Load shedding, faulty alarm systems and insurance risks

Issue 7 2022 Perimeter Security, Alarms & Intruder Detection

As South Africa continues to experience frequent bouts of load shedding, security systems can be severely compromised due to lead-acid batteries – an old technology still used in security systems. The question arises whether the home or premises is covered by insurance in the case of a homeowner activating their alarm while load shedding strikes and the backup battery fails.

Michael Rogers, MD of rechargeable battery manufacturer Uniross, says this will depend on the insurer and whether an ‘alarm warranty’ is specified in the insurance policy. “Generally, if the insurance policy requires an alarm together with an armed response service, then the alarm must be set every time the householder leaves the home. If the alarm isn’t set, even by accident, the insurance company may not be obliged to provide cover for theft or burglary.

“The type of battery used in a security alarm can therefore create or alleviate the problem,” says Rogers. “Most alarm systems use lead-acid batteries for backup power, but this is an old technology and not suited to the frequent power outages typical of load shedding. Homeowners can replace their lead-acid batteries with new lithium-based technology to avoid these risks. Using lithium will help to ensure that the alarm system is powered at all times, irrespective of the frequency of power outages.”

He explains that lead batteries were designed for infrequent use and for short periods of time. “If a lead battery is repeatedly run flat, it will result in premature failure. Generally, lead batteries are not capable of being discharged below 50%, and if they are, it causes damage to the battery.

“When this same battery is powering an alarm or other security device, the homeowner will not know how deeply it has been discharged. In this instance security must take preference. The level of discharge of the battery should not be a factor in determining whether the security system is functioning or not.”

When the lead battery is depleted with each bout of load shedding, soon it will only last a few minutes, let alone the few hours needed to get through the blackout.

“It is therefore prudent to use a battery that is better suited to security systems and the challenges that load shedding brings,” says Rogers. “New-technology lithium batteries are better than lead batteries in most respects, in particular because they can run completely flat (100% depth of discharge) without causing damage to the battery, making lithium ideally suited to all security systems. In addition, lithium batteries can be used up to 2000 times as opposed to 250-300 times with a lead battery.”

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