Mobile Phone Trade Group Pushes for Renewably-Powered Cell Towers

Mobile Phone Trade Group Pushes for Renewably-Powered Cell Towers

The GSM Association (GSMA) has started a program to transition off-grid cell towers in developing countries to renewable energy, investments the group says could be recouped in two years.

The GSMA, a global trade association representing about 750 cell phone operators, launched its Green Power for Mobile program this month, aiming to use renewable energy to power 118,000 base stations, the sites that receive and transmit cell calls, by 2012. The association is targeting new and existing off-grid sites to move them away from using diesel for power.

Switching to solar, wind or sustainable biofuels would save about 660 million gallons (2.5 billion liters) of diesel a year. Companies would save money both from using less or no diesel as well as preventing frequent trips to bring more diesel to sites.

From research with mobile operators, the GSMA found there are about 1,500 base stations in the world using some form of renewable energy, and that companies are being held back from using more renewables due to costs and lack of equipment and expertise. However, the GSMA estimates that most renewable investments could be made up in as little as two years as diesel costs increase and renewable costs fall.

Twenty-five operators are participating in the Green Power for Mobile program, and the GSMA is already working with some operators to develop renewable systems. Digicel has put wind and solar installations at 17 stations in the Pacific island of Vanuatu, Idea Cellular is using waste cooking oil to help power more than 350 base stations in Andhra Pradesh in India, and Safaricom in Kenya uses wind and solar to power 30 stations.

Idea Cellular's stations are powered with a mix of 80 percent diesel and 20 percent waste cooking oil, but the company is hoping to move to a 50-50 mix of diesel and sustainable biofuels. The GSMA defines sustainable biofuels as those that come from feedstocks on idle and marginal land not deforested for growing biofuel crops, result in lower carbon dioxide emissions than diesel when their lifecycles are compared, and produced in a manner that contributes to the social and environmental development of local people and communities.