Mats Vilander Issue: India 2011
Article no.: 12
Topic: Blowing your way – wind powered base stations
Author: Mats Vilander
Title: European General Manager
Organisation: Zephyr Corporation
PDF size: 296KB

About author

Mats Vilander is Zephyr Corporation’s General Manager and Senior Vice President of Global Sales Telecom for EMEA. Mr Vilander has been in the telecom industry for almost two decades and has held executive positions at Ericsson, ZTE and in the telecom industry practice at Price Waterhouse Andersen Global Corporate Finance. During his career Mr Vilander has completed and led over 15 GSM license bids and rollout all over the world. Mats Vilander holds an MBA, M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Finance and Economics.

Article abstract

Most mobile base stations in rural regions use diesel power and some use solar power. Diesel is expensive and polluting. Trucking diesel to base-stations and theft of diesel fuel and equipment, costs operators millions of dollars. Solar is not viable in cloudy or foggy regions; thieves target the panels so they require expensive security measures. The latest wind turbines can utilize existing towers; they generate energy in relatively low winds and their maintenance costs are quite low.

Full Article

In February, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) announced that it is developing a policy framework to reduce the carbon footprint of India’s telecommunications services. It says that there are currently about 310,000 mobile towers in India of which around 70 per cent are in rural areas. About 40 per cent of the power requirement of towers in rural areas is met by grid electricity and 60 per cent by diesel generators. TRAI cited industry estimates that claim the total consumption of diesel for telecom tower equipment powering and cooling is about two billion litres annually, which produces about 5.3 million litres of carbon dioxide. With the continued growth of the mobile subscriber base in India, these numbers are likely to increase, bringing into focus the need to use renewable energy sources. TRAI said a total switchover from diesel would save nearly two billion litres of diesel – about 3 litres per subscriber. Diesel generators are not just a problem in India; the telecoms industry as a whole has united in accepting that they are neither a commercially sustainable or environmentally sensible way of powering base stations in off-grid locations. The global telecoms trade association, the GSMA, has long been working with operators around the globe to help them deploy alternative energy sources in off-grid areas. “Renewable energy base stations are the best way for mobile operators to extend their networks off-grid while minimising energy costs and their impact on the environment”, says David Taverner, Senior Programme Manager for the GSMA’s Green Power for Mobile programme. Of course, there’s no lack of sun in India and when we’ve discussed alternative power in the past we have usually been talking about solar. All the big vendors including Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei and VNL have solar-powered base stations in their portfolios. But solar does have its drawbacks: firstly, it is not suited to areas prone to fog and clouds. Secondly, the panels require a great amount of space and are relatively easy to steal, so they are usually surrounded by a fence and require constant on-site security that, of course, adds to the operating cost. It is time for operators in India to consider how they can harness the wind. The development of wind power in India began in the 1990s, and has significantly increased in the last few years. Although a relative newcomer to the wind industry compared with Denmark or the US, India has the fifth largest installed wind power capacity in the world according to the World Wind Energy Report 2008. In 2009-10 India’s wind power growth rate was the highest among the top four countries and as of 31 Dec 2010 the installed capacity of wind power in India was 13065.37 MW (megawatts) – Wind Power India – March 2010. It is estimated that 6,000 MW of additional wind power capacity will be installed in India by 2012. Wind power accounts for six per cent of India’s total installed power capacity, and it generates 1.6 per cent of the country’s power. A wind atlas is being prepared, which is great news for operators as it will be quite straightforward to work out if a telco site is suitable for wind power. It seems like the telecom industry has been talking about wind power for a long time; the good news is that the technology has improved massively over the last few years. Previously, wind turbines weren’t really mature enough for large-scale deployment. They were too expensive, required too much maintenance and the turbines were large, heavy and difficult to install – most importantly, they required high wind speeds. All these problems have been solved with a new generation of small, lightweight, wind turbines which can be installed on existing towers and can generate energy at much lower (4 metres per second) wind speeds than earlier models. With proper installation, maintenance costs are close to zero as today’s turbines can be controlled and checked remotely. Commercial wind turbines We are now starting to see commercial wind-powered base stations in the Middle East and Africa in both off-grid and on-grid areas at new sites and the retrofitting of existing sites is growing. In off-grid situations wind power reduces the reliance on diesel generators. Operators who have implemented wind power are saving around 50 per cent of the diesel consumption at existing remote rural sites and, at times, up to 100 per cent of diesel at repeater sites. In addition, the costs and risks of transporting diesel fuel are reduced or, at times, eliminated. According to Allen Nogee, an analyst at telecoms research firm In-Stat: “While diesel pollution is an environmental issue, what bothers operators the most is the cost of powering and securing the generators. Diesel fuel has to be trucked to remote sites, and theft of diesel fuel and equipment can cost operators millions of dollars. The solution is for operators to at least partially power remote base stations with wind turbines, solar panels, or both. This is truly a case where it pays to be green.” Some operators also use wind to compliment solar-generated power. Solar is used during the day and then wind is used day and night to both power the network and charge up batteries. Wind power ROI The business case for an existing site depends on a number of factors: • Average wind speed in the area/site; • Height of the tower; • Site load, maximum load during the day; • Site design, the number of TRX (transceivers), base station type, transmission capacity; • Installed battery capacity; • Wind as a backup, or primary source, solar elements; and • Accessibility of site Obviously costs depend on the vendor chosen, but as an estimate, the cost of buying and installing two turbines which can power a typical rural GSM Base station requiring 600-900 watts on an existing tower with 6-7 m/s of wind is around Rs 726,000 – 968,000. In-Stat predicts that by 2014, over 230,000 cellular base stations in developing countries will be solar-powered or wind-powered. Certainly wind power is now ready for commercial deployments. We hope that TRAI will recognise the potential of wind power in the telecoms industry. Wind power has been around for thousands of years and has evolved from powering windmills to grind grain to becoming a reliable, sustainable and cost-effective energy source for powering base stations.