Currently only 30% of the population of Africa have access to electricity, and the Tesla Motors Powerwall home-storage battery could be an exciting development for the continent.

Tesla’s battery system would provide a back-up system that does not rely on fossil fuels. The use of renewable energy such as solar and wind would provide a major progression from the dirty diesel generators that many Africans use when the unreliable grid regularly cuts out, writes Rolake Akinkugbe for The Guardian.

How Tesla Motors Inc Powerwall Could Affect Power Supply In Africa

Tesla Powerwall could provide myriad benefits

The main hurdle to the adoption of the Powerwall is the upfront cost.  Tesla offers a battery with a 7 kWh capacity for $3,000, which is more than the average per-capita income in many sub-Saharan African countries. Access to energy is far more costly to Africans than in a large proportion of the developing world.

Despite progress in the field, renewable energy accounts for just 20% of installed generation capacity, and fossil fuels are expensive. If the Tesla Powerwall can be made more affordable it could have a huge impact on the continent.

One benefit would be the acceleration of a permanent transition to renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Currently around 40% of communities which use solar energy still rely on a backup system powered by fossil fuels.

Small-scale solar battery devices are already in use in some communities, but the Tesla Powerwall is capable of supplying 1,000 watts for over 10 hours. A device with that capacity would have a huge impact on everyday life in Africa, enabling everyday tasks from cooking to study-lighting across urban, semi-urban and rural Africa.

The impact of smaller solar-powered lanterns has already been seen in some off-grid communities, which have enjoyed health and economic benefits after moving from wood-burning systems.

Capacity could enable use by multiple households

On average, an urban African household requires 6 hours of energy per day, and rural households need much less. A Powerwall can provide over 24 hours of uninterrupted electricity, meaning that there may be a way that a corporate pool of households could benefit from it, rather than individual households that might struggle to afford the system.

Such an idea would not be outlandish given the fact that sharing utilities like water, light and heat is common in many African communities. However the policy environment for renewable energy needs to be favorable for such a scheme to be viable.

Tesla may offer grants or cheaper Powerwall systems to certain markets such as off-the-grid Africa, but such an idea may still need the support of government in the form of subsidies. The danger here is that the adoption of cleaner energy sources could be endangered by subsidies, which could also become an economic burden to national governments.

Tesla could drive Africa’s shift to renewable energy

Experts in the field are amazed by the low cost of Tesla’s battery, and its introduction has underlined the benefits of energy storage systems. It is hoped that the technology could lead to the development of cheap, sustainable energy solutions for low-income, off-grid African communities.

The news that Tesla is working on a special battery pack for utility companies in the U.S. shows the company’s willingness to develop tailored options for certain markets. If the right conditions are provided by government, Tesla could drive an energy revolution in Africa.

As well as targeting rural, off-grid communities, the African middle class, who largely live in urban areas, are vital to driving the adoption of renewable energy systems. The fact that they can afford the technology means that they could cement the continent’s shift to renewable energy, and they may be the first viable market in Africa for Tesla’s Powerwall.