TechInAfrica – Econet Wireless, Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile phone operator is turning to the Palo Alto, California-based automaker and storable energy company for batteries that can keep its base stations running.
Tesla helps Zimbabweans pay their bills due to the power outages that could continue to 18 hours each day. Almost all transactions occur in the digital platform, as the Southern African country faces chronic shortages of physical cash, and mostly through various mobile phones.
Ecocash, Econet’s main payment system, has 6.7 million active users in a country of 14 million people. It is used for everything from buying groceries to tipping waiters.
Norman Moyo, the CEO of Distribute Power Africa, said that telecommunications has become the lifeblood of the economy, and if telecoms network is down in Zimbabwe, people can’t do any transactions.
The company, which installs the batteries for Econet, has been installing 520 Powerwall batteries, with two going into each base station. This is the biggest telecoms project in which Tesla has contributed to date, according to Moyo. Distribute Power also aim to install more batteries, with Econet’s station comprising of 1300 base stations in the country, followed by other two operating mobile phone companies, and the event could eventually roll the project out to other power-starved countries in Africa, such as Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The lithium-ion batteries, called Powerwalls, can generate power for each station to 10 hours, proven as an alternative to diesel-fired generators that are often used as a backup in the base stations, since fuel itself is a scarce resource in the country. The Powerwalls, which cost R100,000 each, will be activated when the solar panels aren’t generating enough electricity, such as during the night time or when it’s heavily overcast. The batteries are charged primarily by the sun.
Erratic power supply
A company spokesperson said that Tesla is working with several telecoms companies around the world and sees a combination of solar panels and battery storage as a good opportunity to expand its business in countries and areas where electricity supply is erratic or nonexistent.