Wednesday, September 24, 2008

MTN, Zain to deploy renewable energy base stations

Two key operators of the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) in the country, MTN and Zain, have indicated interest to deploy base stations that use renewable energy under the Green Power for Mobile programme of the GSM Association (GSMA).

An estimated 1,500 base stations worldwide are currently powered by at least one form of renewable energy globally.

The indication emerged at the conclusion of the meeting of operators involved in the Green Power for Mobile programme’s session in Kenya , hosted by Safaricom, currently leading usage of renewable energy for networks with 30 base stations powered by solar and wind energy.

MTN and Zain are also part of the 25 global mobile operators expected to provide expertise for the deployment of base stations that use renewable energy under the initiative.

Spokesman of GSMA, Mr. David Pringle, confirmed this in a press statement, noting that till date, off-grid base stations have primarily been powered by generators running on diesel fuel, which is increasingly expensive, generates carbon dioxide emissions, and could be difficult to transport to remote locations.

He quoted the chief executive officer of GSMA, Mr. Roy Conway as saying that as they strive to bring the benefits of mobile coverage to as many people as possible, operators need to find reliable, sustainable and economic sources of power far beyond the reach of national electricity grids, especially through the Development Fund.

GSMA, he said, has built extensive expertise in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources that mobile operators could benefit from to link up with the unconnected in various parts of the world, reduce operating costs and minimize environmental degradation.

Pringle also noted that following extensive research with mobile operators, the GSMA Development Fund estimated that only 1,500 base stations worldwide are powered by at least one form of renewable energy.

He stressed that the challenges to date included commercial viability, equipment availability and lack of expertise, but the GSMA’s research suggested that rising diesel prices and falling renewable equipment costs mean that operators investing in green power sources for base stations could recoup the capital costs in as little as 24 months.

As said by him, the GSMA Development Fund is already working with several mobile operators to develop renewable power solutions for a variety of base stations located in diverse geographies, comprising Digicel and Idea.

The Development Fund, he said, has supported Digicel’s deployment of wind and solar energy to power 17 new base stations on the Pacific island of Vanuatu.

Commenting on the development, the chief executive of Digicel Vanuatu, Mr. John Delves, noted that as the oil becomes more scarce and expensive, renewable energy will be used more and more to power telecommunications networks anywhere that grid power is not available.

According to him, using alternative power solutions, such as harnessing wind and solar energy, will help lower operational expenditure and reduce environmental effect, giving people in the more remote areas of Vanuatu access to communications for the first time.

Equally, following a successful pilot in conjunction with the GSMA Development Fund and Ericsson, Idea Cellular presently uses waste cooking oil to help power more than 350 base stations in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India , where the conventional electricity supply could be erratic.

Chief Technology Officer of Idea, Mr. Anil K Tandan, said that their base stations run on a blend made up of 80 per cent diesel fuel and 20 per cent waste cooking oil.

“If we can secure enough vegetable oils from sustainable sources, we will move to a blend of 50 per cent diesel and 50 per cent biofuels, which will be better for the environment and for our operating costs,” he said, pointing out that they are also exploring other alternative sources of power to ensure that mobile network continues to be reliable, sustainable and cost-effective.

The major suppliers of base stations have anticipated the growing demand for green networks and have introduced a variety of low-energy products as well as renewable energy power solutions. Just as new entrants are emerging, providing tailored bolt-on power solutions for base stations.

The GSMA said, its developing metrics for “green” base stations, to support operators in their decision-making on providers and products.

MTN and Ericsson recently had an experiment of the renewable base stations in some parts of the Nigeria.


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