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Bharti Airtel to use green energy to power its telecom towers in Africa

According to reports, Bharti Airtel plans to use environmentally-friendly energy sources to power its telecom towers in Africa as part of an effort to reduce the operational costs of running the network.

The company plans about 1,300-1,400 towers to be powered by solar energy and some more harnessing wind energy, reducing their consumption of diesel by 11 million litres of fuel just this financial year, said a company spokesman.

An industry expert, who asked not to be named said there is pilferage of around 3-6% of diesel at towers in Africa, that may be curbed with alternate solutions.

Indus Towers chief executive, B S Shantharaju said, the capital cost of setting up a solar power unit is Rs 9-11 Lacs per tower (for a load of 5 KW /tower).” Indus Towers, a joint venture between Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, is the country’s largest telecom tower company.

However, Mahesh Choudhary, founder and chief executive Microqual, a company that builds towers, said the cost could be as high as Rs 50 lacs. Operationally, it involves saving of about a quarter of the fuel cost.

Solar power is functional at around 1,000 towers, said the Bharti spokesman. The Indian telecom operator acquired businesses in 15 African countries for over $10 billion in 2010 from Kuwait-based Zain Telecom. The business over the last three years has not panned out as Bharti had planned.

Bharti was hoping to superimpose the Indian business model in Africa, but the market did not show as much price elasticity as the Indian market when Bharti cut rates. The company has since been channeling all efforts to meet financial targets there, which keep getting deferred, say industry analysts.

Recently, Bharti moved the Africa unit to separate its telecom towers from the telecom operations, to create a company in which infrastructure can be shared, as it does in India. The company is revamping power to its towers in Africa, of which 9% still remain off central power grids.

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