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Cell Towers Combine Solar & Wind Power

Credits: ©2010 Peter Judge

A mobile phone base station from Alcatel Lucent could reduce the carbon footprint of networks by combining renewable energy sources. Alcatel Lucent is offering developing countries a mobile phone base station that combines solar cells and a wind turbine to reduce its cost and environmental impact. In some countries, the majority of cell towers have to be powered by continuously operating diesel generators or ”gensets” because the electric grid is too unreliable. Alcatel Lucent is already supplying the base stations to Vodafone in Qatar, reducing its energy need and contributing to Alcatel Lucent’s “Green Touch” initiative, which aims to reduce the emissions produced by networks a thousandfold.


Cell Tower Solar Wind Turkish

Avea, a Turkish MNO (Mobile Network Operator) deployed a solar- and wind-powered base station. ©2010 AVEA

Many mobile networks run on diesel
“In most emerging markets the telecoms network runs on diesel fuel which has to be delivered to the base stations by truck,” said Laurent Wauquiez, strategic marketing manager for wireless at Alcatel-Lucent. demonstrating the system at an open day at Villarceaux, the French location for Alcatel Lucent’s Bell Labs research unit.

Although many efforts to power cell stations have focused on solar power, it turns out that solar and wind combined make a more reliable pairing and, with suitable strengthening, cell towers can hold a wind turbine that provides more than half the power required by the cell network.

The picture shows the demonstration set-up at Villarceaux using a conventional turbine tower which actually produces less wind power than can be gained from the top of a cell tower. “Most turbine providers offer a 15m high mast, but a cell tower is 50m high. The wind is better at that height – although we sometimes have to strengthen the tower,” said Wauquiez.

Alcatel Lucent provides technology to manage the use of both renewable sources and the back-up diesel generator, in such a way as to maximize the life of batteries and provide the necessary wireless coverage. The batteries are housed under a corrugated shed designed to provide as much free-air cooling as possible, reducing the energy demands of the network further.

Reducing fuel bills by 90 percent
As well as a demonstration set up in France, eWEEK saw live data apparently coming from a base station in Qatar which (at 11am local time) was using 1.1kW, while receiving 0.7kW from the sun and 1.2kW from the wind. Both renewables were providing a good stream of energy, and 0.9 kW were being fed into the batteries to keep the cell tower going at night.

The system has been used to reduce the fuel bills of some operators by 90 percent, in countries where diesel makes up 35 percent of the operator’s energy bill, eWEEK Europe was told. “In Kenya for instance, the leading mobile operator has to maintain a fleet of 100 fuel tankers.”

Alcatel launched its Green Touch initiative in January 2010, and hopes to reduce the energy requirements and CO2 emissions of the world’s networks by a factor of a thousand in the next ten years. It has published details of its solar/wind powered base station on its blog.

As well as cell-towers, phones themselves can also be powered by solar energy. This can either be done with separate solar power units, or increasingly in panels built into phones designed for third world use. One thousand of these phones were sent to Haiti after the earthquake in January, to help survivors and aid workers communicate.

Alcatel’s Green Touch is working to reduce the overall energy needs of networks. This includes providing energy in more sustainable ways, but has a long term goal of actually reducing the energy required by networks. One approach to this, shown at the Open Day, would be to use more efficient protocols: Bell Labs also discussed a possible successor to LTE which would use far less energy than today’s mobile networks.

Solar Powered Cellphone Towers In India To Reduce 5 Million Tons CO2 Emissions, Save $1.4 Billion Every Year
Written by Mridul Chadha

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy of the Indian government is likely to come out with a mandate that would require telecom operators to transform their cellphone towers from being powered by diesel generators to solar panels.

The ministry had earlier invited proposals for establishing power supply technologies based on renewable energy sources other than solar and wind. However, now it seems that the ministry would go ahead with solar-based power systems and is looking to incorporate this project into India’s National Solar Mission which aims at setting up 20,000MW of solar power capacity by 2022. Such a move would not only help the government achieve this ambitious goal but would also allow the ministry get subsidies for the telecom and tower operators for installation of solar power systems.

India has more than 250,000 cellphone towers which consume 3-5 kilowatts power depending on the number of operators using the tower. These towers consume about 2 billion litres (about 530 million gallons) of diesel every year.

Cellphone towers are quite energy intensive as they use power non-stop without any interruption. Air conditioning of the equipment housed in the nearby hubs also takes up substantial amounts of energy. Thus any change in the power generation method of cellphone towers would make tremendous impact in terms of resource savings and reduction in carbon emissions.

India has about 500 million mobile phone subscribers, more than even the population of any country except China, but continues to be one of the two fastest growing telecom markets. With telecom operators looking to expand operations in the rural areas, even more telecom towers are set to come up.

Reduction in carbon emissions
Taking a conservative approach and assuming no increase in number of towers India.

Number of towers = 250,000

Diesel used every month = 530 million gallons

Carbon emissions from diesel = 22.2 pounds/gallon

Total carbon emissions from cellphone towers annually = 11.76 billion pounds or 5.3 million tons

Cost of diesel every year (average price of diesel = $0.7) = $1.4 billion (INR 6400 Crore)

Thus by replacing diesel generators with solar panels in cellphone towers more than 5 million tons of carbon emissions could be prevented from entering the atmosphere.

Although the reduction in carbon emission seems less but the idea behind the program holds extreme importance in the case of all processes which run continuously. Even a slight reduction in resource usage or improve in efficiency in continuous processes makes a huge difference in th long term.

India is expected to have one billion mobile phone subscribers by 2015 which would mean about 250,000 more mobile towers which, in turn, would double the carbon emissions saved. Even if the solar panels supply a part of the total power required, it would still save substantial amounts of money, fuel and carbon emissions.


  Solar Powered Cell Towers article FEBRUARY 2013 (165 kb)


Green Touch Consortium