Zimbabweans are relying on Tesla Inc to help them pay their bills.
Amid power outages of as long as 18 hours a day, Econet Wireless Ltd, Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile-phone operator, is turning to the Palo Alto, California-based automaker and storable-energy company for batteries that can keep its base stations running.
The southern African country faces chronic shortages of physical cash, so almost all transactions are done digitally, and many via mobile phones.
“Telecommunications have become the lifeblood of the economy,” said Norman Moyo, the chief executive of Distributed Power Africa, which installs the batteries for Econet. “If the telecom network is down in Zimbabwe, you can’t do any transactions.”
The installation of 520 Powerwall batteries, with two going into each base station, is the largest telecommunications project in which Tesla has participated to date, Moyo said.
With Econet having about 1,300 base stations in the country and two other mobile-phone companies operating there, Distributed Power intends to install more batteries and could eventually roll the project out to other power-starved countries in Africa, such as Zambia, Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said.
Base stations in Zimbabwe often use diesel generators as backup, but fuel is also scarce in the country.
The Powerwalls, which cost US$6,500 each, will step in when solar panels are not generating enough electricity at night or when it is heavily overcast.
The lithium-ion batteries, which are charged by the sun, can power a station for as long as 10 hours, Econet said.