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Imports of Lithium-Ion Cells & Battery Packs Rise In South Africa As Its Load-Shedding Crisis Grows

South Africa is going through its worst ever period of electricity rationing. The record levels of load-shedding in 2022 provided the perfect opportunity for a big jump in the stationary storage industry in South Africa. In 2022, there were 3,773 hours of load-shedding. This was the most intensive year of load-shedding in South Africa’s history. Load-shedding in 2022 was mostly in Stage 4. This was also the first year that Stage 2 has not been the dominant stage of load-shedding implemented by Eskom since it began.

The effects of load-shedding on homes and businesses have been brutal, and the South African Reserve Bank says that during the higher stages of load-shedding, where consumers can experience 12 hours of load-shedding per day, South Africa loses up to R900 million ($50 million) per day. Urgent solutions are needed to stop load-shedding. To mitigate the effects of these crippling power cuts, South African homes and businesses have been accelerating the adoption of solar and battery storage.

One of South Africa’s leading firms in the battery assembly and manufacturing sector, Solar MD, says due to this unprecedented demand for battery storage, it is again expanding its operations and is moving to a larger capacity. Solar MD has a confirmed order backlog where customers have to wait at least three months to get their orders fulfilled. Demand is so high that the orders they have received so far in just the first 3 months of this year are already more than the orders they received for the whole of last year! This year, it has already pre-booked cells for 500 MWh from CATL alone and also made more orders from its other suppliers. Next year, it has already forecasted that it will do at least 2 GWh of business. That’s just one importer of cells!

On a national level, the growth in imports of cells and battery packs has been at an unprecedented level. Johannesburg-based Gaylor Montmasson-Clair, a Senior Economist at Trade, Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), has just showcased this growth in this nice chart.

Image from Gaylor Montmasson-Clair

In Q4 alone of last year, over $350 million worth of lithium-ion cells and batteries were imported by South Africans. Close to $200 million in Q3, $100 million in Q2, and close to $70 million in Q1 of cells and battery packs were imported last year. That is close to $700 million spent on importing lithium-ion cells and batteries in 2022, which his over R12 billion South African Rand. With load-shedding showing no signs of ending, the stationary storage market in South Africa will continue to register significant growth.

Battery image courtesy of Solar MD

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.


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