Trans­form­ing In­dia’s Tele­com Sec­tor

How does pow­er­ing a tele­com tower us­ing RE make ab­so­lute eco­nomic sense?

Voice&Data - - ALTERNATIV­E ENERGY - Teck­kee Shih

Since the in­cor­po­ra­tion of MoT in 1985 and Trai in 1997, the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion in­dus­try in In­dia has grown to the sec­ond largest mo­bile phone user base in the world with over 900 mn sub­scribers. This rapid growth has, how­ever, cre­ated some ma­jor struc­tural prob­lems that have sur­faced dur­ing the last cou­ple of years. The rise in diesel price and wide spread diesel pil­fer­age are se­ri­ous is­sues af­fect­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of the tele­com tower in­dus­try. The 2G scam, re­cent can­cel­la­tion of 2G li­censes have also con­trib­uted to the messy state it is in to­day.

Through pres­sures from the gen­eral pub­lic and NGOs like Green­peace, TraiI­man­dated that 50% of ru­ral and 20% of ur­ban sites must be retro­fit­ted to be pow­ered with re­new­able sources of en­ergy by 2015. The tower in­dus­try has de­ployed about 3,000 pi­lot so­lar sites over the past few years. Un­for­tu­nately, most of the so­lar sys­tems de­ployed have not achieved sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings to jus­tify a large scale de­ploy­ment. This is be­cause the 3rd gen­er­a­tion in­te­grated so­lar tech­nol­ogy, es­sen­tial to power tele­com sites, was not avail­able un­til re­cently. The fact that Bharti In­fratel plans to is­sue an in­ter­na­tional RFP to so­lar­ize 8,000 ex­ist­ing sites proves that the 1,300 sites they have so­lar­ized were not good enough.

Tower and In­fra­struc­ture Provider As­so­ci­a­tion (Taipa) re­cently is­sued a RFP to so­lar­ize 100,000 ex­ist­ing sites, based on an opex model. Based on Bharti’s es­ti­mates of $37.5k per site, the cost re­quired to so­lar­ize 100,000 tow­ers will be in the range of $3.75 bn.

The big 5 tower com­pa­nies are re­ported to be heav­ily in debt and are in no po­si­tion to fi­nance the high up­front in­vest­ment re­quired to switch to so­lar power.

A So­larIGrid power sys­tem in Ko­lar, Kar­nataka has demon­strated that it is pos­si­ble to power the tele­com sites in a grid deficit lo­ca­tion with­out a MG. By do­ing so, it elim­i­nates both the cap­i­tal in­vest­ment for the MG and the re­cur­ring ex­penses to­wards MG main­te­nance— diesel trans­porta­tion, diesel pil­fer­age, and the ever volatile diesel cost. The in­te­grated So­larIGrid sys­tem has oper­at­ing ex­penses of about 3,000 per month; a sim­i­lar con­ven­tional MGIGrid pow­ered sys­tem will cost tower own­ers about Rs 45,000. The en­tire turn-key so­lar so­lu­tion in­clud­ing bat­tery and re­mote mon­i­tor­ing comes with a 5 years war­ranty.

Resco doesn’t have the tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise or the fi­nan­cial re­sources to so­lar­ize 100,000 sites. Phen the gov­ern­ment owned power cor­po­ra­tions are not able to sup­ply power to the semi-ru­ral and off-grid sites, it is a wish­ful think­ing that Resco will be able to do it in an opex model.

The de­lay in so­lar­iz­ing the tower in­dus­try will cost the stake­hold­ers dearly as the task is be­com­ing more daunt­ing with each pass­ing day. The stake­hold­ers need to take col­lec­tive ac­tions to re­solve the is­sues in or­der to pre­vent an im­pend­ing dis­as­ter. The lack­adaisi­cal at­ti­tude has to be changed im­me­di­ately. Go­ing so­lar is no longer an op­tion, it is the only op­tion, more as a mat­ter of sur­vival.

Rec­ol­lect the Unicef posters of yes­ter­days and the mes­sage it spread—This uni­verse is not in­her­ited by you, you have bor­rowed it from your chil­dren. Pe are ac­count­able to the gen­er­a­tions to come.

The au­thor is CTO, ALTA En­ergy Tech­nolo­gies vad­mail@cy­ber­me­dia.co.in

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