The only catch-all solutions to loadshedding are expensive solar power systems and noisy, costly and polluting generators. However, now that we know Eskom is not going to solve its problems for most of this decade, there is an urgency to fill the gaps that matter most. The great news is that one does not need a big wallet to invest in many of the solutions for, err, plugging the gaps.
Here is the best of the tech I have found and used over the past year not only to cope with loadshedding, but also to ensure that my most important activities are not disrupted:
Best lighting solution
Gogooda Premium LED Desk Lamp for Reading (R169 from Takealot)
USB-powered LED lamp that can be charged from a wall-plug, laptop or powerbank, keeps going for up to 8 hours. It has 3 brightness levels, which can be controlled by a touch-sensitive dimmer on the base of the lamp. It is ideal for office desks and bedside reading. And it looks good. Numerous alternatives are available, some at two-thirds the price, but, after sending back three faulty units of a rival model, the Gogooda is the highest-quality option that we’ve found in the sub-R250 range. The low cost means they can be distributed around a home, giving every room lighting during loadshedding.
Best coffee solution
Safy Single Burner Canister Camping Gas Stove (Takealot, from R329)
Regular readers will know that coffee plays an important role in my life, or at least in getting me going in the morning. With loadshedding, my electric kettle stands idle, and a mini gas stove needs space for the canister as well as the oven, not to mention multiple steps to get that kettle boiled. The Safy portable camping stove works on butane gas and, depending on the option selected, comes with a starter canister that slots into the stove. It takes less than a minute to assemble, and uses an instantaneous Piezo-Electric Ignition system to fire up the stove. Made of cast aluminium, it is 34cm long, 26cm wide, 9mm high, and weighs 1.6kg, including a carrying case. One butane canister lasts several weeks, and refills cost around R50-R60. Coffee sorted.
Best cooling solution
Portable Air Cooler (From R149 on special deals from One Deal A Day)
Hot summer days (yes, we have had a few, despite all the rain) without aircon or fans can be draining. Once again, USB power comes to the rescue, with a portable air conditioner that can be powered by a laptop. They typically cost between R500 and R1000 off the shelf, but One Deal A Day runs regular promotions at a fraction of that price. It is ideal for an office desk or a bedside, and can run for the four hours of loadsheddding off a laptop that has more than four hours battery life. A 380ml water tank uses a 3-speed wind fan to cool the air around the device. Claims to it also serving as a humidifier and being silent can be ignored. A more powerful version, the Antarctica Portable Air Cooler costs, from R449 on promotions.
Best broadband solution
Fusion Broadband, Comsol, Afrihost and Mustek (see pricing below)
This one gets complicated. Because cellular towers cannot recharge fast enough to last through multiple power cuts a day, mobile broadband no longer provides an adequate guarantee of uninterrupted connectivity. Since our business lives on the Internet, this is the only tech that is essential to our survival. Or, as they say, mission-critical. We found our solution in a bundle put together by Comsol, which provides high-speed connectivity over long distances via microwave signals. It has partnered with Fusion Broadband, which provides a system that combines microwave and fibre connectivity, in our case via Afrihost, and automatically switches from one to the other if either fails. They have also roped in Mustek, which provides cost-effective inverters, to power a combined fibre box, microwave receiver, and any connected Wi-Fi routers, to ensure uninterrupted high-speed connectivity.
Approximate costs: R7999 (excluding VAT) includes all hardware, SD-WAN setup, site assessment and connection installation. Fibre or fixed wireless connection, bundled with an SD-WAN service, has a monthly cost of R3499. A 2400VA Mecer Geewiz inverter trolley from Mustek, which contains two 100AH batteries and provides eight hours battery life, costs R8517.
Best Wi-Fi solution
8800mAh generic powerbank (R499-R1,200, various suppliers)
Assuming the main broadband connection is sorted via an inverter, one may still find Wi-Fi routers and range extenders remain a challenge. For the last few years, however, we have seen a proliferation of powerbanks designed specifically for such devices, meaning they don’t only power USB-connected devices. They are the size of a few smartphones stacked, with 8800mAh batteries, and typically give around 4 hours power to a router. They are mass-manufactured in China, and distributed locally under brands like Volkano and Andowl. Look out for special deals at online stores like Takealot and One Deal a Day.
Best entertainment solution
Streaming services on any smartphone, tablet or laptop
Here it is a matter of how much you want to spend on both streaming and tech. Almost all the major video-on-demand services are available in South Africa. The only obstacle is the size of the screen, meaning that large displays on smartphones are suddenly that much more important. Oh, and whether the device is charged.
That, in turn, means that the most important loadshedding solution is good planning.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee