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Can second life batteries help address SA’s worsening energy crisis?

By , ITWeb
South Africa , 14 Jun 2021

Given the inability of South Africa’s national electricity utility to reliably provide power to meet demand, the country is faced with an energy crisis that has no short-term solution. This is where second life lithium-ion phosphate batteries can change the way organisations and citizens deal with electricity outages that cripple economic activity.

This is according to Gaylor Montmasson-Clair, senior economist at Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), who spoke at a recent virtual roundtable hosted by South African battery provider Revov.

Gaylor Montmasson-Clair, senior economist at Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS).
Gaylor Montmasson-Clair, senior economist at Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS).

“With climate change and the Fourth Industrial Revolution taking centre stage, the transition to a green economy has already begun. Even though this can cause disruption, we must focus on how everyone – from large organisations, small businesses, communities, and workers – can benefit from this. The role of battery technology in this regard becomes crucial,” said Montmasson-Clair.

Economists and energy experts agree that batteries will be at the core of the modern energy system, driving a more sustainable economy and society. The manufacturing and maintenance of battery technology creates opportunities for employment and reduces inequality when it comes to access to energy, they add.

“It is not unrealistic to say that batteries will become the platform for a more democratic energy system. Already, global demand for lithium-ion batteries is rising. But even though South Africa does not feature in the international ecosystem of battery production, the country has many examples of developing skills for the private sector in this regard. Furthermore, the country can do more when it comes to the beneficiation of minerals to battery grade in the country as all the resources to do so are here,” said Montmasson-Clair.

He believes that despite the fact that there is no commercial production in South Africa yet as far as cell manufacturing is concerned, the country still has the industrial capacity and know-how.

“Additionally, many companies have developed intellectual property and expertise in the manufacturing of specific component parts and systems as well as the assembly of battery packs. This is where second life batteries can reinvent energy in the country. But critical to this is to make it easy for people to install these battery-driven systems.”

Lance Dickerson, MD of Revov, believes that the re-purposing of electric vehicle (EV) batteries into stationary storage, the second life that is referred to, not only avoids EV batteries ending up in landfills but they also provide massive opportunities for many different energy applications.

He said, “These batteries are a third of the weight of lead acid ones and a quarter of the size in their second life configurations. Automotive grade cells are better than any other as they are designed to adhere to a twenty-year life, withstand vibrations and high temperatures, as well as high charge and discharge currents. From a backup power storage perspective, this makes second life batteries an exciting prospect.”

Experts pointed out that contrary to popular belief, a second life battery and a second-hand battery are not the same thing. The former is when the purpose of the battery is changed from providing a primary power source to delivering a secondary source of power.

For instance, as a storage unit for solar and wind generated power or as a standby application when load shedding or a power failure occurs. A second-hand battery is when it is used to provide the same function for a second time, like moving it from one vehicle into another. A second life battery can be packaged into almost any size or shape depending on the application required.

“These batteries are an ideal solution to help address the energy crisis South Africa is experiencing. While the road ahead is still long and complex, there is a reliable alternative when it comes to backup energy for the country,” said Dickerson.

Load shedding crisis

South African power supply utility Eskom has acknowledged the damage that power outages have caused to infrastructure and the socio-economic impact these outages have.

The utility has also said that load shedding is expected to continue throughout the country’s winter season.

ITWeb has reported that South African mobile operators have experienced a rise in theft and vandalism of infrastructure since Eskom initiated load shedding.

According to the report, network operators are battling to maintain network stability amid multiple threats posed by the blackouts, along with vandalism and theft.

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