In January 2012, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India issued a directive to all telecom operators calling for retroactive implementation of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures. The directive also required operators to declare their carbon footprint bi-annually.
Prior to issuing the directive, the TRAI had released a paper titled ‘Approach to green telecom’ in 2011. It estimated that the telecom network in India was responsible for nearly 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions representing about one percent of total Indian greenhouse gas emissions.
As of March 2012, the power demand from 4,00,000 telecom sites in the country stood at 1,700 MW annually. Of the total demand, around two-third of the power requirement came from towers located in rural and suburban areas.
Given the unreliable supply of power from the grid, mobile service providers install diesel generator sets to provide uninterrupted service to users. It is estimated that during the year 2012-13, diesel generator sets installed to power mobile towers accounted for four percent of total diesel consumption requiring Rs. 4,300 crore from the public exchequer towards subsidy.
With the mobile subscriber base set to touch the one billion mark by 2013-14 and with the roll out of 3G services, an estimated 1,00,000 more towers will be required to support additional capacity. The new towers will not only push up the demand for diesel further increasing the burden on the government but also emit 8.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
With the objective of moving towards ‘green telecom’, the TRAI had sought replacement of the diesel generator sets used for powering mobile towers by renewable energy and hybrid systems in urban and rural areas in a phased manner.
The MNRE has been supporting BSNL’s initiative of using solar photovoltaic systems in its telecom towers. Other mobile service providers have also opted for solar photovoltaic systems, biomass gasifiers, biogas systems and fuel cell systems to power mobile towers.
Considering that renewable energy systems have proved quite useful in powering mobile towers and substituting the diesel generator sets, the focus now is to enhance the reach of such systems significantly within a short period of time.
With a view to deliberate on the issue, an interaction session, to be chaired by the New and Renewable Energy Secretary Dr. Satish B. Agnihotri, has been scheduled in New Delhi on January 13th, 2014. Mobile service providers, renewable energy technology companies and tower operators who have installed renewable energy systems for powering mobile towers will attend the session and share their experiences.