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Vodacom deploys Redflow batteries to reduce theft and vandalism at South African mobile tower sites

Since 2010 Specialized Solar Systems set out to change mind-sets for energy delivery and storage solutions throughout South African and other African markets. Having similar aligned objectives, in 2015 a strategic collaboration was formed, and Specialized Solar Systems became a system integrator for Redflow Limited in South Africa.  With many successful projects completed, the Redflow ZBM2 Flow battery has delivered superior longevity, is environmentally friendly and theft proof.

Redflow Limited produces small 10kWh zinc-bromine flow batteries that tolerate daily hard work in harsh conditions. Marketed as ZCell and ZBM2, Redflow batteries are designed for high cycle-rate, long time-base stationary energy storage applications in the residential, commercial & industrial and telecommunications sectors, and are scalable from a single battery installation through to grid-scale deployments.

With the spate of battery thefts affecting the African telco market it is Redflow’s belief that the ZBM2 battery’s resistance to theft and vandalism is an important competitive advantage for the product in the large African market and other emerging economies. 

Above video: Redflow CEO and Managing Director Tim Harris provides an update on how the business is performing.

Theft of lithium and lead-acid batteries, often conducted by criminal syndicates, is wreaking havoc in South Africa.   One large operator has reported experiencing five to 20 incidents of vandalism or theft each day. As a result, network operators spend tens of millions of dollars to replace stolen batteries and additional security measures. 

Operators say the battery theft is an issue of national concern affecting not only operators but consumers and businesses whose service may be cut off completely in some areas. 

One of Africa’s leading telecommunication companies Vodacom is deploying Redflow zinc-bromine flow batteries at mobile base stations in South Africa to reduce the vandalism and theft associated with lead-acid and lithium batteries. 

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), Redflow reported that Vodacom’s new use of Redflow ZBM2 batteries specifically to manage battery theft and vandalism is a significant commercial development for Redflow in the large African market. 

This development provides meaningful external validation by a major player in the African telco market of Redflow’s belief that the ZBM2 battery’s resistance to theft and vandalism is an important competitive advantage for the product in the large African market and other emerging economies. 

In September 2019, Redflow announced it had won an order from its South African partner, Mobax, to provide 68 ZBM2 zinc-bromine flow batteries for at least 20 mobile phone tower sites in South Africa. Vodacom, which owns these tower sites, is already deploying Redflow batteries to reduce the operating costs associated with diesel-powered base stations. 

Another key Redflow partner in South Africa, Moropa, has also deployed Redflow’s batteries in its deep rural towers to support the Vodacom network. 

Vodacom recognises that the unique properties of Redflow make them less attractive to criminals targeting base stations across South Africa.  Unlike lead-acid or lithium batteries, the 10 kWh Redflow zinc-bromine flow battery does not consist of battery cells, thus it cannot be broken down into individual components that can be transported, sold, or re-used as batteries.

The 240kg Redflow battery is mainly constructed of heavy-duty plastics and a liquid electrolyte. Each Redflow battery contains 100 litres of a free-flowing zinc-bromide electrolyte solution which is perfectly safe when the battery is installed but requires trained personnel and equipment to move and handle the battery safely. 

The Redflow battery also contains a number of mechanical, software and location-based features that not only stop a device from working if it is moved but can also trace the battery and identify it as coming from a specific Vodacom location.  

Redflow Managing Director Tim Harris said Redflow was delighted to extend its relationship with Vodacom and its telco partner Mobax. “Not only does this improve the operational bottom line for off-grid sites with one of the region’s largest telco operators, but it also helps them to address the major issue of battery theft,” he said. 

“A number of the 68 batteries purchased by Vodacom in September have now been deployed by Mobax at both diesel sites and theft-prone locations. Mobax will continue to deploy the remainder in the New Year. This is an important development to Redflow and our investors; it is further evidence of the role our innovative flow battery solution can play in the telco market in South Africa and beyond. ”

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