At the end of April, Tesla launched two batteries that could revolutionise Africa’s energy supply. Able to generate electricity from either the grid or renewable energy sources like solar power, Tesla’s batteries have been hailed for storing renewable energy for longer and at half the cost of current technologies. They even have enough energy holding capacity to power a home for up to five hours.
Californian tech pioneers Tesla, the brainchild of serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Elon Musk, developed the Powerwall battery as a wall-mounted energy source that could be used anywhere but particularly in energy-scarce regions such as Africa. Rechargeable and with lithium-ion technology, the new batteries trump existing systems for home power storage, which use lead-acid batteries that require much more space and need to be serviced more regularly.
At $3,500 the batteries are rather costly but Tesla are promising to release the tech behind Powerwall into the public domain in the hope that others develop cheaper and more efficient models.
Many are suggesting that once the batteries become affordable to the African everyman the continent could take a big step towards becoming a global centre for green energy. Africa possesses the world’s biggest reserves of renewable energy, with the expansive Sahara desert, strong coastal winds, a flat, arid interior, and geothermal reserves all along the Rift Valley all potentially bountiful sources of power.
Just as mobile phones revolutionised Africa’s internet connectivity rates, Tesla’s battery packs – which can power both homes and businesses – could allow Africans to surge ahead of limitations imposed by unreliable electricity grids.
The Guardian list three ways in which Tesla’s new battery could make a revolutionary impact on the African continent:
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 the continent is home to 13% of the world’s population, it accounts for only 4% of global energy demand.
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.
Mobile tech hubs
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.
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.
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.