Sunday, January 20, 2013

Telecom to look at renewables

Diesel prices have nearly tripled in the past twelve years in India, and is expected to increase further with diesel deregulation. One of the direct hits of this will be on the mobile industry which uses diesel to power its towers.

The Indian telecom industry consumed an estimated 3.2 billion liters of diesel in 2011, and the amount could rise to six billion liters by 2020, according to Greenpeace India. Enforcement of new regulation that requires use of renewable energy instead of diesel would save more than 540 million liters of diesel annually and cut about nine million tons of carbon emissions by 2015.

In India, which has about 400,000 base stations, the government has mandated that 50 percent of rural sites be powered by renewables by 2015. The decision comes as the Indian government, which heavily subsidizes diesel, looks to lessen the country’s reliance on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By 2020 75 percent of rural and 33 percent of urban stations will need to run on alternative energy.

There are about five million cell phone towers worldwide, 640,000 of which aren’t connected to an electrical grid and largely run on diesel power. One study estimated that 75,000 new off-grid towers would be established in 2012 alone.
Today, solar installations with battery backups are more expensive to install upfront, but the yearly operational expenditure is far lower, recouping the investment in about two to four years. The current annual cost to run a diesel generator for a base station is about $14,510 in India, compared with $8,215 for solar with battery backup. By 2020 the annual cost of using diesel is expected to be more than $20,000 whereas the cost of solar and batteries will likely fall to less than $5,500.

Renewable options also become much more viable as the amount of energy needed to power base stations is reduced. Most of the energy is used by the radio to transmit and receive cell-phone signals. On the low end, a tower that runs all the time uses about the same energy annually as an average U.S. household. Many of the off-grid stations, however, use closer to five kW, according to Pike Research, a market research firm that covers global clean-tech markets.

Globally, the focus is on efficiency and low-power components, especially as bandwidth requirements strain networks. Lowering the energy needs of base stations could also help spur the adoption of renewables.
If the architecture of mobile networks moves to smaller, more distributed small cells, renewable power could be more attractive in developed and developing countries.

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