Way back in 2004, VNL began its journey to develop WorldGSM™ – a completely solar powered GSM and broadband network solution for rural and remote locations. Top of the agenda: cut down power consumption and remove diesel from the equation – otherwise network viability and profitability would never be possible. In the past 7 years we’ve watched as green power has moved from the domain of CSR initiative to the centre of the OPEX debate.
How bad is the diesel problem? Let’s start with India: According to E&Y and FICCI * “Currently, telecom towers consume an average of about 5-6 kilo watt of energy coupled with an average of 8 hours of diesel generator running time due to power outages. On average, 27 million units of electricity are consumed per day. Average diesel consumption per site per hour is about 2.5 liters, translating to 6 million liters of diesel per day. This translates to consumption of more than 2 billion liters of diesel per year for cell sites, which is subsidized by GoI.”
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India estimates the diesel challenge as follows: “India has presently around 400,000 telecom towers, with average power consumption per tower being 3 to 4 kW. Assuming 8 hours of operation by DG sets, an average fuel consumption of 8760 liters of diesel every year per tower, total carbon emission on account of diesel use by telecom towers is estimated to be around 10mt of CO2, while the emissions on account of power drawn from the grid by towers is estimated to be around 6mt of CO2.”
Africa has a similar story to tell.
In a recent article in extensia on Telcos in Nigeria eying alternative power to run the network the figures are staggering: between MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat, there are 20,000 base stations that consume a total of 49.5 million liters of diesel to power the sites every month, at a total cost of N8.4 billion. All this, for Nigeria alone.
The rising costs of energy bills can actually force some CEO’s to comment that a way to address this is to hike call rates. See this interesting article from Balancing Act here.
VNL is clear. The long term solution lies in reducing the power consumption to a level that a renewable solution is justifiable on all counts: Capex, Opex, and Payback. VNL has been at the forefront of the “diesel free network” revolution. In Africa VNL deployments of it’s WorldGSM™ solar powered voice and data network solution in rural locations have saved $2000 per site per month by removing diesel from the equation. Compared to a traditional site in a rural area a 222 configuration VNL Rural site can give up to $30,000 in savings each year– considering that outages run as high as 16 hours a day in many cases.
Going green is Green is good for business. WorldGSM™ is showing the way!!
Mobile operators demand that the Indian government maintains diesel subsidies, underlining that telecom is a public utility and higher fuel costs impacts the consumers.
Business Line reports that “Cellular Operators Association of India and the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India are planning to approach the Government seeking a total exemption or only a marginal increase in diesel price…”
Why? Because power costs are astronomically high; “…cellular operators spend nearly 35 per cent of their operational expenditure on procuring diesel for running generator sets that power their base stations”.
Since mobile infrastructure equipment has high power demands, it is impossible to deploy it without power support in areas where electricity is scarce. This means diesel generators are so far the only solution to provide coverage.
The need for diesel generators holds true for both urban and rural areas – multiple daily power cuts are commonplace in Indian metros, and basically all sites are equipped with generators that run several hours every day. In fact, it’s not uncommon for these generators to run 24/7/365, since shutting down and powering up a generator wears more (and costs more) than leaving it running.
So, while providing mobile coverage to everyone is a top priority, and telecom is truly a public utility, is the solution really to deploy more traditional, power-hungry mobile infrastructure?
From the article:
“…Some companies even deploy helicopters to transport diesel to remote places in order to keep the mobile networks running.”
Clearly, this is not a sustainable practice. And besides the high cost of fossil fuel, the environmental impact is enormous. According to our estimates, Indian mobile operators burn upwards of 2 billion litres of diesel every year, just to power diesel gensets. This translates to 5,24 billion kilogrammes - 5,24 million metric tonnes - of carbon dioxide emitted every year.
There’s a dire need for mass deployment of renewable energy sources and sustainable technology. But clean energy is only one part of the picture.
As we’ve previously underscored, rolling out mobile networks in rural and remote areas requires a complete re-engineering of technology, business models and approach. The solution is actually to let profitability and sustainability go hand in hand.
Quoting Thich Nhat Hanh from yesterday’s Times of India;
“Protecting the environment is protecting ourselves.”
The case for WorldGSM™ has never been stronger.
India’s booming cellphone market - with over 2 million new subscribers every week - has created an insatiable demand for diesel generators.
Livemint.com reports that mobile operators, who are just starting to see the rural opportunity, are struggling to find enough generators to expand their networks.
With this development, we may soon unfortunately have to revise our earlier estimate: that close to 2 billion litres of diesel fuel is needed every year just to power generator sets for Base Stations in India.
The environmental impacts, combined with predictions of oil prices rising up to $200 per barrel within 2 years, clearly underline the enormous need for clean and sustainable alternatives.
Seems like the time is right for WorldGSM™ »
Full-scale, traditional GSM networks use an enormous amount of power. Each Base Station requires 3-4000 Watts of power — before air conditioning is factored in.
In remote areas like rural India, there is either no electricity grid or it’s only available for a few hours each day. Diesel generators are used to fill the gap times, resulting in over 1.8 billion litres of diesel fuel being burned every single year in India alone.
And it takes even more fuel to bring the diesel fuel to each generator. The generators themselves are typically low quality and poorly maintained, resulting in replacement every two or three years — more waste, more greenhouse gas emissions.
Using sustainable energy sources is a prerequisite to reach underserved rural and remote communities. Microtelecom equipment must be energy efficient enough to allow for solar or wind power sources.
Want to learn more? “The Solar Imperative” (a white paper by Anders Hansson) is a good start.
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