Solar power use in cell towers can reduce CO2

Use of diesel generators in cellphone towers leads to a staggering five million tonnes of annual carbon emissions in India and there is a need to replace them with solar photovoltaic panels, says a new study.

With the number of mobile phone users in the country swelling rapidly, telecom operators are going in for more high-intensity cellphone towers for better network efficiency entailing a massive consumption of diesel — about two billion litres every year — for power generation to run them, said the study released by ‘Future Energy’ periodical published by Maharashtra Energy Development Agency (MEDA).

This is resulting in carbon emissions totalling over five million tonnes, it said. The country at present has about 250,000 cellphone towers each of which use 3-5 kilowatts of power depending on the number of operators using them.

"Together, these towers use more than two billion litres of diesel every year for power generation. Apart from this, fuel is also spent for cooling the equipment. If all these cellphone towers use solar energy then it could save a great amount of fossil fuels as well as reduce carbon emissions," the study said. It noted that cellphone towers are "energy-intensive" as they use power non-stop without 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 saving and reduction in carbon emissions. With telecom operators looking to expand operations in rural areas, even more telecom towers are set to come up," it said.

Considering the estimates predicting that India will have a billion cell phone subscribers by 2015, it is "extremely essential" that the policy mooted by the Central ministry of New and Renewable energy to energise cell phone towers using solar energy is implemented "as soon as possible" to reduce strain on the already scarce resources, the study said.

The total carbon emissions from diesel used for cellphone towers is estimated by the study at 5.3 million tonnes or 11.76 billion pounds while the cost of diesel every year at an average price is calculated at USD 1.4 billion (equivalent to Rs 6,400 crore).