Due to high winds that can knock down trees onto electricity lines starting wild fires, Pacific Gas and Electric Company in Northern California is resorting to scheduled blackouts whenever there are high winds. This has been a major inconvenience to its millions of customers.

For Africa this is just normal. In Africa the blackouts are usually not scheduled, but can happen at any moment. The blackouts can last for a short time or up to days. Last week, where I live in rural Kenya, there was a blackout lasting 36 hours. All Africans – and I know of no exceptions in the 54 countries of Africa – need to have a backup system. This can be candles, kerosene or solar lamps, or diesel generators. As a backup I myself have a 150 solar panel with a 12 volt battery. Most businesses and institutions have diesel backup generators. If the electricity goes off when in a supermarket, the customer is in the dark for about half a minute as the diesel generator turns on. Needless to say these diesel generator backup systems are costly to install with high operating costs.

Clearly this is an ideal situation for Tesla’s Powerwall batteries. South Africa is a good example as the electric utility, Eskom, although the largest producer of electricity in Africa, has been so mismanaged that in addition to the unscheduled blackouts, it has to resort to frequent rolling blackouts. In 2017 as soon as Rubicon, the authorized Tesla battery distributer in South Africa received it first Powerwalls, they were immediately sold out. When a small shipment of batteries is received, they are usually sold in one day.

These are individuals wishing to backup their own electricity. More interesting are two other recent projects in Africa. The first is in Eretria, a small, very poor country in eastern Africa that broke away from Ethiopia in 1991. An UK company called Solarcentury has installed Tesla Powerwalls in two off-grip communities. One system in Maidma is 1 MW and the other in Areza is 1.25 MW, serving in total 40,000 people and their businesses. Both are operated by the Eritrean Electricity Company. The hybrid power systems with a combination of solar panels, Testla Powerwalls, and backup diesel generators took eight months to build.

Solarcentury project manager, Theo Guerre-Canon, stated, “The communities are at the heart of this project. Our hope is that access to reliable electricity will support wider economic growth in the region, and social development. For example, there’s a clinic in Areza that will now benefit from uninterrupted electricity. The Eritrean project presents a model for rural electrification, and Solarcentury is in discussions about similar projects across Africa.”

An even larger project is being developed in Zimbabwe. The cell phone company, Econet, has to provide backup electricity to its 1300 cell phone towers. This is not only due to the need to have uninterrupted cell phone connections, but each day about 5 million financial transactions flow through its mobile money system, called Ecocash, via its cell phones. Therefore any interruption of cell phone access would also end mobile financial transactions leading to the stoppage of commerce. Econet conducted a one year pilot project to see if Tesla Powerwall batteries would work as the backup system. The pilot proved successful so Econet has launched a project to place two Powerwall batteries in each of 260 towers of its towers. The batteries can supply enough electricity for up to a 10 hour blackout.

These Powerwall batteries could be a great boon to people in Africa. The main constraint is that Tesla is unable to meet the great demand for its batteries. Tesla is promising to ramp up its battery production so hopefully more people in Africa will be able to benefit.

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David Zarembka

Phone 254 (0)726 590 783
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com

Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com

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