With the erratic power cuts in the country, telecommunications service providers have turned to alternative energy sources to stay in business and maintain their operations.
Zimbabwe’s largest mobile network, Econet is turning to Powerwall batteries to keep its base stations running which are being supplied by Palo Alto, a California-based automaker and storable energy company.
This is a cheaper and cleaner alternative to diesel in the case of power outages.
Amid power shortages which can last even up to 18 hours, there are also cash shortages which have people turning to use mobile money. The Postal and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) recently said Ecocash accounted for 98 percent of mobile money transactions.
This then means that if Econet base stations are down then more than half of the national population will not be able to transact or buy anything if they do not have hard cash. Many Zimbabweans can recall a weekend when Ecocash and even the Econet network was down and the nation was on a mobile money standstill.
“Telecommunications have become the lifeblood of the economy,” said Norman Moyo, the chief executive officer of Distributed Power Africa, which installs the batteries for Econet.
The installation of 520 Powerwall batteries, with two going into each base station, is the largest telecommunications project in which Tesla has participated to date, Moyo said.
Econet has about 1,300 base stations in the country, some of which it shares with its competitors. Distributed Power intends to install more batteries and could eventually roll the project out to other power-starved countries in Africa, such as Zambia, Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said.
The telecoms company has also found that running their base stations on diesel is an expense as the price of fuel has risen by more than 1000% since January. The Powerwalls, which cost $6,500 each, will step in when solar panels aren’t generating enough electricity like at night or when heavily overcast. The lithium-ion batteries can power a station for as long as 10 hours, according to Econet.
These batteries mean that mobile networks do not have to switch off in the event of power cuts because if the diesel option fails or the solar panels do not have enough energy to power the base stations, the batteries will step in.