Econet are rolling out a first-of-its-kind and also the largest deployment of AC-coupled Li-ion batteries in the telecoms sector. Econet will deploy a giant Tesla Powerwall 2 fleet on its mobile network after a successful 12 month trial.
The first phase will see Econet deploy 520 Powerwall 2’s at 260 of its telecom sites. Each site will benefit from much improved battery autonomy, with two Powerwalls giving 27 kWh of usable energy. This configuration will provide at least 8 hours of backup power at each site, as each site has an average load of just over 3 kW.
Distributed Power Africa (DPA), a subsidiary of Econet Global, will carry out the installations. DPA will also be responsible for monitoring the Powerwalls as part of its energy management solution for the Econet telecom towers. Using Tesla’s GridLogic aggregation, remote monitoring, and control platform, DPA through its Network Operating Centre (NOC) will have a complete view of the entire Powerwall fleet.
The first shipment of 150 Powerwall 2’s has already arrived and installations will start shortly.
Power uptime at telecoms towers is more critical than ever in Africa these days, as the communications infrastructure from today’s mobile network operators (MNOs) is at the interface of multiple value-added services. Examples of these are popular mobile money platforms such as Econet’s own EcoCash and Safarcom’s Mpesa in Kenya.
Some of the batteries will be deployed on Econet Wireless Zimbabwe’s network and the project could not have come at a better time, as Zimbabwe’s power utility has just started a load-shedding regime of 8 hour blackouts. The Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) has had to curtail generation at its largest power plant, the 1050 MW Kariba Dam Hydropower Station, due to low water levels induced by a prolonged drought period. The power generation situation has also been worsened by frequent breakdowns and depressed generation at its aging coal power plants in Hwange, Bulawayo, Munyati, and the capital city Harare.
With Li-ion batteries having the advantage of faster charging times, the projects will allow for the batteries to be topped up completely from solar and during the time when the power from the grid is available. Doing so, without these fast charging times, would have been a challenge with traditional deep-cycle lead-acid batteries typically used in the telco space.
The Powerwall rollout will also help in Econet’s ongoing diesel abatement program. Mobile diesel generators have traditionally been deployed traditionally to power some of these sites in the event of prolonged power outages, but that creates pollution and can be very expensive.
Tesla Powerwalls feature integrated battery inverters and smart controls via the Tesla Energy Gateway, which will also solve one of the biggest issues facing telecoms firms in Sub Saharan Africa, battery theft. Telecoms companies are reporting cases of battery theft daily, as reported on Carte Blanche recently.
The scourge of battery theft in Southern African Telco Towers, reported by Carte Blanche.
Grid power outages are becoming more frequent in southern Africa and this has created a ripe market for 12V lead-acid batteries traditionally used by telecoms firms as well as DC-coupled Li-ion batteries coming from China and India, as these integrate easily with small solar home battery backup systems. Since each Powerwall is paired with a specific energy Gateway and registered with Tesla by approved Tesla installers, the batteries are rendered useless outside the intended original site and can be switched off remotely if theft is reported, a highly valuable feature.
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