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Clean Telecom: TRAI framework for reducing sector’s carbon footprint

February 15, 2011
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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has brought out a consultation paper on “Green Telecommunication”. It seeks stakeholder views on ways to reduce carbon emissions, promote energy efficient technologies, evolve a framework for a carbon credit policy and manage e-waste, given the rapid growth of the telecom sector in the country. All comments and counter-comments need to be submitted by March 21, 2011.

According to TRAI, energy costs account for a significant share of a company’s opex. Expenses are greater in the rural regions, where power supply is uncertain. The use of diesel generators (DGs) to ensure the continuous availability of power, leads to increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which in turn, have a deleterious impact on the environment.

In fact, of the country’s 310,000 telecom towers, about 70 per cent are located in rural areas that lack continuous power supply and have to depend on DG sets to meet 60 per cent of their power requirements. India’s total diesel consumption has been estimated at 2 billion litres, which results in around 5.3 million litres of carbon dioxide emissions annually. With the continued growth in subscriber base, these numbers will only increase.

TRAI believes that India being the world’s second largest and fastest growing telecom market, there is ample scope for coming up with innovative clean solutions for the telecom sector given its abundant renewable energy sources. The issues highlighted for deliberation in the paper are:

Carbon footprint: This involves estimating the Indian telecom industry’s total carbon footprint; calculating the carbon footprint of fixed, mobile and broadband networks; and, in the case of mobile telephony, estimating the individual footprints of the radio access and core networks, and the likely changes that will ensue with the introduction 3G and 4G technologies.

Domestic efforts to reduce carbon footprint: The main issues here are the proportion of non-grid power supplied to towers in the rural areas that can be sourced through renewable sources over the next five years; the savings accrued per tower if power is supplied only through a renewable source instead of using diesel for towers that do not receive grid power for 12 hours or more; expediting the transition to renewable sources; and steps taken by service providers to use renewable energy and the gains from this move.

Methods to reduce carbon footprint: This involves determining the metric for certifying a network or service as green; and the adoption of energy efficient technologies, which involves a comparison of the costs of energy efficient and normal equipment, and the assessment of production/ usage of energy efficient telecom equipment by manufacturers/service providers.

Carbon credit policy: The evolution of a carbon credit policy and the time frame for its implementation; the framework for the policy; and the metric to ensure its success in reducing the sector’s carbon footprint are the issues that need to be discussed.

Availability of power: The proportion of mobile tower infrastructure in the rural areas as compared to the grid/electricity board power availability to these towers; and the extent of active tower sharing in reducing the operators’ opex and carbon footprint are also key considerations.

Use of clean technologies: This involves determining the most promising renewable sources for powering telecom networks; encouraging the production of energy efficient telecom equipment in infrastructure sharing; and assessing the potential of infrastructure sharing in reducing consumption.

Waste management: The current procedure for storing, disposing of and recycling telecom waste, and initiatives to make waste management more green.

Better network planning: The steps that can be taken by service providers to plan greener networks.

Standardisation of equipment: The key issues here are the standards to be followed to reduce emissions by telecom networks; and identifying the authority for the testing and certification of green equipment and networks.

Manufacturing process: An assessment of whether manufacturers can reduce emissions across the complete life cycle of the product.

Monitoring and reporting: This involves setting rating standards for measuring energy efficiency in the sector; suggestions with regard to the feasibility of energy audits in the telecom sector on the lines of energy audits of buildings; the monitoring mechanism used for the implementation of green telecom; identifying the monitoring agency; and mandating reports and fixing the frequency of such reports.

Incentives for green telecom: The usefulness of financial and non-financial incentives in supporting manufacturers and service providers in reducing GHG emissions.

Promoting R&D for green telecom: The research and development (R&D) efforts under way for energy efficient and renewable energy telecom equipment; and the promotion of domestic R&D and IPR generation.

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