Sunday, June 12, 2011


It is so important to our lives (everywhere in the world) and I thought that I would provide a snapshot of how we utilize it, and also how we have had to adapt to the new wattage. 
A normal plug here in South Africa. (Please ignore the dirt and bad paint job- not our fault!)

A normal plug- note the one on the right (the top) is larger.
Our electricity meter.

Where I lived in the USA, you are always billed later, and you are not aware of the usage until after the fact. Here, in Cape Town, we pre-pay our electricity (we usually buy it at the grocery store, giving them a 10 digit code), and you choose R100, R200, etcetera. You get a receipt with a 14 digit code and punch it into your box when you get home. There is a number that is constantly decreasing, the total kilowatts you have used from your pre-paid amount. 

Our wall heater. Doesn't work very well.

Due to this increased awareness, I always turn off lights (but I’ve always done this), turn off machines that are “on even when they’re off”, and do not use our heating wall units until the evening if I can help it. 

How you use more than one appliance at a time.

We are also more aware of our usage because there are public service announcements on the radio with suggestions to turn our “geyser” (hot water heater) off from 5-9 p.m. every day, during peak electricity usage in the city. They warn that there could be planned blackouts if we do not work to conserve energy. You can read more about the "Save it!" campaign here.

Most of the light bulbs are fluorescent, not incandescent. I miss incandescent bulbs, but I understand that fluorescent conserve more energy and last for years. 

The smaller plugs in South Africa.
A plug splitter is needed to use the smaller plugs (on the side). Again, ignore the dirt, not ours!

Here is my husband P (you can find his blog here) to explain the physical mechanics of being able to use some of the electronics that we brought with us from the United States (such as laptops, phones, electric shavers, etc.):

One type of American plug.
Another type of American plug.

"The electrical system in South Africa is different than the United  States in three ways – the shape of the electrical outlet, the voltage, and the electrical frequency. When it comes to the electrical outlet you will notice that in South Africa the outlets have three large circular prongs whereas in the United States the outlets are smaller and have two slots and a circular hole.  You can buy adapters for these outlets which let you plug your American device directly into the outlet, but don’t do it unless you know that your device can handle South Africa’s voltage and frequency.  The voltage in South Africa is 220, and the frequency is 50 Hz.  Most electronic devices have a label.  Look on the label and see if it says something like the following: Input/Entrada 100-240V~1.6A (1,6A) 50-60Hz.  What this means is that your device can handle voltages ranging from 100 to 240 volts, and can work on electrical frequencies ranging from 50 to 60 Hz.  This means that you can plug this device into outlets in the United States (running at 110 volts and 60 Hz) or in South Africa.  If your label says Input 110V ~ 1.6A, 60Hz, this means that it only works in the United States without a power transformer.  A power transformer can change the voltage and the frequency.  Make sure your transformer fits your needs.  Since we moved to South Africa and need to plug in 110 volt, 60Hz appliances into a 220 volt, 50 Hz electrical system we had to make sure the transformer could handle it.  We actually bought a step up and step down transformer which will also let us plug in our South African appliances into the American system."

Our smaller power transformer.

So…its kinda complicated for us here! I still worry about plugging in the wrong thing to one of the converters, and I usually ask the hubs for help. We almost fried our printer when we used our smaller converter- we started smelling something as it was trying to power up. We have not tried it out since then- P thinks that it might still work if we use the bigger converter. 

Now, do you have any questions? :)

I hope you have a great week!

Song of the post: Midday (avoid city after dark) by Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens). 


Frugal in WV said...

Those are some crazy plug ins! New follower from the sundae hop, have a great week! You can find me at

CraftyMummy said...

Isn't it funny what we just take for granted? Here in Australia we also pay for electricity after we use it. My mind boggles at the thought of running out of power because I'd forgotten to go and pay for more! Off to visit the rest of your blog...

Dawn said...

Thank you for following Army Wife and Mom! I'm your newest follower!

sami said...

That´s quite strange with the pre-paid electricity, must be something new, as we lived in South Africa (Johannesburg and later in George in the Cape Province) and we had monthly invoices. Of course this was over 12 years ago! I think it could be due to the fact that a lot of people cannot afford to pay and then electrical company would be left with a lot of debts, so pay first...use later...and then you really make the best use of it! Best of luck with your life in Cape Town, it´s a beautiful city.