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Keen on Green - Telecom companies take the renewable route

February 15, 2010
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The precarious power situation in the country is a key area of concern for telecom operators. The telecom industry is amongst the largest consumers of power, with energy being necessary to run the core network equipment, base transmission stations, power systems, switching/site offices, data centres and equipment such as mobile terminals.However, access to reliable electricity is not available in most parts of the country.

To begin with, there is a significant time lag before actually obtaining electricity from the state electricity boards. After filing the application, infrastructure issues involving leasing lines, transformers, etc.need to be worked out, which take a considerable amount of time. Operators also complain that they spend money procuring power (energy consumption is a key component of the operating expenditure for both fixed and mobile telecom operators), but end up not being able to utilise it, since it is either not available or available only for a few hours during the day.Even when power is available, it is of such poor quality that one needs to spend more money on equipment such as voltage stabilisers for using the power.

With operators accelerating their push into the low-margin rural areas, networks are beginning to rely even more heavily on diesel generators (DGs) for primary and back-up power due to the lack of adequate power supply in these areas. Currently, the average countrywide availability of grid power is 16-17 hours per day while the average DG set usage is nearly five hours per day. However, in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which have low availability of power, DG set usage is over 15 hours a day. In grid-deficit areas in the hinterland, DGs may be required for up to 20 hours per day.

According to a Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) spokesperson, "The power situation in rural areas is really bad.For instance, in Uttar Pradesh (West), there are some districts where back-up power through DG sets has to be used for eight hours a day on an average. Running DG sets is expensive and costs Rs 20-Rs 25 per unit vis-à-vis the state electricity board supply, which costs Rs 5-Rs 7 per unit.The energy bill for BSNL is Rs 1.25 billion across the country."

In such a scenario, there is a strong case for going green. Renewable energy companies such as Moser Baer Photovoltaic have increasingly started to target the telecom sector for potential customers and already have several installations in place. Many operators and vendors are also experimenting with renewables such as biofuels, solar panels and wind power.

tele.net takes a look at the key initiatives in this area...

Tata Teleservices Limited

Tata Teleservices Limited (TTSL) has been working on a slew of energy-saving initiatives. It has piloted several solar power projects at some locations with Tata BP Solar. The company has also explored wind and solar solutions and piloted trials at a few locations.

TTSL has introduced a conservation pilot project in Uttar Pradesh. It has been experimenting with liquefied petroleum gas as a substitute for diesel, and has undertaken field trials of a solution provided by the New York-based fuel cell company, Plug Power along with the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation in the rural areas of the state. A senior executive states, "The results have been excellent, and we have been advised by the team that conducted the project to undertake a few similar projects in other circles as well."

TTSL has also experimented with the usage of fuel additives, intelligent DG sets, enhancement of battery operations, etc.

Reliance Communications

Reliance Communications (RCOM) has similarly been exploring opportunities in wind and solar energy sources to ensure uninterrupted power supply. The company has deployed biofuel plants to run its rural telecom networks in several areas.

In order to harness wind energy, RCOM has installed windmills on its towers at Kunustara and Murugathal in West Bengal. RCOM's Wi-Max sites run on solar energy and the company is looking to run its single base transceiver station (BTS) on solar energy as well.

Idea Cellular

In one of the earliest eco-friendly telecom power initiatives in India, in July 2007, telecom equipment maker Ericsson, in conjunction with Idea Cellular and the GSM Association Development Fund, powered four BTSs in the Maharashtra circle using power from fish and vegetableoils. After successful pilots, Idea started powering BTSs with waste cooking oil in 350 base stations in Andhra Pradesh. The BTSs were run on an 80:20 blend of diesel fuel and waste cooking oil.

However, eight months into the scheme, in February 2008, it was reported that though the equipment was working, it was not generating benefits in terms of opex savings. This was because of the small quantities of biofuels being used, which, in turn, was due to the comparatively low production of biofuels in India. The company intends to use locally produced jatropha oil in the long run.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited

BSNL is currently conducting an experiment with solar-powered BTSs in Rajasthan. In November 2009, it awarded a Rs 235 million contract to XL Telecom & Energy for the supply of solar photovoltaic power systems. The contract involves the supply of complete solar systems for telecom applications.


Nokia Siemens Networks
Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) has been working with alternative energy sources since 1981. Currently, NSN base station sites running on renewable energy sources have been installed in approximately 30 countries. This offers what the company calls autonomous sites that can be configured with solar and wind systems to suit the environmental conditions of the site.

Interestingly, NSN is planning to enter the renewable energy sector itself.It intends to apply its telecom expertise and seek partners in a bid to capture the rising demand for renewable energy, intelligent power grids and smart metering. The company is looking to cash in on the synergies of the same with its core telecom business.

NSN recently entered into a global collaboration deal with Acme Tele Power according to which the two companies will work together to offer efficient operation, maintenance and energy management solutions to telecom operators in India.Acme Tele Power is seriously focusing on eco-friendly technologies and has a whole range of products such as green shelters, nano-cooled shelters and battery coolers.

Apart from network solutions, vendors are also devising renewable power solutions for mobile handsets. Network solutions provider Ericsson, for instance, has developed a mobile phone village solar charger.This innovation, intended for use in villages anywhere in the world, is capable of recharging at least 30 mobile phone batteries per day and eight phones simultaneously. Village solar chargers have been deployed in all Millennium Villages in the 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa where Ericsson operates.

ACME Tele Power
ACME Tele Power has come out with the Green Shelter concept, which packages various components to fit differing environment and temperature parameters. It also provides solar photovoltaic telecom system power solutions.

Vihaan Networks Limited
Indian telecom equipment maker Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL) has made the first commercial deployment of a solarpowered GSM system. The system, which comes with a 20-year guarantee, works on a solar panel, and can run without being powered for three days. The battery needs to be replaced every five years.

VNL's solar-powered base stations, which cost less than $15,000 and are relatively easy to install by untrained workers, have already been deployed in more than 50 villages, allowing mobile operators to expand their customer base outside urban centres.


Companies such as Motorola and AlcatelLucent have also been experimenting with alternative sources of energy. According to a Motorola spokesperson, wind and solar energy-powered base stations "have already been deployed in the Gulf and have, so far, been successful". Eco-friendly initiatives are in line with Alcatel-Lucent's corporate social responsibility goals. In addition to coming up with environmentconscious design guidelines for its products, the company has designed a green BTS, which also uses solar panels in the tower to reduce fuel consumption.

Tower firms

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Indus Towers have signed an MoU for cooperating in the development of renewable energy technologies and energy-efficient solutions for telecom services in India. They seek to develop solar, wind and biomass alternatives as feasible options to power telecom infrastructure. The MoU also envisages collaborating on wind farm development, renewable energy supply options for telecom shelters and mobile power plant prototype development.

Indus Towers faces a major challenge in managing many of its sites across the country that have no grid back-up. To overcome the challenge, TERI and Indus Towers have developed a TERI-Indus Lab, where Indus Towers will set up a standard shelter with passive infrastructure in the TERI Gual Pahari campus along with simulated BTS loads. TERI will study the existing load requirement of the shelter and assess the energy efficiency/conservation measures, besides carrying out trials with different renewable energy options.

The outlook for the industry is positive. The number of renewable energypowered base stations will increase as networks expand into rural areas of the developing world. According to research firm InStat, by 2014, over 230,000 cellular base stations in developing countries will be solar or wind powered. As technology becomes more advanced and competition in the segment increases, costs are likely to come down further, making renewable options more viable.

Indian as well as global operators and vendors are clearly convinced that the way forward is to cut energy costs by shifting to renewable energy options.

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