As an ever increasing number of people around the world become connected by mobile communications networks [the number of cell phone subscribers is set to reach 5 billion in 2010] the challenges to providing electricity to these expanding networks are becoming greater as well. In particular, developing countries are seeing unprecedented growth in wireless subscribers. However, many of the base stations in these areas are in remote locations that have limited or no access to grid power.
Renewable energy from solar panels and small wind turbines offers a viable alternative to diesel generators in these remote off-grid sites, and a new report from Pike Research forecasts that renewable energy will power 4.5% of the world’s mobile base stations by 2014, up from just 0.11% in 2010. In developing countries, the percentage will be even higher – the market intelligence firm forecasts that 8% of base stations in those regions will utilise renewable energy by 2014.
“Energy is one of the top expense items for mobile network operators,” says Pike Research’s managing director Clint Wheelock. “As solar and wind equipment become more cost-effective in the next few years, renewable energy will be an increasingly attractive option for base station power, in combination with batteries and fuel cells.” Wheelock noted that the economics of renewable energy are already favourable in remote off-grid areas where the cost of delivering diesel to generators is high.
Pike Research’s analysis also shows that mobile network infrastructure equipment is rapidly becoming more energy-efficient, owing to a series of initiatives by equipment vendors and network operators. The firm believes that lower base station power requirements will make it even easier to integrate renewable energy into mobile networks. In the process, the global wireless industry will have a significant opportunity to reduce carbon emissions associated with network operations.
Pike Research’s report, entitled: Green Telecom Networks, analyses the business opportunities, technology requirements, and environmental impacts of green telecom initiatives on a worldwide basis. The report examines the tools and practices available for fixed and mobile network operators to lower their operating expenses, reduce their carbon emissions, and improve the total cost of ownership for their networks. Detailed market forecasts include energy efficient network infrastructure capex spending, adoption of renewable energy power sources, and carbon emission reductions for fixed and mobile networks in addition to telecom data centres.
Profiles are also provided for twelve key network operators and vendors.
Nokia Siemens Networks was the first major telecoms vendor to go to market with a solar-powered base station over three years ago. They recently reported that they are actively reducing their carbon footprint – and by 2012 all their base stations will be powered by renewable energy. This has been made possible by the introduction of a range of new technologies.
Alcatel Lucent is offering developing countries a mobile phone base station that combines solar cells and a wind turbine to reduce its costs and environmental impact. Alcatel Lucent is already supplying the renewable energy-powered base stations to Vodafone in Qatar, reducing its energy requirements and contributing to Alcatel Lucent’s “Green Touch” initiative [launched in January 2010], which aims to reduce the emissions produced by the networks a thousand-fold.
Vodafone are also introducing on-site renewable energy systems as part of group’s Green Technology Programme. At one ‘green’ base station pilot in Greece, the diesel generator was replaced with solar panels and a wind turbine. A fuel cell was also installed to boost the power if there is not enough sunlight or wind. A three-month trial showed that enough power can be generated this way to run sites with low power loads in remote locations.
An Executive Summary of Green Telecom Networks is available for free download on the firm’s website: www.pikeresearch.com
Compiled by Andrew W. Cox, Energy Intelligence & Marketing Research, UK