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Air Liquide undertakes pilot project with Bharti Airtel to run telecom towers using hydrogen

Just days after Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) awarded tender for powering cellphone sites using Solar Energy in Western Uttar Pradesh, there are reports in the media that French industrial gas company Air Liquide has undertaken a pilot project with Bharti Airtel to run telecom towers using environment-friendly hydrogen as fuel.

“We have partnered Bharti to replace diesel-fuelled telecom towers with hydrogen — a technology that will not only be economical but also environment-friendly,” said Benoit Potier, chairman and CEO of Air Liquide.

In the first phase, the French firm will test the technology with 10-15 sets, which will be expanded to most towers.

Air Liquide is likely to invest around 200-500 million euros to develop the technology in India, “depending on the rate of penetration of the hydro-fuelled towers”.

“Around 30 per cent of telecom towers in India are backed by diesel. So there is a huge opportunity for renewable fuel-based technology,” Potier said.

With diesel generators that power over 4 lakh towers in the country consuming fuel worth over Rs 6,400 crore every year, the government has recently set up a panel to promote renewable energy to slash costs as well as hazardous carbon emissions.

The department of telecom (DoT) plans to provide subsidies and incentives to operators using renewable energy.

Some of the incentives include 30 per cent subsidy on the total cost of making 200 towers eco-friendly in a certain area and supporting the rollout of eco-friendly towers in rural areas.

“With many telecom towers set in rural areas where power is a major problem, diesel has become the major source to provide continuous telephone network. Renewable energy solutions such as solar cells or hydrofuels will ensure that at least the power requirements of the towers in rural areas are solved,” a DoT official said.

Other benefits include the reduction in pollution, cutting down on diesel dependence and a decline in operating costs, he said.

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