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GSMA launches renewable energy push for mobile networks

September 19, 2008 • Top Stories

The GSMA today launched the Green Power for Mobile programme with the goal of helping the mobile industry use renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, or sustainable biofuels(1), to power 118,000 new and existing off-grid base stations in developing countries by 2012. Achieving that target would save up to 2.5 billion litres of diesel per annum and cut annual carbon emissions by up to 6.3 million tonnes.

The GSMA, the global trade body for the mobile industry, forecasts that by 2012 up to 50% of new off-grid base stations in the developing world could be powered by renewable energy. Backed by 25 mobile operators, the Green Power for Mobile programme will provide expertise to support the deployment of base stations that use renewable energy. Up to now, off-grid base stations have primarily been powered by generators running on diesel fuel, which is increasingly expensive, generates carbon dioxide emissions, and can be difficult to transport to remote locations.

“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,” said Rob Conway, CEO and Member of the Board of the GSMA. “Through our Development Fund, the GSMA has built deep expertise in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources that mobile operators can tap to help them connect the unconnected, reduce operating costs and minimise environmental damage.”

Following extensive research with mobile operators, the GSMA Development Fund estimates that only 1,500 base stations worldwide are powered by at least one form of renewable energy. Challenges to date have included commercial viability, equipment availability and lack of expertise, but the GSMA’s research suggests 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.

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

“As 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,” said John Delves, CEO of Digicel Vanuatu. “Using alternative power solutions, such as harnessing wind and solar energy, will help lower our operational expenditure and reduce our environmental impact, giving people in the more remote islands of Vanuatu access to communications for the first time.”

After a successful pilot in conjunction with the GSMA Development Fund and Ericsson, Idea Cellular now 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 can be erratic. The base stations run on a blend made up of 80% diesel fuel and 20% waste cooking oil.

“If we can secure enough vegetable oils from sustainable sources, we will move to a blend of 50% diesel and 50% biofuels, which will be better for the environment and for our operating costs,” said Anil K Tandan, Chief Technology Officer of Idea. “We are also exploring other alternative sources of power as we seek to ensure that our 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. New entrants are also emerging, providing tailored bolt-on power solutions for base stations. The GSMA is developing metrics for “green” base stations, to support operators in their decision-making on providers and products.

Today, the operators involved in the Green Power for Mobile programme are meeting in Kenya, hosted by Safaricom, a leader in the use of renewable energy for networks with 30 base stations powered by solar and wind energy.

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