Batteries have become attractive learning devices, pace of AI adoption in many industries is becoming part of the business mainstream. By connecting every battery to an AI-powered SaaS solution, organizations can make smart management data-driven decisions through full coverage of their stationary and mobile assets, perform remote analytics, increase asset longevity by changing customers and system behaviors as well as tighten security.
Protecting and securing the batteries is becoming greatly important not only to prevent a financial loss but also to secure our assets that are becoming an important source of information, and connectivity.
Despite the advanced battery technologies, companies around the globe are experiencing dramatic losses due to a battery theft phenomenon. What used to be an issue mostly for developing countries is now a part of industry concern in North America and Europe as well. Expanding cases of battery thefts from base cellphone towers and broadband backups are being reported, putting public safety at risk with lack of cellular services.
This paper highlights the battery theft issue worldwide and that it is becoming a larger concern in some parts of the US and Canada. As prices of commodity stay attractive, lead-acid batteries are a big attraction for thieves, causing tremendous damage to cellular providers by removing the backup of cellular coverage services, risking public safety and raising replacing costs. Over the past few years some technologies have transformed batteries into useful source of information for Artificial Intelligence (AI), making batteries a more crucial asset to be protected.
Multiple different ways are being implemented in the industry to control the problem: Overall site protection, extra camera security and physical patrols, educating recycling facilities on battery thefts, transitioning to different type of batteries such as Li-ion, unique Lead-acid marking such as specific coloring and symbols by OEMs, and battery GPS Tracking devices.
Lead is among the most essential metals used in society together with copper and zinc. According to ILA – the International Lead Association, lead has one of the highest recyclable rates off all common materials used today.
Lead is a naturally occurring element, according to ILA statistics, about 85% of lead is used in lead batteries, all of which are recoverable and recyclable. The primary use of lead is in lead-acid batteries for motor vehicles, other use in stationary batteries for backup power, pigments, rolled and extruded products, ammunition and various other applications.
Europe and North America have a battery recycling rate close to 100% – and most others share the possibility of 100% recyclability. Over half of the lead produced and used each year throughout the world has been used before in other products.
According to the battery university data (BU-705a) Lead acid is the most common battery used in the world and remains the most suitable battery to recycle; 70% of its weight contains reusable lead, making it an attractive asset for thieves while lead prices are around 1,500 US$ / Tonne nowadays.
Worldwide battery thefts
Over the years many incidents of battery thefts have been reported throughout the globe. In some cases, stolen batteries were being reported to police by recycling companies however in most cases batteries made their way directly into the recycling market without a chance of ever being spotted as stolen, large percentage are also being sold second handed on the black market.
On Dec 10th, 2019 an MTN network operation General Manager was interviewed following a massive theft attack in Africa leaving 1 out of 4 (25%) base stations unavailable for operation. 1800 generators were running simultaneously to try and support the missing batteries at base stations, and over a week the company spent around 70,000 USD on fuel. 
A Dec 16th, 2019 Carte Blanche show on m-net TV revealed a disturbing consumer market for stolen batteries in the rush to get off the grid. Most of the consumers were not aware of the source of the batteries and a massive number of 2,000 suspects have been arrested in the search for the thieves. “Cell phone tower batteries is a high crime in South Africa” the show revealed, and a real time criminal was arrested and charged for holding in his possession 39 Li-ion batteries worth 50,000 USD. In these cases, most batteries are re-sold as new batteries in the black market.
Here are some more examples of the local North American market:
- Police in North Jersey say they are taking note of a growing number of battery thefts from cellphone towers. “It’s definitely becoming a problem,” said Detective Sgt. Robert Anderson following 4 thefts in Clifton NJ on Dec 12, 2017.
- In the Bay area, thieves bypassed the alarms of cabinet and 12V batteries were stolen causing all calls to cell phone towers to be interrupted.
- In Brownsville TX, in Jan 2018, Brownsville Police were looking fora suspect in a Cell Tower Theft.
- CBS2 news revealed a police report in Mahwah NJ on Apr 12th, 2017 where Verizon and Sprint were hit, and 64 batteries were stolen.
- In Edmonton, Canada on Aug 2018, the RCMP opened an investigation following theft of different brands over a period of time.
- Kiro 7 news revealed September 12th, 2018 Tacoma Washington cell tower thefts. Thieves targeted broadband backup batteries, putting public safety at risk. Wires were cut and batteries were taken in the middle of the day, 80 batteries have been reported stolen, and 1 cable company alone has lost 40,000$.
- On August 11, 2017 beaver100.3 posted that the Clarksville Police Department is warning the public about a recent string of vehicle battery thefts following 120 stolen batteries from vehicles in less than a month.
Battery theft is a worldwide problem to be addressed; and although total numbers of stolen batteries or accumulated amounts are not exactly known, it is well known and clearly understood that battery thefts are a common problem affecting us all.
Battery protection solutions
A wide range of battery applications are vulnerable to thefts, Telecom service providers are constantly facing theft solution challenges, especially in remote telecom sites. Antitheft solutions are constantly being addressed by battery OEMs and telecom service providers.
The classic solution for remote telecom sites is advanced security cameras, alarms and fencing protections. These solutions might slow down thieves but don’t stop them. Camera videos reveal thieves who are not concern with being recorded since they are protected with head covers or avoid face recognition. Usually the sites are remote, awareness of stolen batteries are not in real time, sometimes days can past until noticed and batteries could well be in the recycling facilities by then, damage to site assets and lack of power back up is done and can last couple of days until recognized.
OEM battery marking
In some cases, OEMs have been requested to make a unique battery marking or specific coloring for battery cases in order to distinguish them at the recycling/secondary market. This is a costly solution and inefficient to battery OEMs.
Lead-Acid replacement by Lithium-Ion
Demand for replacing conventional Lead Acid batteries with modern Lithium Ion based technology is rapidly
increasing due to the significant development in Lithium technology over the last several years. With that being said, the lead-acid batteries are dominating the industrial markets and prices of lithium batteries could be 3-4 times higher or more. According to Maia Research of the global battery market, Lithium based batteries will grow by 0.56% from a 17.39% market share in 2019 to 17.95% in 2024 as lead will decrease at similar percentage, leaving lead-acid batteries to dominant the market.
Table 1: Figure Global Industrial Battery Revenue Market Share Forecast by Type (2019-2024)
Source: Maia Research Analysis
GPS – Tracking solutions
GPS or tracking devices have long been in the market and over the years we are seeing more and more assets being equipped with tracking devices. The market is proliferating due to the emergence of IoT and cloud technology which is the rising trend at present. Based on Market Watch, the GPS Tracking Device System Market is segmented by the elements of type, components, and end-users. Tracking solutions helps us protect our asset and monitor locations. In order to make the tracking device effective one must be able to monitor but also to be notified on time in case of movement. While some tracking units are just a location provider, others are more advanced and provide feedback notifications for an immediate response with security measures. GPS tracking solutions help law enforcement retrieve stolen batteries, bring thieves to trails and prevent futures thefts.
For an effective result a tracking unit must be concealed within the assets, such as the batteries. Battery OEM’s and end user’s main concern while using these types of tracking devices is the energy source of the unit. Some use a self-generated battery within the tracking device, thus tracking monitoring relies on an external source of uncontrolled power. Others may use the battery itself as the main source of energy, requires a good understanding of the power consumption in order to preserve the battery State of Health.
GPS – Tracking solution and monitoring
GPS, tracking solution and monitoring of batteries are considered the most advanced technology in the market today for lithium and more dramatically for lead-acid batteries. As lithium batteries are equipped with BMS the tracking device is a further feature to help protect the batteries. As for lead-acid, Galooli’s new technology is a game changer that modifies a “simple” battery to a monitored data management battery. Smart and easy solutions can be integrated within batteries while consuming minimal voltage supply from the battery, under different types of modes – Installation / Storage / In Cabinet and Movement. The smart, small and powerful device is equipped with Pre-theft detection by a vibration sensor, Real-time alerts, Minimal energy consumption of the unit, Remote configuration capability, Embedded SIM (eSIM), and high cost-effectiveness: one per battery string / battery cabinet, which can also measure battery temperature and voltage. It can also be connected externally to batteries in a string, and as mentioned previously, the power consumption must be of a negligible amount in order to preserve the battery State of Health. Galooli’s lowest power consumption solution is patent protected.
Galooli GPS and data monitoring solution
The Galooli Sparta unit has been deployed in thousands of batteries around the world with zero successful theft events in places where the battery tracker unit was installed. The Sparta unit is small device 4cm/1.57in * 8.5cm/3.35in that can be concealed within the battery for tracking solution under standard electronic UL/CE certification.
Sparta units delivers two solution simultaneously. It supplies battery data by monitoring and providing real timing temperature and voltage and allows GPS tracking.
The unit is concealed in various options depending on the battery geometry and size. The Sparta uses a standard 12 pin harness. 4 pins are used for the battery tracker.
In general, Sparta uses only power and ground connection. The sensors will then communicate directly from Sparta to Galooli servers. In case external sensors needs to be connected, RS485 connectors are available as per the following pin-out diagram.
Ideal installation is through production line of batteries OEM’s, Galooli has already announced some cooperation agreement with lead acid and Li-ion OEM’s. In other cases it can be implemented at a certified workshop/distributor where the batteries and the GPS unit are delivered separately for further installation.
GPS battery tracking vs battery data monitoring
For some solutions GPS tracking units are not needed for every battery, good example are batteries located in cabinets at cell towers. Since thieves steal all the batteries in the cabinet it’s usually more cost effective to place one tracking unit for a string plus same Sparta unit without the GPS feature for every battery data monitoring solution. Galooli has been a chosen solution for many projects where lead acid batteries are installed together with the Sparta data monitoring units transforming lead acid batteries into smart monitored batteries.
Lead Acid Cabinet installed with Galooli Sparta units for data monitoring:
Business model are varying however they consist of OPEX/CAPEX-OPEX with an ROI calculation anywhere from 2-8 month depending on the battery type, price and location.
This paper shades an unwarming light on the battery safety market. As a society we are aware that thieves will not vanish, but rather be caught, charged and become more sophisticated. The goal of this paper is to open the debate and awareness of the global problem we are facing, offer different solutions taken place by the market and to educate on new technologies that may help migrate the phenomena as well as offering new technology for battery real time monitoring.