Small businesses and alternative energy supplies

Bookshop owner, Waldo Boshoff has had to make a few adjustments to the lighting in his shop to avoid the scenario of customers browsing through books in the dark in the event of loadshedding.

With rolling blackouts intensified during this month due to various reasons provided by Eskom, local business owners were forced to consider alternative sources of energy to keep their businesses running.

One such businessman is Waldo Boshoff, owner of the Bookworm Fantasy in Somerset West. Following the escalation of load shedding stages to as high as stage 6, the only sensible solution for him was to resort to alternative energy sources.

Even though, fortunately for him, the blackouts did not directly affect sales, they did have a profound effect on the practicalities of running the bookshop.

“I’ve had to resort to alternative infrastructure to make the business shoppable in the darkness and although very frustrating, but by being proactive I have been able to avoid closing the shop early.” For this purpose, he purchased portable rechargeable lanterns and fitted emergency lighting.

Additionally, he implored an alternative energy supply to maintain the store’s WiFi connection during load shedding. “The UPS for my WiFi did run into thousands though, which for a small business is quite substantial, but the WiFi is essential in that it allows me to process card transactions.”

Another local entrepreneur, owner of Coffee MM in Stellenbosch, Mhlengi Ngcobo has unfortunately suffered financial losses because of the rolling blackouts. “During stage 4 we have seen our sales shrink by 50-60% and continue to decline.”

The power cuts, he says cost them 3 – 4 hours in loss of trading and with no electricity they cannot operate their coffee machines. Staff morale is also on a downward spiral directly as a result of the blackouts.

“My team enjoys work, this is where they are most productive, but with load shedding they often arrive at 8am and the power only goes on at 10. Thus 2 hours of productivity are lost in the mornings.”

He simply cannot afford any alternative energy sources. “A standard 2 group coffee machine requires minimum 6.5kVA generator. To which the cost of procuring (rent or buy) and setting it up are too high for my business to afford.”

Although energy alternative solutions are unaffordable and out of his budget, this young entrepreneur has found other ways to remain operational during load shedding. “We serve alternative beverages such as plunger coffee, tea and cooldrinks during blackouts. Customers seem to enjoy this experience; however, the majority of customers prefer espresso-based coffees.”

In numerous press statements released by Eskom over the course of the month, the power unit attributed the recent rolling blackouts to reasons including failed wage negotiation talks, followed by unlawful strikes, damage to infrastructure, non-functioning units, worker absenteeism, delays in repairing and maintenance of infrastructure.

There is no confirmation from Eskom as of when the power crisis would be resolved or rolling blackouts at least be lessened. In the last media statement, released on Saturday July 9, the power utility said Stage 4 load shedding would be implemented and varying stages of load shedding would continue this week and over the next few weeks.

Based on these developments, Mr Boshoff regards the expenditure he incurred in making provisions for load shedding as long-term investment, instead of temporary relief measures.

The City of Cape Town is also looking into alternative energy supplies. In a press statement issued by Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis earlier this month, the City reported on a meeting with and discussions with colleagues from the City of Johannesburg on how metros can move away from Eskom as a power supplier. The delegation visited the Steenbras Hydro Pumped Storage Scheme.

Mr Hill-Lewis added: “If high stages of load shedding continue, the threat to critical infrastructure and the suffering that will result from economic recession will, in my view, constitute an emergency similar to Cape Town’s 2017/18 drought and the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We will seek legal advice on whether it is appropriate to force the City to comply with all of the onerous requirements of procurement processes imposed by national legislation under these emergency circumstances.”