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Tesla’s low-cost renewable battery could revolutionise Africa’s energy supply


Home storage unit is perfect for continent rich in solar and wind resources but short of reliable power sources, says Christine Mungai

Batteries that can store renewable energy for longer and at half the current cost have been hailed as an energy revolution that could transform Africa’s power supply.

Launched by California-based tech company Tesla, the battery can hold enough energy to power a home for up to five hours.

Tesla boss Elon Musk said the company had Africa in mind when it developed the wall-mounted energy source. Just like the mobile phone allowed the continent to surge ahead in internet connectivity, so a battery pack that can power a home or business could allow Africans to leapfrog the limits of the grid.

The company has promised to release the technology into the public domain, encouraging others to develop their own models using the open source data.

At $3,500 (£2,267) for the 10 kilowatt hours version or $3,000 for a 7KWh version it’s still relatively expensive, but within a few years the price is expected to dropas others develop their own models.

Africa is the world’s most energy-scarce continent. Sub-Saharan Africa has an installed capacity equivalent to that of Spain, and half of it is in South Africa alone.

But perhaps more importantly, Africa could become the global centre for green energy. Thanks to the expansive Sahara desert, strong winds along its coasts and its flat, arid interior, and geothermal reserves all along the Rift Valley, the continent has the world’s highest reserves of renewable energy resources.

Here are three ways the new battery could make an impact:

Lighting and power

The battery could allow millions to leapfrog from no electricity at all straight to renewables.

Sub-Saharan Africa has more people living without access to electricity than any other region – more than 600 million people – nearly half of the global total. Although

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the continent is home to 13% of the world’s population, it accounts for only 4% of global energy demand.

Worse still, the electricity available is erratic. Nigeria’s power is notoriously unreliable, but Ghana and South Africa have also been recently plunged into blackouts, mainly because of a lack of investment in the electricity grid.

With the Powerwall currently able to supply five hours of power, an enterprising African engineer could hook up several together, scaling up the battery’s capacity to provide continuous power to homes or commercial centres.

The battery could also finally break Africa’s dependance on fuel guzzling generators. In 2012, the cost of fuel for backup generators used by businesses and households is estimated to have been at least $5bn.

Nigeria is said to have the biggest concentration of generators per square kilometre in the world; the country accounts for almost three-quarters of electricity supply provided by back-up generators in Africa.

Mobile tech hubs

Today, technology hubs are springing up all over Africa’s cities. There are currently at least 90 tech hubs across the continent.

Kenya is planning to build a tech city – its “silicon savannah” – costing $14.5bn from scratch at Konza, 60km away from the capital in Nairobi. Ghana plans to build Hope City, a $10bn high-tech hub outside Accra, aiming to turn Ghana into a major tech player too.

Meanwhile, companies like Facebook and Google have ambitious plans to deploy wireless internet across the globe using drones or hot-air balloons to carry the signal.

But the combination of a solar panel battery and drone/balloon internet, it might only be a matter of time before the idea of a physical tech city itself becomes obsolete.

Using the new batteries, a tech hub – and workplaces in general – could become more mobile, springing up guerrilla-style anywhere in urban or rural Africa, like a flash mob for geeks.

Disengaging from government

With the possibility of being entirely off-grid, the home battery could finalise the disconnection of African everyday life from the happenings in the political sphere.

Traditionally, the relationship between a government and its people is one of bartering political support for the provision of services, such as roads, schools, electricity, water and security.

But increasingly, African life today is characterised by an extensive retreat of the state from these functions.

In Kenya, for example, the number of private primary schools rose nearly 1,000%in a decade, while the number of government primary schools grew just 40%.

In Uganda, the percentage of university students attending private institutions jumped from 9% in 1999 to 74% in 2011. In South Africa, there are more private security guards than police and army combined.

Nairobi city senator Mike Sonko even recently launched a personally funded fleetof ambulances, tow trucks, garbage collectors, water bowsers and fire brigades to respond to citizen emergencies.

Already, studies show that the African middle class deliberately disengages from politics as a form of protest, particularly if the government is authoritarian or a quasi-democracy.

The result – if the Tesla batteries take off, and Africa goes off-grid – could be less pressure on states to provide infrastructure and services to its people, widening the gap between governments and voters.

Source: The Guardian


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