Low-Cost Batteries
The University of Strathclyde in the United Kingdom (U.K.) has developed and tested a new low-cost battery that promises to reduce the production prices of current batteries by almost 70%. These new cheaper, low-carbon power batteries could make it easier to supply more homes in sub-Saharan Africa with electricity, as well as businesses and hospitals, currently in need of power.

Working alongside Scotland-based StorTera, the researchers found that the new battery could support infrastructures such as telecommunication towers and replace the current expensive fossil-fuel-powered batteries which are keeping them active. The two groups came together on this project following the supply of a grant from the U.K.’s Faraday Institution, which is part of the institution’s Transforming Energy Access (TEA) initiative.

The testing of the low-cost battery took place in the U.K. during the nationwide heatwave in 2022, in which temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius, making the researchers confident that the batteries could withstand the hot temperatures in Africa.

No Change in Recent Years

Currently, more than 578 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are without electricity. An International Energy Agency (IEA) report estimated that there will be more than 600 million people without electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.

Despite the increase in population, the IEA report showed that nearly 400 million people will gain electricity access in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa if they meet investments of $6 billion by 2030. According to the agency’s findings, the largest part of the continent which will see a lack of improvement in their access to electricity will be central Africa

Lack of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa has affected the countries’ national health care systems massively in recent years, as nearly 60% of the health care facilities do not have access to reliable electricity in order to power their refrigerators.

With no electricity, hospitals are unable to keep bags of blood, insulin and other medicines in their facilities, as safe refrigeration storage systems need electrical power. Similarly, there are no working MRI machines, x-ray scanners and heart rate monitors in most healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan Africa. These issues highlight the importance of the newly developed low-cost batteries.

Maternal and New Born Deaths

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the lack of electricity has a large effect on maternal women and children, as they both need constant care in health care facilities that have stable electrical power supply. More than 4.5 million women and babies die every year during pregnancy, childbirth or within the first month after birth. All of these are linked largely to the lack of power keeping health care facilities’ lighting and operating tables at a minimum.

Director of the Technical Division at the U.N.’s Population Fund (UNFPA) Dr. Julitta Onabanjo said “The death of any woman or young girl during pregnancy or childbirth is a serious violation of their human rights.”

WHO also revealed that there has not been much success in reducing these numbers since 2015, as last in 2022, there were nearly 290,000 maternal deaths, 1.9 million stillbirths and more than 2.3 million child deaths within the first month of being born.

Director of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health at WHO Dr. Anshu Banerjee, commented on the lack of progress saying “If we wish to see different results, we must do things differently. More and smarter investments in primary healthcare are needed now so that every woman and baby have the best chance of health and survival.”

Powering Up

Investments and initiatives such as Power Africa and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), are currently at the forefront of the battle to supply the whole of Africa with electricity. Power Africa established more than 18 million new power connections to homes in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. It also plans to add an additional 60 million power connections by 2030.

Similarly, in 2022, SEforALL in partnership with Power Africa and USAID guaranteed a two-year $1 million grant which supports African governments in providing electricity to the continent’s health care sector alone. This effort is also an attempt to provide more hospitals with power.

With the invention of new low-cost batteries, grants like these could have a better use to supply more buildings with electricity from the same amount of money, as the supply costs per building reduce substantially.

Power Africa’s coordinator Mark Carrato, commented on the initiative saying, “This grant supports stronger and more resilient health systems in Sub-Saharan Africa by accelerating the development and deployment of clean energy and sustainable investment in health facilities.”

Looking Ahead

Innovations like the low-cost battery developed by the University of Strathclyde in the U.K. offer a glimmer of hope for improving access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. By significantly reducing production prices, these batteries could pave the way for supplying more homes, businesses and hospitals with reliable power. Investments and initiatives like Power Africa and SEforALL are already working toward expanding electricity access, and with the introduction of affordable energy storage solutions, their impact can be amplified, leading to improved healthcare outcomes and a brighter future for the region.

– Sam Kalantzis
Photo: Flickr