The energy needs of the telecom sector have grown significantly over the past few years with the deployment of a large number of mobile towers and increased uptake of data services. To reduce diesel consumption at their tower sites, telecom tower companies have been taking various initiatives and deploying energy efficient solutions. In addition, the need to reduce opex as well as the carbon footprint has led telecom operators and tower companies to experiment with alternative power sources.

The following are the views of industry leaders on energy management in the telecom sector…

Tushar Kapadia, Vice-President, Strategic Initiatives, GTL Infrastructure

GTL Infrastructure has around 28,000 telecom towers spread across 22 telecom circles. Of these, about 6,000 have been made diesel free. These consume less than 30 litres of diesel per month. Further, we have deployed renewable energy solutions at 1 per cent of the sites.

Diesel pilferage is a key challenge for tower companies in India. The best way to avoid this problem is to reduce the dependence on diesel. To this end, we have connected the sites to the grid although it comes at a huge expense. We have also increased the battery backup to reduce the diesel run in some of the circles.

Further, tenancies and power availability vary at different tower sites. There­­fore, one solution does not fit all sites and energy management at each site is a separate challenge.

We have taken several initiatives from time to time to address these issues. For instance, earlier we had deployed catalytical converters to improve the efficiency of diesel generators. Later, we adopted free cooling solutions to reduce the air-conditioning load. And now, with the support of telecom operators, we are converting indoor sites to outdoor sites. More than the outdoor sites, it is the tendency of putting remote radio heads and remote radio units on towers that is picking up. These remote radio heads do not require air-conditioning or any floor space and they are capable of radiating multiple technologies.

There are both challenges and opportunities in the Indian telecom industry. It is currently witnessing a data revolution and there are plenty of business opportunities. We need to develop frameworks to leverage these opportunities. My suggestion to all the solution providers and product or technology vendors is to indulge not in only selling but also partnering so that a long-term engagement can be forged.

Balaji R., National Head-Energy,Indus Towers

Energy plays a vital role in infrastructure activities and operations. In the next four or five years, around 1.2 million towers worldwide are expected to be off-grid, which will significantly increase our operational costs. The increase in energy costs, which is generally passed on to customers through over charging, has never brought any efficiency in operations. Moreover, there has hardly been any effort or exercise to improve equipment efficiency.

There are three significant considerations for energy management. First, how to enhance grid power while managing the costs and protecting the environment. Second, how to ensure that every single power unit being consumed is not only measured but also attributed properly. The third is how to enhance equipment efficiency, which has stirred a lot of debate in the past few years.

With emerging technologies such as 4G and 5G, the deployment of additional base transceiver stations (BTSs) is expected to increase significantly. Although the installation of new equipment will increase efficiency, it will pose a challenge in terms of power requirements.

Further, with the increasing cost of grid power, tower companies have started looking at renewable platforms.  However, the renewable platform has not matured fully and we are still in the process of assessing how best we can use these in future. Today, there is pressure from customers for increasing efficiency. In addition, there is pressure on equipment manufacturing vendors, particularly for electrical systems, to bring in efficiency through new product innovations. Moreover, there are mandatory guidelines from the government for renewable energy usage.

At Indus Towers, around 5 per cent of the total sites are solar based and we are looking to double this soon.

Ambikesh Pratap Singh, Vice-President and Head, Energy SBU and Estate SBU, Viom Networks

Energy requirements for telecom infrastructure depend primarily on the nature of the active equipment, which is deployed at the sites. If the equipment is sensitive to the environment and power fluctuations, we need to provide a support system, which itself consumes a lot of power. At indoor sites where the equipment is more sensitive, we need to ensure appropriate climatic conditions such as through air-conditioning for the equipment to operate efficiently. After 2013, we started focusing more on outdoor sites. As a result, the ratio of useful power that is used by the active equipment is increasing in contrast to that used by the support system.

There are two key considerations for energy management. One is how to improve the energy management of legacy equipment. The other is how to meet the power requirements of new BTSs and power sites. On the legacy side, there are a variety of issues such as the type, quality, duration and source of available input power. We cannot have one single solution that can be applied across the industry. Therefore, it becomes important to design optimal solutions for specific towers.

We started off with a pass-through model wherein we had no incentive as an infrastructure provider for improving energy efficiency. Today, the trend has changed. At Viom, 60-70 per cent of the tenancies are not based on a pass-through model. We have to work on a fixed-cost model that provides incentives for improving energy efficiency and creates a win-win situation both for the operator and the infrastructure provider.

We are working with the operators to reduce additional power requirements, particularly for air conditioning. This is the first step for improving site efficiency. We are also looking at building stand-alone sites, which can generate their own power and work without external backups. Meanwhile, we are taking support from microgrids to help provide power independent of the state electricity boards.

Ajit Shankar, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Ardom Telecom

The wireless telecommunication industry is consuming 8.6 billion units of energy, including power generated by 2.5 billion-4 billion litres of diesel. This generates 20 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. Lowering energy usage is not just important for the environment perspective but also for reducing costs in order to remain competitive and run a sustainable long-term business.

Energy minimisation can be achieved in two ways – through better management and improved efficiency and through technological intervention. So far, we have focused more on deploying technology such as state-of-the-art remote monitoring solutions. But these remote monitoring solutions do not work on a stand-alone basis and have to be managed depending on the ground situation.

Since every site is different, we need to have customised solutions. A dedicated team of people, who have expertise in energy management and are sufficiently incentivised, is required to work on this.