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Greening telecom: Countryside and countrywide

As telephone has grown to become the lifeline of communication in most areas, telecom operators are looking towards green communications, which is expected to become a part of normal telecom business.


India is one of the largest telecom markets in the world and more than 200 million new rural subscribers are expected to be added in the next two-and-a-half years.  The growth of the sector is directly proportional to the mounting costs of developing physical infrastructure and the Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs). The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector currently consumes approximately 2% of global carbon emissions, more than 2/3rd of which are generated by the network. 

An average mobile tower consumes 96 kWh of power daily and in areas of poor electricity supply, diesel consumption can average 24 litres per day.  Energy consumption is one of the leading drivers of the operating expenses (usually about 35 percent of the total) for both fixed and mobile network operators. There is tremendous scope to reduce this percentage through energy efficiency measures and decreasing power consumption. To address these issues, The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is in the process of preparing a consultation paper on “green telecom” which offers guidance for the use of eco-friendly equipment in the ICT sector. The paper is expected to address critical issues like increasing carbon foot print-contribution of telecom industry,  need for carbon credit policy for the sector, methods / options to reduce the carbon foot print by ICT industry in India, standardization of Green Telecom equipment and incentive for their adoption and framework for monitoring carbon emission and corrective action for telecom sector[1].

This initiative of TRAI mandates the network operators to Go Green!!!! Many of the major operators have already identified the procedures of carbon trading and the benefits it entails. The telecom players are now investing in a large way on energy efficiency systems to partake in the domestic trading scheme for energy efficiency certificate per the National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency under the NAPCC. Energy efficiency is directly linked to carbon emissions mitigation. By saving 2kW per hour at each site 1.6 kg of carbon emission can be saved. With over 60,000 global sites of telecom operators (by Acme) using energy efficiency technologies, more than 840,960 tonnes of carbon emission reduction is being achieved each year . The energy solutions companies are innovating on technologies that can reduce GHGs drastically, in process making the unit or the project eligible for carbon credits in large volumes[2].

Green Technologies Adopted by Telecom Operators

While Mobile has become a basic need in India, developing telecom infrastructure especially in rural areas is a challenge for the telecom operators and tower companies due to the unreliable power supply.  At this point, solar thermal and solar photo voltaic (PV) cells seem to be promising. With greater focus on indigenizing these technologies in India to achieve steep reduction in costs, they represent a long term sustainable and inexhaustible alternate energy.

Technology for harnessing the solar energy is now well proven and established. Leveraging this know-how, the telecom towers are powered with solar PV cells which use sunlight to generate electricity and reduce the dependence on conventional power and other conventional fuels. According to a study by PV Group, installation of solar PV cells can lead to reduction of around 2.5 tons of CO2 emission per tower each year. The other technology supplement to pure solar energy solution is solar and diesel hybrid power solution which has minimum environmental impact compared to standalone diesel backed systems and low maintenance rate compared to pure solar energy systems. In this the power supply system uses solar energy and diesel generator to generate electricity in a complementary manner and provide the electricity generated to the site. The purpose of the hybrid power system is to cope with the solar energy power supply risk encountered when there is a long series of consecutive rainy days or when the peak sunshine hours fluctuate widely from month to month especially in moderate and cold climates in the country.

Apart from the above there are several other in-house technologies, which the telecom operators are innovating to shape their sustainable business operations. Some of the initiatives that telecom operators can take for “going green” are-
• using energy-efficient equipment for network systems powered by green energy
• using solar energy for the power supply
• using energy saving and environmentally friendly materials
• green supply chain packaging and logistics innovations

Few Ongoing Initiatives

The green initiatives currently underway in the sector include:

  • Bharti Airtel is leading the way with solar energy. It is powering mobile towers with solar PV in remote rural areas in India. It has also entered a Joint Venture with ACME Tele Power for carbon credits. Airtel is also the first to operate its network on Energy Management System (EMS) which helps the company to slash its operating cost by upto 40%.
  • Huawei, a telecom infrastructure provider has developed innovative technologies which involve improving the power amplifier efficiency, raising the base station working temperature to eliminate the air-conditioning system, adopting the distributed and integrated central office and using the intelligent shutdown technology. It has launched SingleRAN solution based on the software-defined radio (SDR) system to simplify energy-using nodes and save energy by way of network convergence – this alone has a potential of reducing 1.5 tons of CO2 per year per base station.
  • Nokia Siemens Networks is in global collaboration with ACME TelePower to provide energy efficient radio cell site solutions to telecom operators.


Telecom operators and infrastructure providers are already aware of the kind of benefits and advantages energy efficiency and renewable energy provides and thus a major thrust in switching over is expected in the next few years. Energy efficiency, green innovative technologies and integration of renewable energy sources are the only options for the telecom industry to shape a low carbon growth for the segment in the country. According to new report from Pike Research in 2009, all of these factors and initiatives will continue to converge over the next several years, and "green" network equipment will grow to represent 46% of the $277 billion global telecom infrastructure market by 2013.




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Author: Komalirani Yenneti