According to reports, concerned over the widespread usage of diesel by over six lakh telecom towers in the country, the telecom department is working on running towers on renewable energy, starting with non-grid areas.
Telecom companies are estimated to be the second-biggest consumers of diesel in the country, behind only the railways. Apart from leading to high carbon emissions, diesel usage by telecom towers is also a big drain on the exchequer as the loss to the government on account of the cheaper fuel is pegged at over Rs 4,500 crore.
The Department of Telecom (DoT) has initiated projects in non-grid areas in around 20 states where they power the towers using green energy sources like solar panels and wind energy. The tests have been found to have “worked out well” and there are now plans to actively spread them to more regions, sources said. Average fuel consumption by a single telecom tower is estimated at 8,760 litre diesel annually, assuming 8 hours of operation by diesel generator sets. The total diesel usage by the telecom tower apparatus spread across the country is pegged at 5.12 billion litres a year. Also, the total carbon emission on account of diesel usage by the telecom towers is estimated to be around 10 Mt of Carbon-dioxide (CO2).
The sources said that the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has been roped in for the exercise and the government has initially started the project with state-run BSNL. “The idea is to see whether it is a sustainable model that can also be replicated. Also, we wanted to understand how reliable it will be and how it functions,” a source said.
The government now plans to involve private operators in the exercise as the DoT has already said that the usage of diesel by telecom towers has to be curbed in line with Trai’s recommendations on initiating ‘green telecom’, which envisages that at least 50% of all rural towers and 33% of urban towers be powered by Renewable Energy Technologies (RET) by 2015.
Rajan Mathews, director general of industry lobby group Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said that the industry is also doing its bit to shift to cleaner sources of energy. “We are also committed to this initiative and so far we have managed to convert 5,000 towers to greener fuel. We have a target of converting around 40,000-50,000 towers on greener fuel in the coming time,” Mathews said.
However, he also added that the government should ensure that there is stable power supply to the telecom towers set-up, considering that “heavy investments” will have to be made for setting up green fuel infrastructure. “We have to provide cellular service on a 24X7 basis, and there cannot be disruptions. If there are frequent power outages, we have no option but to use diesel,” Mathews said.