How renewable energy solutions are helping mobile operators reduce emissions and support remote communities

The need for cleaner energy generation is clear. Published in September 2020, GSMA’s report, Renewable Energy for Mobile Towers estimates that emissions from off-grid and bad-grid mobile towers were responsible for 3 per cent of the mobile industry’s CO2 emissions or around seven million tons CO2 equivalent in 2020. In the first of our renewable energy (RE) blog series we explored the ways in which technology solutions are enabling RE solutions to be used in an ever-greater number of locations. In this, the second in the series, we look at how mobile operators are implementing these solutions to reduce carbon emissions, improve the energy efficiency of their networks, and connect rural communities. In addition, we look at how supportive energy policy can enable operators to increase the share of RE in the national energy supply matrix and how innovative contracting models are facilitating operators to implement RE. To showcase specific use cases of the technology, we focus on the examples in Latin America, implemented by Internet Para Todos and the Telefónica Group. All the information included in this blog has been provided by Telefónica representatives.

How solar energy is being used by Internet para Todos to connect 2.8 million Peruvians to mobile internet

Internet para Todos (IPT) was born as a global collaborative initiative between Telefónica and Facebook in order to bridge the digital divide in Latin America and bring connectivity to rural areas. The initiative was joined by IDB Invest and CAF which, guided by the same goal, consolidated IPT as a Rural Mobile Infrastructure Operator (RMIO) in Peru in 2019. 

IPT’s goal is to connect more than 2.8 million Peruvians to mobile internet, reducing the digital divide and boosting the development of the country’s rural areas. To achieve this by the end of 2021, IPT is using technologies and processes to overcome technical and economic barriers and install infrastructure in areas of high geographical complexity. One solution they are using is RE generation equipment that enables deployments in remote areas and is less ecologically harmful than solutions that use fossil fuels.

An example is the remote, La Tina base station in the Peruvian region of Piura. Through the design of a RE solution comprising solar panels and battery banks, it has a guaranteed service availability of greater than 98 per cent. In total, 15 per cent of IPT’s base stations use RE power, with 498 of these using solar panels. Monthly, these solar assets produce ~86MWh of energy.

Image Caption: A RE solution implemented at Telefónica’s La Tina consumer station in Piura, Peru

In addition, IPT is currently considering installing 12 hybrid solutions where solar power will run alongside another energy source. This would allow IPT to use solar power in locations where the solar insolation in some months of the year is very low and still meet the required service availability.

How energy policy has enabled Telefónica Uruguay to create a distributed network of solar generation

Uruguay’s energy policy encourages energy diversification to reduce dependence on oil and increase the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources. It also encourages private companies to become part of the country’s energy matrix.

Telefónica Uruguay has responded to government regulation by investing €2.5 million in 48 solar plants that can both produce energy for self-consumption by radio equipment as well as inject surplus energy into the national grid. Each plant produces approximately 32 MWh/month, which, combined across all 48 plants, equates to 19,000 MWh per year. 

Image caption: Telefónica Uruguay’s 24 kWp solar plant in Las Piedras. The system produces approximately 384 MWh of energy per year. 

One benefit of a distributed solar generation network, is lower energy transmission losses because the power is produced where needed and is supplied to local energy consumers when there is excess generation. Smart Energy Systems can help optimise these flows of energy and increase the efficiency of distributed energy generation assets, such as those deployed by Telefónica Uruguay. This is highlighted in the GSMA report, Smart Energy Systems: Connectivity for a zero-emissions future, published in February 2021, that looks at how technologies such as AI can help optimise the integration of distributed RE assets. 

How Energy Savings as a Service is enabling Telefónica to implement RE solutions

Energy Savings as a Service (ESaaS) is a disruptive business model that completely changes the way that Telefónica now considers the optimisation of its infrastructure. ESaaS is a cost-saving agreement between an energy asset owner like Telefónica and a specialised provider that designs, invests, operates and maintains an energy solution. The service is paid for by sharing the savings generated by the implemented solution.

Working with Desigenia, Telefónica has been able to implement more than 100 renewable hybrid systems in Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Chile, replacing fossil fuel electrical generation systems at off-grid base-stations with renewable hybrid systems consisting of high-efficiency photovoltaic panels and lithium-ion batteries that minimise the usage of a diesel backup generator. The installations produce approximately 270 MWh of energy per year, avoiding 1,700 tons of CO2 emissions and reducing fossil fuel consumption by approximately 631,100 litres.

Image caption: Photo of the EcoCube solution from Desigenia implemented at a Telefónica mobile tower

In this blog we have seen how the latest RE technology solutions are enabling mobile operators to reduce their emissions by replacing diesel generators at off-grid sites. In addition, the suitability of solar power to produce energy in remote regions is increasingly helping organisations connect rural communities living in challenging locations that are not reached by the electricity grid. Elsewhere in South America, the Uruguayan government’s energy policy has enabled the implementation of a highly efficient distributed energy generation network, showing how operators can increase the share of RE in the grid energy matrix when there is a supportive policy enacted. At the same time, specialist providers using the innovative model of ESaaS are affecting how operators approach infrastructure management and have permitted the installation of RE solutions in a manner that is both financially and operationally attractive. 

If you would like to hear more about the activities mentioned here, please contact us to find out more. 

This initiative is currently funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
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