Replacing Diesel: Renewables Power Off-Grid Cellular Base Stations

lunapic-125143551851394 A new generation of wireless broadband network technologies is spreading around the world with WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) and the cellular industry’s LTE (Long-Term Evolution). And that’s led hordes of people rushing to buy the latest generation of smartphones, handheld devices, netbooks and laptops.

Advances in wireless networking has also boosted telecommunications companies capacity to connect all the world’s billions to a network, cellular networks especially. And that’s meant building infrastructure, more specifically, a lot more cellular base stations. In the last few years the number of cellular base stations worldwide has skyrocketed from the hundreds of thousands to the multiple millions, according to Scottsdale-based research firm In-Stat.

All to the well and good it seems, well almost. While many of these base stations are connected to an electricity grid, an already large and still fast-growing number aren’t. And off-grid base stations have traditionally been powered by running diesel generators 24×7. That means they’re pumping CO2, NOx and SO2 into the atmosphere all day, every day. That’s opened up a nice-sized window of opportunity for providers of small-scale, off-grid renewable power technology and systems.

Cellular, Off-Grid Promise for Renewable Power Providers

Equipping cellular base stations to run on clean, renewable power systems looks like a winning situation all around. Cellular base station owners get a reliable, clean, low-impact and long-term cost effective power supply. Government and the public don’t have to worry about air, land and water pollution, and off-grid renewable power start-ups capture important pieces of business that not only generate revenue but often serve as proving grounds for their systems and technology.

It’s also leading telecommunications providers such as Digicel to actively seek out the means, and businesses, to outfit their cellular base stations with renewable power systems.

Innovative, niche-oriented solar power companies such as Vancouver’s Carmanah Technologies and World Water & Solar Technologies have been able to capture this and other, similar types of smaller scale, off-grid business.

In-Stat analyst Allen Nogee sees a fast-growing market of such opportunities for small-scale wind power, as well as solar power providers. Small wind companies such as Helix Wind and Mariah Wind seem like potential beneficiaries if this market does indeed expand as Nogee forecasts.

It Pays to Be Green

In his In-Stat report, “Green Base Stations: Renewable Energy Becomes a Reality in Cellular Infrastructure,” Nogee sees the number of off-grid base stations growing 30% per year and reaching 230,000 by 2014.

He notes that in addition to looking to solar and wind as renewable sources of cell base station power, telco service and technology providers such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei, NEC and Nokia Siemens are hard at work trying to increase the energy efficiency of base stations.

“While diesel pollution is an environmental issue, what bothers operators the most is the cost of powering and securing the generators,” according to Nogee. “Diesel fuel has to be trucked to remote sites, and theft of diesel fuel and equipment can cost operators millions of dollars. The solution is for operators to at least partially power remote base stations with wind turbines, solar panels, or both. This is truly a case where it pays to be green.”

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

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