PowerBrick load-shedding backup station — a plug-and-play micro-Powerwall made in South Africa

An innovative new compact battery system featuring patented technology developed in South Africa is hoping to bring electricity to millions of power-less African households and support load-shedding backup needs at the same time.

The recently-launched PowerBrick was created by Peco Power, a company born out of Wits University’s School of Electrical and Information Engineering (EIE). 

“Developed and refined over the past seven years by a team of Wits innovators, headed up by Professor Willie Cronje, the off-grid solution is designed to be affordable for low-income households, robust to survive demanding African settings, and can be configured for several applications,” the company explained.

“Being a true, plug-and-play device, no technical expertise is required for installation, operation, or maintenance.”

The PowerBrick can provide power to typical home appliances that use 220V AC power and 12V DC devices.

The company says the Lithium-Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) cells in the PowerBrick’s battery are guaranteed to provide a minimum of 2,000 lifecycles.

“With daily use, this translates into six or seven years of life before [the Lithium cells] need replacing, after which the battery will be good for another seven years,” Peco Power said. 

The PowerBrick is the evolution of Peco Power’s first model — the Smart Block —which required a separate storage component.

What makes the PowerBrick different from other plug-and-play storage systems like the Gizzu Portable Power Station and Ellies Nova Cube is that you can expand it by stacking multiple units together.

“The mini-grid is scalable from 70W to 500W of continuous power (or 2500W of peak power), and the battery storage is expandable from 150Wh to 2500Wh,” Peco Power said. 

Tesla’s much larger 13.5kWh PowerWall backup system offers similar scalability but is not plug-and-play and is priced well out of reach of low-income households.

The PowerBrick also features built-in safety mechanisms and a robust enclosure built for African conditions.

“System faults or overload failures immediately puts the PowerBrick into a temporary sleep mode. Once the faulty appliance is removed, the PowerBrick will automatically ‘self-heal’ and restart within 60 seconds,” the company explained. 

“It has a mild steel powder-coated enclosure and uses fittings that were approved for use in the automotive industry.”

Finally, the system has hybrid functionality, meaning it can be charged with a solar panel or directly from the grid.

Infographic explaining the features and basic functionality of the PowerBrick.

The entry-level PowerBrick 70W’s recommended retail price starts at R3,799 with 150Wh storage or R4,999 for 300Wh.

For more output power, there is also a 100W unit with 300Wh of capacity for R5,999, while the current top-end unit offers 200W output and 500Wh capacity carrying a retail price of R7,999.

Peco Power provided a few real-life scenarios indicating how long the entry-level 150Wh battery could provide power to various appliances:

  • Two 5W lights – 15 hours
  • One 15W Wi-Fi router — 10 Hours
  • One small TV – 5 hours

“Assuming you ran a few of these together – say continuous power draw of 50W – you would have 3 hours of backup energy on the 150wh battery,” Peco Power stated.

“In addition, fitting a 50W solar panel to your system would ensure continuous powering of your loads whilst the sun was out too.”

“So even our smallest system would cope with most of your essential load-shedding requirements for 2.5 hours.”

The bigger picture

While its benefit for staving off load-shedding is evident, Peco Power is hoping that it could go much further than this.

The company wants to partner with humanitarian organisations to address the plight of 600 million people in Africa without access to electricity.

“If we can access funding together, we can put these solutions in the hands of the people that need them the most,” Peco Power said.

It explained it was able to fit a rent-to-own chip into every PowerBrick to deactivate it every 14 or 28 days and reactivate it using an SMS unlock code.

“This means we can provide affordable electricity whilst creating sustainable jobs across Africa,” Peco Power said. 

“With funding partners onboard, we could help set up people with Peco franchises, each renting out their system and serving between 100 to 125 households.”

“There are 100 million households without access to electricity across Africa. If every 100 households are serviced by a Peco franchise, which provides access to electricity, we could create 1 million sustainable jobs across the continent,” it added.

Now read: Kia’s impressive EV6 is coming to South Africa — with load-shedding backup power for your home

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PowerBrick load-shedding backup station — a plug-and-play micro-Powerwall made in South Africa