Econet Zimbabwe turns to Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries to cushion against power crisis

ZIMBABWE – Zimbabwe’s biggest telecommunications company, Econet Wireless, has turned to lithium-ion batteries from Telsa to power its base stations around the country as a backup to electricity shortages currently hitting the country.

The power utility company, Zesa Holdings(Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority), early this year, introduced 18-hour-long load shedding schedules to contain the situation, as its electricity generation plummeted due to low water levels in Lake Kariba, the country’s largest source of power, whose water levels have been depleted by an El Nino-induced drought.

Zesa Holdings, which relies on importing power from neighbouring countries, owes South Africa’s Eskom around $23 million in unpaid bills. At present Eskom is providing 400 megawatts to Zimbabwe, which is not enough to restore the situation to normalcy.

Large chunks of the country’s economy runs through electronic systems and mobile money, which is dominated by Econet’s Ecocash with 95% market share. It’s estimated around 5 million transactions a day moving more than $200 million.

Mobile money is used in most services from retail outlets, service stations to paying bus fare, among other things. All this means local mobile network base stations need to always be on regardless of electricity shortages.

In July, Econet generators failed to kick in after a power outage forcing a mobile money blackout for a day. Citizens were left stranded, with economists estimating the country lost millions of dollars

Given the erratic supplies and fluctuating prices of diesel, mobile operators are finding it hard to use diesel-powered generators to back up their stations. They have turned to the Palo Alto, California-based automaker and storable-energy company Tesla to provide them with batteries to keep providing services to their subscribers.

Tesla’s larger-than-life founder Elon Musk launch the Powerwall in 2015. The residential version is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery designed to be mounted in a garage or on the side of a house.

The device in the size of a small refrigerator can store power from a home’s solar panels, or connect to the electrical grid, storing up electricity when rates are low and providing backup electricity supply in case of a blackout.

The lithium-ion batteries can store power to last 10 hours, enough time to power up a station until electricity supplies are restored. Distribution Power Africa (DPA) is currently doing the installations.

DPA chief executive officer Norman Moyo recently told Bloomberg his company is installing 520 Powerwall batteries, with two going into each base station of the 1,300 base stations in the country.

He said base stations power supplies were critical considering that for transactions to run in Zimbabwe telecom network should be up adding that “Telcoms have become the lifeblood of the economy.”

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