Load shedding is common in many parts of the world where the electricity supply is only sometimes reliable. It refers to the deliberate shutdown of electricity in specific areas or regions to prevent a total blackout because of weak energy supply infrastructure. In Africa, especially in Zimbabwe and South Africa, it is common for electricity to go out for up 18 hours a day.
During load shedding, people must cope with prolonged periods of darkness, limited access to essential services, and disruptions to their daily routines. However, despite the challenges, many individuals, including the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) staff, have shown remarkable resilience in the face of load shedding, finding innovative ways to adapt and overcome the difficulties presented by this phenomenon.
In the following article, EIT staff from Zimbabwe and South Africa give us a first-hand account of their experience of load shedding and how they continue to shine in the face of adversity.
As I interacted with colleagues from other countries, I realized they needed to be aware of our daily struggle with load shedding in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Load shedding is when the electricity company cuts off power for several hours, which happens almost daily.
We celebrate if we go without a power cut for 24 hours. Currently, it’s Wednesday, 8th March 2023, and the electricity went out at 6:30 AM, which is not surprising. We expect it to come back between 3 PM and 10 PM. We also have water cuts for at least two consecutive days every week, although this does not affect my work.
Working from home, I need certain appliances to be plugged in, and load shedding makes this problematic. I must connect to the internet, charge my laptop and phone, and warm up my meals during lunchtime. Previously, I borrowed a Portable Power Station (PPS) from a relative, which allowed me to plug in and charge my devices.
However, using the PPS consumed a lot of prepaid electricity, which we also needed for other purposes. We had to return the PPS to the owner. Thus, we had to find a permanent solution to this challenge: installing a Solar System at home. They composed our solar system of two batteries, an inverter, and three solar panels.
During a power cut, we manually switch from electricity to solar using a changeover switch installed. But our system needs to be more significant to power appliances like the microwave, refrigerator, stove, and sometimes even the television. We can only have the lights on, use the Wi-Fi router, and charge my laptop.
While the solar system is helpful, it relies on sunshine, so cloudy or rainy days can drain the system, leaving us in the dark. It typically runs out of power at night but recharges when daylight returns. We must be careful to keep the system manageable by plugging in too many devices. We give it time to recharge, usually for about an hour and a half to two hours, before we can use the Wi-Fi router and charge my laptop again.
I am researching yet another solution to prevent power cuts from affecting my work because of the worsening load-shedding situation, which shows no improvement. Fortunately, I can complete my work with my solar system, experiencing only 2 hours of downtime. However, in the rare event of a more extended outage, my team always steps in to handle any urgent queries from my students.
Load shedding is a significant problem that has real consequences for our daily lives. In particular, load shedding, which has made it difficult for them to attend online classes and keep up with their academic workload, has significantly affected many of my students in South Africa.
To help my students, I work according to the load-shedding schedule for their area and schedule webinars when they have electricity. I encourage them to use the “EskomSePush” App to know when there is load shedding so that they can plan their study schedules accordingly.
Investing in valuable gadgets like power banks, rechargeable lights, and external hard drives can also help students study effectively during load shedding. These gadgets will keep their electronic devices powered and prevent them from losing tasks and assignments.
Pre-planning is essential to combat load shedding. We work six months in advance to schedule webinars and upload materials on our student Learning Management system, ensuring that it keeps our students in the loop when needed to access their materials.
Overall, by working around load shedding, we can still provide the best service to our students. With the VET LSO, we work six months in advance, from webinar scheduling to uploading materials on our student Learning Management system.
This planning and forecasts ensure we do not leave our students in ‘the dark’ when they have to access their materials. I would say pre-planning is one of the best ways to combat load shedding and working around complete darkness and still provide the best service to our students.
Recently, South Africa has been experiencing an increase in the frequency and duration of power outages, known as load shedding. This is because of various factors, such as old infrastructure, lack of maintenance, issues with coal, and sabotage.
Load shedding has significantly impacted the country’s economy and the daily lives of its residents. As a lecturer, these power cuts have consistently disrupted the teaching and learning process, both in-person and virtually, as they often affect internet services.
During the 2022 academic year, load shedding typically disrupted lecture and practical sessions twice weekly. While backup arrangements are in place during power cuts, they still disrupt the teaching process, and it takes time for both the lecturer and students to adjust to the new arrangements. Students, in particular, feel the impact of the disruptions, especially when they study from home.
The South African government has implemented various policies. With the introduction of the new electricity ministry, there are plans to mitigate the load-shedding crisis in the short term and stop it in the long term.
However, while lecturers can access backup resources such as power banks, generators, and solar systems, many students need help to afford these expensive resources. Despite these challenges, lecturers are still providing services to students with available backup infrastructure. The question remains: when will load shedding finally end?
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