By Farai Matiashe
Zimbabwe’s biggest telecommunications company, Econet Wireless, has turned to lithium-ion batteries to power its base stations in the wake of incessant power shortages currently rocking the country.
The power utility company, Zesa Holdings, early this year, introduced 18-hour-long loadshedding 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 power imports from neighbouring countries, as of July this year owed South Africa’s Eskom $23 million in unpaid bills and at the moment Eskom is providing 400 megawatts to Zimbabwe, which is not enough to restore the situation to normalcy.
Zimbabwe is experiencing cash shortages as its economy continues to stutter with mobile money dominating most of the nation’s transactions.
Mobile money is used in most services from retail outlets, service stations to paying bus fare, among other things.
For citizens to keep transacting, telecommunication base stations should always be up despite lack of electricity supply as what happened on July 20 when Econet generators failed to kick in after a power outage, forcing a network 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 difficult to sustain operations using 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.
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 is currently doing the installations.
The powerwalls, which costs $6 500, are seen as a better option because solar-powered batteries are failing to store enough power overnight or when there is bad weather.
Distribution Power Africa chief executive officer Norman Moyo recently told Bloomberg that they were installing 520 Powerwall batteries, with two going into each base station.
He said base stations power supplies were critical considering that for transactions to run in Zimbabwe telecommunication networks should be up adding that “telcommunications have become the lifeblood of the economy”.
Much of the country’s economy runs through electronic systems and mobile money, while EcoCash dominates the mobile money payment market share at 95%.