Restaurants roll out generators to fight load shedding – at a cost of R1,000 per hour

Business Insider SA
Load shedding
(Getty Images)
  • Load shedding is having a devastating impact on South Africa's restaurant industry.
  • Yet another blow for a sector hard-hit by fierce lockdown restrictions during the pandemic.
  • Restaurants which have the capital and willing landlords are using generators to power walk-in freezers, kitchens, lights, and point-of-sale systems.
  • But to keep all this working costs around R1,000 an hour in maintenance and fuel costs, which are 34% higher than they were last year this time.
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South Africa's embattled restaurant industry is being battered by load shedding, turning to petrol and diesel generators to keep the lights on. But record-high fuel prices, following months of strict lockdown restrictions, are making the current situation a lot harder.

Load shedding is draining South Africa's already hard-hit economy and scaring away potential investors. As Eskom's aging coal fleet splutters and supply is outweighed by demand, rotational power cuts sweep across the country, plunging businesses into darkness.

Eskom has implemented varying stages of load shedding consistently over the past month, with only a brief reprieve to accommodate the municipal elections at the start of November. Currently at Stage 4, which allows 4,000MW of capacity to be shed with three two-and-a-half hour rotational cuts at intervals throughout the day, restaurants are feeling the pressure.

Load shedding is bad enough, but on the back of a particularly dismal year of fierce lockdown restrictions and soaring fuel prices, these cuts further threaten the financial and operational stability of many restaurants.

"This is a complete nightmare," Wendy Alberts, the chief executive officer of the Restaurants Association of South Africa (RASA), tells Business Insider SA.

Restaurants, like many other businesses, have turned to generators. But it's not as simple as flipping a switch to diesel or petrol power when Eskom's load shedding kicks in, according to Alberts.

"There's an interruption of [at least] 15 minutes, because we need to get the generator started and start-up the kitchen slowly by reintroducing equipment to the generator," says Alberts.

And while these interruptions delay food service and may deter patrons, the use of generators three times a day also comes at a great financial cost. Alberts estimates that, depending on the size and power needs of a particular restaurant, running a generator costs around R1,000 an hour.

If restaurants are operational throughout the day and suffer up to seven hours of load shedding, the cost of running a generator may be as high as R7,000.

This includes petrol and diesel costs, which recently reached their highest-ever levels, up around 34% compared to 2020. A commercial generator, those that produce at least 60 kilovolt-amps (KVa) to power kitchens, fridges, lights, and point-of-sale systems, can easily consume more than 20 litres of fuel every hour. The cost also factors in generator maintenance.

Even getting a generator is a major stumbling block for restaurants, who often have to rely on landlords and lack the necessary space.

"We've called to landlords to provide alternative sources of energy and generators [but] many landlords can't provide it or have not got capital to provide. And, simply, many of our sites don't lend themselves for our restaurants to put a generator in the spaces they are currently renting,' says Alberts, adding that without generators, businesses remain unable to generate an income during the hours of load shedding and end up with expensive wastages.

"It means that walk-in freezers' compressors get compromised [and] the damages can be anything from around R50,000."

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