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With South Africa’s energy security seriously compromised and a solution to the challenge of electricity shortages half a decade or more away, it is necessary for organisations of all kinds to consider how they can continue operations. The situation is no different for the almost 25000 schools around the country and is likely to get worse as even a complete blackout becomes a possibility.

These ten questions and answers provide some perspective and guidance on how schools can cope with the reality of load shedding while minimising impact on teaching – and learning.

1. Load shedding is going to be around for a long time. What can schools do about it?

While it may seem nothing can be done, it is possible to reduce dependency on the electricity supply. Like every other business and household in South Africa, the first step for schools is to switch off all unnecessary appliances and lights. Use natural light in class or other rooms where possible.

2. Is load shedding unique to South Africa (and South African schools?)

No it isn’t. Electricity scarcity plagues a number of countries, including developed (like Italy) and developing (like India, Pakistan and several sub-Saharan African) nations. The impacts of electricity shortages are felt by businesses and schools alike – but have also given rise to the introduction of techniques and equipment to combat the impact of outages.

3. What alternatives are there in terms of electricity supply?

There are alternatives available, including fossil-fuel powered generators and solar power. While these are costly to implement, they reduce reliance on ‘grid’ power for essential equipment required to run the administration of the school; schools are as reliant upon electricity as businesses are.

Encouragingly, the Gauteng provincial government has recently contributed to two new solar powered schools in Johannesburg. The Noordwyk and Northriding Secondary Schools are equipped with 55 metre solar farms, which will generate an average of 9000 kilowatts hours a month. That’s sufficient energy for the entire school, including lights, computers, laboratories and offices.

This sets a precedent for the possibility of funded or subsidised introduction of solar power to more schools.

4. What about energy efficient equipment?

Energy efficient equipment is fast becoming essential in South Africa, whether in the office, classroom or home. Any purchase of new equipment should be made with an eye on its efficiency; by consuming less electricity, costs are managed, and the ability for solar powered or generator solutions to meet reduced demand is enhanced.

5. Does that include items essential for learning, such as copiers and printers?

Most definitely. Schools are dependent on printing and duplicating, so machines which can be supplied with a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and operate off the grid should be a priority. For example, Riso Africa offers the Risolar solution, which includes the Risograph printer / duplicator and Risopower base. Designed for ‘off the grid’ schools in Africa which don’t have any electricity supply, this device is fully self-contained. The secret is in its Risopower base, which contains two solar panels which allow it to produce 90 pages per minute using nothing but the sun.

6. Solar energy sounds great, but what happens if the sun isn’t shining?

Even though South Africa is blessed with fantastic weather, that is a very real possibility. It is for this reason that a device like the Risopower is able to continue operating for up to two days without the sun – thanks to the battery built into the base.

7. Does equipment like this have to be operated in the sun?

While a device like the Risograph and Risopower base is indeed solar powered, the panels are mounted outdoors while the machine ‘lives’ indoors. It isn’t necessary to put it in the sun to take advantage of those rays.

8. It sounds expensive

The Risograph duplicator and Risopower base are designed to be rugged, dependable and long lasting. A lot of thought has gone into making the device as affordable as possible, too, so that it is within reach of schools in rural areas which have limited resources available.

9. What about existing equipment?

Older equipment was generally not designed for energy efficiency at all. In addition to that, printers, copiers and other devices typically have components which have become considerably more refined over time, using less physical materials and also consuming considerably less electricity. Where possible, obsolete equipment should be replaced with modern, energy efficient products which will typically delivery far better performance (and lower operating costs, in terms of consumables and support ) in addition to much reduced energy consumption.

10. How do I help make my school more energy efficient?

Schools are all about education and that’s where energy efficiency starts. By educating all learners and staff of the necessity for ‘reuse, reduce, recycle’, the biggest step towards efficiency is taken – that applies to the use of all consumables (paper, chalk, ink, pens, workbooks and more) and resources (electricity, water, even the school budget). Combined with a focus on replacing or upgrading old or obsolete equipment, your school can be on its way to reduced reliance on the grid (and improved resilience when load shedding hits) almost immediately.

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