GSMA Launches Renewable Energy Push For Mobile Networks

Target of 118,000 base stations in developing world using green power by 2012

The GSMA launched the Green Power for Mobile programme with the goal of helping the mobile industry use renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, or sustainable biofuels*, to power 118,000 new and existing off-grid base stations in developing countries by 2012. Achieving that target would save up to 2.5 billion litres of diesel per annum and cut annual carbon emissions by up to 6.3 million tonnes.

The GSMA, the global trade body for the mobile industry, forecasts that by 2012 up to 50% of new off-grid base stations in the developing world could be powered by renewable energy. Backed by 25 mobile operators, the Green Power for Mobile programme will provide expertise to support the deployment of base stations that use renewable energy. Up to now, off-grid base stations have primarily been powered by generators running on diesel fuel, which is increasingly expensive, generates carbon dioxide emissions, and can be difficult to transport to remote locations.

“As they strive to bring the benefits of mobile coverage to as many people as possible, operators need to find reliable, sustainable and economic sources of power far beyond the reach of national electricity grids,” said Rob Conway, CEO and Member of the Board of the GSMA. “Through our Development Fund, the GSMA has built deep expertise in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources that mobile operators can tap to help them connect the unconnected, reduce operating costs and minimise environmental damage.”

Following extensive research with mobile operators, the GSMA Development Fund estimates that only 1,500 base stations worldwide are powered by at least one form of renewable energy. Challenges to date have included commercial viability, equipment availability and lack of expertise, but the GSMA’s research suggests that rising diesel prices and falling renewable equipment costs mean that operators investing in green power sources for base stations could recoup the capital costs in as little as 24 months.

The GSMA Development Fund is already working with several mobile operators to develop renewable power solutions for a variety of base stations located in diverse geographies. The Development Fund has supported Digicel’s deployment of wind and solar energy to power 17 new base stations on the Pacific island of Vanuatu.

“As oil becomes more scarce and expensive, renewable energy will be used more and more to power telecommunications networks anywhere that grid power is not available,” said John Delves, CEO of Digicel Vanuatu. “Using alternative power solutions, such as harnessing wind and solar energy, will help lower our operational expenditure and reduce our environmental impact, giving people in the more remote islands of Vanuatu access to communications for the first time.”

After a successful pilot in conjunction with the GSMA Development Fund and Ericsson, Idea Cellular now uses waste cooking oil to help power more than 350 base stations in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, where the conventional electricity supply can be erratic. The base stations run on a blend made up of 80% diesel fuel and 20% waste cooking oil.

“If we can secure enough vegetable oils from sustainable sources, we will move to a blend of 50% diesel and 50% biofuels, which will be better for the environment and for our operating costs,” said Anil K Tandan, Chief Technology Officer of Idea. “We are also exploring other alternative sources of power as we seek to ensure that our mobile network continues to be reliable, sustainable and cost-effective.”

The major suppliers of base stations have anticipated the growing demand for green networks and have introduced a variety of low-energy products as well as renewable energy power solutions. New entrants are also emerging, providing tailored bolt-on power solutions for base stations. The GSMA is developing metrics for “green” base stations, to support operators in their decision-making on providers and products.

Today, the operators involved in the Green Power for Mobile programme are meeting in Kenya, hosted by Safaricom, a leader in the use of renewable energy for networks with 30 base stations powered by solar and wind energy.

As well as supporting operators with experts in the field, the GSMA Development Fund has also launched a Web site providing a wealth of information on the viability of a range of renewable energy solutions in different environments.

Notes to Editors

The mobile operators participating in the programme are: AXIS, Bharti, Dialog, Digicel, Idea Cellular, Indosat, Econet, Grameenphone, Mobinil, MTC Namibia, MTN Cameroon, MTN Group, MTN Nigeria, MTN Uganda, Orange, Orascom Telecom Holding, Roshan, Safaricom, Smart, Telefonica, Telenor Pakistan, Vimpelcom, Vodacom Tanzania, Vodafone Egypt, Zain Group, Zantel

*Biofuels which are (a) produced from feedstocks that have been grown on idle and marginal land that has not been deforested for the purpose of biofuel crop plantation, (b) result in lower carbon emissions than diesel when calculated on a whole of life basis and taking into account the effect of land use changes and (c) are produced in a manner that contributes to the social and economic development of local, rural and indigenous peoples and communities.

Supporting quotes

“SMART is happy to be part of this effort which aims to advance the use of renewable energy sources to power off-grid base stations. As the Philippines’ leading wireless services provider, we recognize that this initiative is the right thing to do from both a business and environmental standpoint. We hope more telecom operators will join this effort to reduce carbon emissions and promote more climate-friendly practices.” – Napoleon L. Nazareno, President & CEO, Smart Communications, Inc.

“Safaricom is very proud to be a part of this initiative. We currently have over 30 wind and solar powered base stations operating around the country, the first having been commissioned in 2006 in Laisamis, Kenya. We see two at least distinct benefits to these base stations, the first is the positive impact on the environment and in this regard, we are proud of the fact that we have been able to leverage technological advancements to engage in ecologically sensitive and sustainable business. The second benefit is that we have realised significant savings on our costs due to the harnessing of renewable energy to power our base stations. We see a long term future in this initiative and I would urge for continued investment in to R & D so that the cost of green technology can be made more affordable to operators globally.” – Michael Joseph, CEO, Safaricom Ltd.

“OT is proud to back up any project that contributes to saving the global environment. The Green Power for Mobile Programme is one of many initiatives the company is participating in to enable development of alternative energy. We are always aiming at building reliable, cost effective and environment friendly networks.” – Naguib Sawiris, Chairman and CEO, Orascom Telecom Holding.

About GSMA

The GSM Association (GSMA) is the global trade body representing more than 750 GSM mobile phone operators across 218 countries and territories of the world. The Association’s members represent more than 3 billion GSM and 3GSM connections – over 86% of the world’s mobile phone connections. In addition, more than 200 manufacturers and suppliers support the Association’s initiatives.

The primary goals of the GSMA are to ensure mobile phones and wireless services work globally and are easily accessible, enhancing their value to individual customers and national economies, while creating new business opportunities for operators and their suppliers.

For further information contact:
David Pringle