on September 20th, 2019

In Southern Africa, aging infrastructure and shortages of much-needed resources are stifling the electrical engineering sector. Powering countries south of the equator is a topic much in focus in the last few years. Both Zimbabwe and South Africa have been seeing a need to balance power loads and load shed at their public energy utilities. However, Zimbabwean companies are starting to get smart with how they manage their power outages.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the largest provider of telecommunications services in Zimbabwe, have resorted to contemporary solutions to their modern-day problems. If Econet’s servers go down, the country suffers economically.

Telecommunications currently plays a vital role in the economy of Zimbabwe. Many people in the country are doing transactions via mobile means. The country is currently experiencing a shortage of physical paper money, and so the transactions are done digitally.

To further exacerbate the problem, in May, Zimbabwe began load-shedding after the government announced it was undergoing power shortfalls due to aging power stations and heavy usage occurring in the winter months. According to reports, the power in Zimbabwe can be switched off for 18 hours a day.

Source: Public domain

Without Econet’s service, according to Bloomberg, 6.7 million people would be without a way to pay for groceries or tip waiters.

Luckily, southern African born Elon Musk’s company, Tesla Inc, has engineered the kinds of technology that can keep the lights on for the African country and companies. Econet, with the assistance of Distributed Power Africa, have installed 520 Powerwall batteries across the telecommunications company’s 1,300 base stations around the country.

Powerwalls are lithium-ion batteries that can be charged up via photovoltaic solar panels.

Norman Moyo, the chief executive officer of Distributed Power Africa said, “telecommunications have become the lifeblood of the economy. If the telecom network is down in Zimbabwe, you can’t do any transactions.”

Distributed Power Africa is looking at rolling out similar projects to other African countries that are struggling to keep their national grids working. Tesla has been shipping their Powerwall technology out to regions that lose access to electricity to try and keep the lights on for crucial infrastructure.

Before the arrival of the Powerwalls in Zimbabwe, Econet’s base stations were utilizing Diesel generators as backup power when the national grid went down. However, fuel shortages soon arose in the troubled country.

The batteries, costing US $6,500 each can power the service provider’s base stations for ten hours without help from the national grid. Backup generators and the arrays of solar panels can pick up the rest of the hours of the day when the sun is shining, granted there is an 18-hour power outage in the area. In the evening, the Powerwall can kick in and keep the base stations running.

The Powerwall was initially designed for the powering of homes in peak power usage times, but their usefulness in business has also been realized. In the United States, some companies are utilizing the much bigger Tesla engineered Powerpacks — they are essentially many stacked Powerwalls that can power an entire building and its infrastructure.

Engineers around the world are called to familiarize themselves with the battery technologies so that they can one day restore power to the regions that need it. Lithium-ion batteries are changing the way things are powered down south, but more needs to be done to bring traditional electric systems to use carbon-neutral technologies such as the Tesla Powerwall.

In neighboring South Africa, Twitter-ers are asking Elon Musk how long it might be before the country sees Tesla Motors’ vehicles being exported to the southern parts of the continent. Responding to a question on Twitter on the 29th of August, Elon Musk said he would love to bring the vehicle to South Africa, but import duties were far too high — especially for electric vehicles. Something the government has promised to change.

There seems to be a demand for the new electric ways of powering several industries in the southern hemisphere. Zimbabwe utilizing lithium-ion batteries to power their businesses is a huge leap forward and is indicative that African countries are rapidly surging towards a decarbonated, fourth industrial revolution future. Engineers are going to have to study the many facets of this new electrical engineering world they have been waiting to meet.

EIT offers a range of electrical engineering programs - find out more!

Works Cited

Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-01/tesla-batteries-are-keeping-zimbabwe-s-economy-running.

Sguazzin, Antony. “How Zimbabwe Is Banking on Tesla.” BusinessLIVE, Business Day, www.businesslive.co.za/bd/companies/2019-09-02-how-zimbabwe-is-banking-on-tesla/.

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