Econet turns to battery power as fuel supply dwindles

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s biggest cellphone operator, Econet Wireless, is turning to batteries and solar power to keep its base stations running as it can no longer get enough fuel in the country where a scarcity of foreign exchange has led to widespread shortages.

The company ordered about 200 so-called carrier-grade batteries from Tesla to deal with one of Zimbabwe’s worst power crises in recent years, according to a spokesperson in emailed comments.

While it needs more than 1 000 batteries, “we need to mobilise the foreign currency from income generated by our business”, the spokesperson said.

“We see this as the only sustainable solution for dealing with the power crisis in our market in the long term,” the Econet spokesperson said.

Daily power cuts mean that the company’s 1 300 base stations are powered by diesel generators for up to 18 hours a day. However, it is only receiving a quarter of the fuel it needs, with system failures as a result.

Earlier this month, payment services from the company’s mobile-money unit Ecocash, which has 6.3 million active users, were disrupted. Switching base stations to solar power would cost $60 million (R853.11m).