Solar Energy

Solar energy to become must for telecom towers

Oct 22, 2010
NEW DELHI: The government will make it mandatory for mobile phone towers to be powered by solar energy, hoping to cut pollution and tamp down a key driver of diesel consumption in the country. But this would raise construction costs by up to 50% for cellphone operators such as Bharti, Vodafone and Reliance Communications.

“We are working on a new scheme that will support adoption of greener practices by telecos while rolling out their services for customers,” secretary with the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE), Deepak Gupta, told ET.
Over 200 crore litres of diesel are used every year by up to 3,50,000 cell towers across the country, and their numbers are increasing by the day.

The solar power initiative for cell towers will help cut the use of noisy, smoke-spewing diesel gensets in tower operations and prevent flow of government subsidy on diesel for unintended activities.
“A test project on adoption of solar power panels is being carried out in 600 towers. This will be completed by second half of the next year. Based on the inputs we get from it, the initiative will be rolled out nationally and a new funding scheme may be worked out,” he said.

The new scheme is being spearheaded under the recently launched Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) that aims to increase solar power capacity in the country by 20,000 mw by 2022.

The MNRE has already started discussing the proposal with various stakeholders and may seek Cabinet approval for the scheme. The ministry wants to initially ask only the new cell towers to use solar power, but all existing towers would also be covered under the scheme in phases.

The country currently has about 3,50,000 cell towers. Each tower costs about Rs 40 lakh, and the additional cost of installing a 10-kw solar power panel would be Rs 16 lakh, officials say. “The government’s proposed move may almost double the cost of laying towers. This could significantly impact the margins for companies already under pressure due to rising spectrum costs,” said an official of a major private sector telecom company, who did not want to be identified.

While the proposed government scheme will limit direct capital support to telecom companies to a basic minimum for laying solar power panels, it may offer soft loans to companies under refinancing schemes of Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA). “Diesel-based electricity is both expensive — costs as high as Rs 15 per unit — and polluting. It is in this situation the solar imperative is both urgent and feasible,” said another government official involved in JNNSM. “Companies could recover their full investment in a span of 10 years,” he added.

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