India to switch cell phone towers from diesel to solar

The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in India is set to create a mandate that all telecom operators power their cell phone towers with solar panels, instead of the diesel generators currently being used.

The new mandate is likely to be incorporated into India’s National Solar Mission which aims at setting up 20,000MW of solar power capacity by 2022.

Such a move would not only help the government achieve this ambitious goal but would also allow the ministry to get subsidies for the telecom and tower operators for installation of solar power systems.

Not a big deal? Think about the numbers.

India and Its Cell Phones:

India currently has around 500 million cell phone subscribers--second only to China, and continues to be one of the top two growing telecom markets in the world.

These subscribers are covered by more than 250,000 cellphone towers, which run non-stop, day-in and day-out, without interruption. On top of this, they are housed in air-conditioning units to keep them cool--also an energy drain. These towers consume about 2 billion litres (about 530 million gallons) of diesel every year.

What Switching to Solar Would Mean:

Analysis from Cleantechnica shows the enormous potential this shift has on energy consumption and cost. The following numbers are based on a conservative approach and assume no increase in number of towers India.

Number of towers = 250,000

Diesel used every month = 530 million gallons

Carbon emissions from diesel (based on U.S. EPA data) = 22.2 pounds/gallon

Total carbon emissions from cellphone towers annually = 11.76 billion pounds or 5.3 million tons

Cost of diesel every year (average price of diesel = US$0.7) = US$1.4 billion (INR 6400 Crore)

So, the savings would be about US$1.4 billion (minus the overhead of switching to and maintaining solar panels) and a reduction in carbon emissions by about 5 million tons.

Not impressed? Consider that India is expected to have over 1 billion cell phone subscribers by 2015, and at least an additional 250,000 more towers--and the numbers grow exponentially.

Mandating change now appears to be an important preventative measure, though perhaps only a small step in the overall picture of the country's energy problems.