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Value Proposition: Adopt, optimise and benchmark new solutions

November 18, 2014
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The demand for energy has been growing significantly due to fast-paced urbanisation. However, about 405 million people in the country still have no access to electricity. To overcome the energy deficit, people are heavily dependent on diesel. At present, the country’s overall diesel demand is about 201 million litres per day (mld). The telecom sector constitutes 1.54 per cent of the diesel demand, which amounts to 3.4 mld.

This demand for diesel from the telecom sector is primarily due to grid outages. About 70 per cent of the telecom tower sites do not have access to the grid for at least eight hours in a day. In terms of energy expenses, infrastructure providers (IP) are spending as much as 70 per cent of the total operating cost for the tower in rural areas and 30 per cent of capex cost in urban areas. Further, this cost is likely to increase with the rise in diesel prices, which might reach Rs 70 per litre by 2015. Therefore, factors such as increasing diesel costs, government’s push to move away from diesel, and environmental concerns for the local population are putting pressure on IPs to switch to renewable energy solutions.

IPs are required to ensure 24x7 power availability at the base transceiver stations irrespective of the site conditions and grid outages. However, the sector faces several challenges, which have a negative impact. Unreliability or poor quality of grid power leads to the requirement of large battery banks and expensive diesel generator (DG) sets. With the rising fossil fuel costs, profitability is hit as opex also increases. Apart from this, availability of manpower for tower maintenance is a key challenge, which adds to operating expenses. Less control on remote and local human dependencies leads to key performance indicator defaults, low maintenance, and network outages. Further, DG sets require diesel in large quantities and cause air and sound pollution as they run for long hours. Diesel involves high fuel costs and is prone to pilferage. Currently, there is increased social pressure to reduce carbon emissions which results in increased capital investments in renewable energy deployment at tower sites. The deployment of these solutions varies across geographies and these have unique advantages and disadvantages:

  • Solar: Solar is economical and commercially viable when grid outage is for more than eight hours and with up to two tenants at the tower site in the case of outdoor sites. For indoor sites viability is dependent on grid outages of more than 16 hours and with one tenant. This has been calculated considering the price of diesel at Rs 55 per litre. The main limitation of this technology is that its viability is highly dependent on radiation and temperature and space availability at telecom sites.
  • Biomass: Biomass is economical and commercially viable for sites with an average load of more than 5 kW and grid outage of more than eight hours. High dependency on biomass feedstock and its logistics is the main limitation of this solution. There are several challenges in dealing with fuel security during large-scale deployments.
  • Fuel cell: The deployment of fuel cells has several advantages. It is green energy which is suitable for any site type, is compact, requires low maintenance and is easily scalable. However, the key challenge in deploying the fuel cell solution is the lack of development of hydrogen infrastructure, including its storage and logistics.
  • Wind: This technology requires less space and can be easily installed on telecom towers. However, the quality of wind energy generation is highly dependent on the wind speed and duration. It requires equivalent storage capacity that calls for additional investments.

One-stop solution

In a one-stop solution, backup power availability is ensured on the basis of the appropriate technology. For installing renewable energy solutions at the tower site, the ground data is very important. Initially, the data can be collected at the existing sites and a benchmark can be set regarding site conditions in terms of equipment and the sizing along with power and fuel expenses. With this data the efficiency of the existing equipment can be determined. Subsequently, new solutions including fuel cells, wind-solar solutions and battery technologies can be installed wherever feasible.

Therefore, through this approach, power management, and capex of the IPs can be taken care of given the fixed cost energy model. In sum, the challenges pertaining to meeting the energy demand while using conventional DG sets can be overcome by installing alternative sources of energy. No single solution can cater to energy site requirements, and thus the choice of technology is completely site dependent. Once the technology is determined given the ground data collected, the backup power requirements can be dealt with.

Based on a presentation by Sreenivas Jindam, Senior Manager, Solution Development, Essential Energy

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