Keeping Africa safe when the lights go out

Posted on Jan 4, 2018
Keeping Africa safe when the lights go out

Energy storage experts Swanbarton are leading a consortium to solve one of the developing world’s most distressing energy problems. Swanbarton is working with the University of Bath, the University of Botswana’s Clean Energy Research Centre and battery supplier Yuasa. The project has been awarded co-funding by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, and by the Department for International Development (DfID).

In many rapidly developing economies in Africa and around the world, householders’ demand for electricity can grow faster than the electricity suppliers can grow their generation capacity. The unfortunate result is that there have to be regular power blackouts in selected areas, to keep the network in balance. Power blackouts mean no electric light. The darkness disrupts young people’s studies, it makes opportunities for burglars, and worse.

The project is going to test a new system to give basic energy security to these householders: enough to keep a few LED lights and a phone charger going until the power comes back on. It does that in a very high-tech way, using cloud computing, global networks and big data algorithms, but it also does it almost entirely out of locally available recycled materials: an old mobile phone, a used car battery and so on. The few non-recycled parts will be made locally in the destination country, using 3-D printing technology. Swanbarton is going to make the plans for the home system freely available as open source, so that it can be built by anybody, anywhere.

Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency. It works with people, companies and partner organisations to find and drive the science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy. For further information visit

The Department for International Development (DFID) leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty. It is tackling the global challenges of our time including poverty and disease, mass migration, insecurity and conflict. Its work is building a safer, healthier, more prosperous world for people in developing countries and in the UK too.