anything else, rechargeable bulbs ensure that you are never left in the dark. Quite simply, you’d switch out your standard bulbs for rechargeable ones. And when the power cuts, at least your lights will stay on. No mess, no fuss. Given the current electricity crisis, these bulbs should be standard throughout your home and office.
Rechargeable bulbs are relatively inexpensive and start from as little as R60* for a single bulb.
Rechargeable lights are becoming increasingly popular in the country, for obvious reasons. These lights recharge by plugging into a power source and once charged, they can be used anywhere until it’s time to juice up again.
You can check-in with your local hardware store for the rechargeable light options that are available to you. Typically, you shouldn’t be spending more than R550* for a standard, desk-mountable rechargeable light.
This one is a real winner, as it provides electricity to more devices for longer periods of time while still being cost-effective. Without getting too technical, inverters convert the AC power received from the national grid into DC power to be stored in the inverter’s battery. It then reconverts that power to AC to feed it back to your home and office.
Inverters typically connect to your main distribution board and you will either have to turn it on when the electricity cuts, or set it to automatically turn on if your particular inverter offers that function. Inverter prices are determined by their size and output capacity, and range from R900* to R18,500*. Apart from checking out your local electrical appliance store, you can visit Takealot, Amazon, Game, and Makro.
A generator implements the tried and tested technology of using fuel to power an engine. Generators run on either diesel or petrol and are less sought after due to the current high price of oil. Generators can be as small as some inverters and used to power smaller or fewer devices, while industrial generators can provide electricity to an entire factory or warehouse.
As a small business owner, a generator worth around R2500* should be suitable for your needs.
*All prices are quoted at the time of writing, are source dependent, and may be subject to change.
5. Solar Energy
We absolutely love solar as it provides a hopeful future in renewable and sustainable energy. Solar energy is used by installing solar panels on a high point on your property, usually on your roof. The panels then convert the energy received by the sun into electricity that can be used in your home or office.
A solar system connects to your main distribution board and starts feeding electricity to your building when the main power supply is interrupted. Solar energy can be used as an emergency back-up or as a way to remove yourself from the national grid altogether. Your solar generation capacity will be determined by the size and number of the solar panels and the accompanying battery units that have been installed.
Installing a solar system is just too expensive for many South Africans to afford. However, due to the increasing demand, many energy businesses have started offering solar rentals or rent-to-buy options. This means that you can enjoy all the benefits of solar energy without having to pay hefty upfront installation and maintenance fees.
Google will be your best friend when it comes to finding the solar solution that’s best for you, but here are a few businesses that offer affordable rental and/or rent-to-buy options:
How The Sharing Economy Alleviates Loadshedding Pain Points
You now know how to keep the lights on when South Africa’s Zeus goes on holiday, but there are still more ways to combat loadshedding as a business owner in the country. It’s all about how you can scratch a fellow founder’s back, while they scratch yours in return.
The sharing economy refers to those who prefer to rent or borrow items that are needed for their business, rather than buy and own them. It allows one side of the equation to monetise assets that are seldom in use, while the other side enjoys lower upfront costs and the flexibility of short-term rentals.
Here are some ways the sharing economy can help ease the loadshedding burden:
Distributing Solar Energy
Businesses in South Africa are now allowed to generate up to 100 MW of power before having to apply for a generation licence. This means that you can set up your solar system and go about your day without ever having to worry about those dreaded three syllables.
But that also means it’s highly unlikely for your small business to use all 100 MW that it is allowed to generate. So, instead of losing all that energy, you can sell it back to the municipality and indeed to other businesses around you.
The City of Cape Town has made it incredibly lucrative for individuals and businesses to sell their excess power back to the municipality. And with the ever-present loadshedding, many other local governments are scrambling to follow suit. So, not only will you be staying ahead of the climate curb by using and providing renewable energy, but you would also be making increased returns on your solar energy investment.
Using the Same Generator
In addition to selling their excess generated power, businesses can also share generators and split the costs of the fuel. So if you have a large generator, offer to share it with another business while the two of you share the costs.
This tactic works best when used with a neighbouring business, as you need to make sure that you both have access to the generator. There’s no point in splitting generator costs if one side is still forced to light candles.
Sharing Office Space
One of the major drawbacks of loadshedding is that everything becomes more expensive as a result. You have to fund electrical backups, pay for transport to go to a place with WiFi and then pay for your coffee, not to mention the steep rise of inflation.
So, to take some pressure off and ensure that you’re counting Rands and not cents at the end of the month, try sharing your office space with other businesses. You’ll be able to split the rent and other costs like water and electricity.
Renting Idle Assets
Now this one may not keep the lights on, but it will definitely help fund all the electricity back-ups that you need. If you have equipment that you seldom use such as printers, old computers and WiFi routers to name a few, you can lease them out to other businesses that will put them to use.
Likewise, if you need a piece of equipment but cannot afford to buy it, you can look around for affordable rental options. Either way, you’re saving money while potentially gaining a new business ally.
The sharing economy is all about helping yourself by helping others. And with this unity, loadshedding will become as effective as the wolf huffing and puffing to blow down a brick-built fortress.
Did you know that there are many ways for you to build your business? One of them is Using Technology to Build Your Kasi Business.
By being a part of the shared economy, you will be giving your business access to the goods and services that you need while making money off the ones you don’t. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an entire nation to overcome the perils of loadshedding. South Africa, it’s time to switch on!
For more tips on how to run a successful business, be sure to read 16 Lessons from Successful Kasi Entrepreneurs.