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Renewables Route: Strong case for alternative sources of energy

May 25, 2015
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Over the years, energy management has emerged as an important focus area for tower infrastructure providers. A burgeoning rural subscriber base and the introduction of new technologies like 4G have caused energy requirements at existing tower sites to shoot up. Another factor is the addition of many new sites, with their number having grown by 8-10 per cent over the past three years. This has also significantly increased the energy costs of the tower industry.

 

Meanwhile, issues of inconsistent grid power supply continue to plague the segment. While the supply-demand ratio has improved in the past few years, there have not been any significant improvements in last mile availability. More than 70 per cent of towers still have outages of eight hours or more every day. Big states that have high tower density, such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, have average grid power availability of less than 10 hours. This has resulted in the tower infrastructure industry devising various strategies to manage energy requirements in a better manner and reduce energy consumption and costs in the long run.

Reducing the usage of diesel, which continues to be the major source of power at these sites, is central to energy management strategies. Today, companies are focusing on efficiency improvement by working on areas related to power management and consumption. They have also started diversifying in terms of power generation sources, with renewable sources emerging as a key alternative. Companies have also started adopting various solutions related to energy storage, which is being seen as an alternative to energy generation for short-duration power issues.

Viom Networks has established an energy strategic business unit (SBU) to develop an integrated strategy for energy savings. Its key objectives are to ensure uninterrupted energy availability at sites as per service level agreements, manage energy as a profitable business, generate adequate cash to sustain future energy-related investments, and ensure adherence to regulations pertaining to green energy, carbon footprint, etc. To achieve these goals, the company undertakes individual site interventions by benchmarking against the independently assessed “should cost” param-eter. This refers to the ideal cost of a site’s operations and is computed by taking into consideration several factors, such as the environmental conditions facing a site, the type and nature of a site, and the load requirement at a site. Some of the key initiatives undertaken by Viom through its SBU relate to improving electrical connectivity, creating green energy sites, optimising energy storage solutions, removing diesel generator (DG) sets from sites, optimising DG sets, and reducing diesel pilferage. With these efforts, Viom has seen a reduction of more than 8 per cent in its energy consumption over the past year.

Adoption of renewable technologies

Tower companies are experimenting with multiple renewable sources of energy. The key evaluation parameters are availability, suitability for decentralised applications (~3-5 kW per site), maturity of technology and supply base, business case, and operational issues. Among the various options, solar is turning out to be the most suitable as it is a mature technology, has low maintenance costs and is best suited for remote areas. Fuel cells, on the other hand, are extremely suitable for decentralised applications. However, this technology is still at the testing stage and has not been commercially deployed. In addition, the capex for fuel cell installation is very high. As far as other renewable sources are concerned, wind entails a high degree of maintenance and is effective mostly in large wind farms, hydropower is not suitable for decentralised applications, and biomass’s drawbacks are its high maintenance requirements and the challenge of procuring fuel.

So far, suppliers have been focusing on technology for large-scale grid-connected plants. However, there is a need to evolve standardised and cost-effective solutions for micro applications as well.

Renewables outlook

To move the adoption of renewable energy solutions from “push” to “pull”, there is a need for technologies that offer improved efficiency and reliable solutions. Companies can look at bundling renewable energy solutions with appropriate energy storage solutions for better results. Tower infrastructure providers can also be required to explore segmented solutions according to the local environment. The need of the hour is to develop a business model that requires minimum capex commitments from infrastructure providers. Companies must also develop field support structures that engage existing field management organisations.

Based on a presentation by Ambikesh Pratap Singh, Head of Energy, Viom Networks

 
 
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