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Managing Energy Costs: Strategies and solutions
Sharat Chandra, Managing Director, TelEnergy Technologies
Displacement and non-utilisation of infrastructure, ensuring compliance with the carbon footprint reduction mandate, and adhering to the terms of the fixed energy contract signed with operators are the biggest challenges for tower companies at present.
To address them, these companies have identified multiple strategies, including the conversion of base transceiver stations (BTSs) from indoor to outdoor, hybridisation of tower sites and use of renewable energy sources.
This strategy is important, considering the high energy consumption of various site components. For instance, air conditioning constitutes about 50 per cent of the total energy requirement at a site.
To reduce energy consumption, it is possible to convert up to four indoor BTS sites to outdoor sites in a modular and flexible manner, by adding or removing one cabinet at a time. The energy demand would reduce by 15-30 per cent after the site is completely modified. An additional 15-25 per cent savings on diesel can be achieved by using standard battery backup for at least two to three hours during grid failure.
Site hybridisation involves ensuring that site components are optimised and operate in tandem with each other. Energy costs can be reduced by up to 45 per cent by this method and for an ideal hybrid site, the battery size should be based on existing grid conditions and the direct current (DC) load.
The use of renewable sources, especially solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, can help in managing energy costs. Other sources like wind and biomass can be used as well, depending on the region and logistics.
Swatantra Kumar, Director, Abhitech Energycon
Abhitech Energycon Limited, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, developed Thermol D, a combustion catalyst for petroleum fuels, in December 1998 and Thermact for solid fuels in March 2003.
The annual diesel consumption at telecom towers stands at about 200 billion kilolitres, involving costs of Rs 90 billion. In this context, Thermol D would help companies in reducing the annual expenditure on diesel from Rs 90 billion to Rs 4.5 billion, carbon dioxide emissions from 540 billion tonnes (bt) to 270 bt and diesel consumption from 200 billion kilolitres to 100 billion kilolitres.
Telecom operators such as Reliance Communications (RCOM), Aircel, the American Tower Corporation and Sistema Shyam TeleServices Limited are using Thermol D, while Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, Bharti Airtel, GTL and Viom Networks have technically approved the product and are likely to adopt it. RCOM is the biggest user of the product and has achieved annual diesel savings of 5.5 per cent at 2,100 sites.
The company also exports Thermol D to countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.
M.G. Dave, Consultant, Energy Efficiency, Dalkia Energy Services
The Indian telecom infrastructure segment has witnessed significant growth. However, a number of challenges and requirements are associated with this growth, especially because operators are focusing more on rural areas. The biggest challenges for an operator include poor and unreliable grid power, inadequate backup power, and unsustainable diesel generator (DG) operations.
Like other infrastructure sectors, the telecom industry faces an increasing power deficit. Operators need to ensure uninterrupted power supply for providing next-generation services like 3G. Currently, DGs and batteries are used to provide standby and backup power. According to industry analysts, the telecom sector consumes 2.5 billion litres of diesel annually.
Moreover, diesel is an expensive option. Operators spend around Rs 20,000 per month on the fuel for rural sites, as compared to Rs 5,000-Rs 5,500 per month for urban BTSs. This implies that energy-related costs per cell site constitute 60-70 per cent of an operator’s opex in remote areas, and up to 50 per cent in urban areas.
To reduce energy costs, operators can take several measures at the retrofitting and design stages. The former includes controlling heat ingress, temperature oscillation and uniform air distribution, and adoption of multi-point fuzzy logic control systems. The latter involves design stage intervention, which is nascent in India.
Other energy saving initiatives include the use of an outdoor BTS, which can work in extreme conditions (can reduce capex by 15 per cent and opex by 25 per cent); switching from diesel to natural gas-operated engines; and optimising DG performance by using auto controls. These steps will help in using batteries at a minimum charge level as well as at maximum permissible temperatures.
For indoor installations, operators can use EE star-rated split air conditioners to reduce maintenance costs, identify the cooling requirements of BTSs and power supply equipment, adopt multi-chamber shelter design and ensure proper insulation to reduce heat ingress at indoor BTSs.
Rattan Kumar, Vice-President, Energy Management Services, ACME TelePower
Grid power is the preferred energy source for telecom tower sites. However, supply is erratic, with 70 per cent of sites witnessing over eight hours of grid outage.
In this scenario, all operators use diesel for powering sites. However, the use of this fuel involves several challenges – maintenance of DG sets, pilferage and high cost of power generation.
Therefore, given these challenges, is it viable to eliminate the use of diesel altogether? There are several alternatives available – renewable energy (solar, wind and biomass), storage solutions (batteries with a long life), etc.
ACME TelePower’s energy value chain comprises green and efficient power generation (through energy management units [EMUs], DC powerhouse [DCPH], solar PV, etc.); adoption of energy optimisation solutions (battery, coolers, etc.); operating and maintaining site equipment at optimal levels (through the fixed energy or renewable energy service company [resco] models); and energy monitoring and management (through remote monitoring and fuel management tracking).
ACME’s DCPH can be used at outdoor and new telecom sites, and results in 30-35 per cent diesel savings for the operator. The EMU improves the fuel efficiency of DG sets by 30 per cent. ACME’s energy management services aim at reducing energy consumption and site operating costs by 20 per cent.
The company’s resco services include the provision of a solar hybrid solution at the site, supplying solar power and billing the client according to the quantity of assured or supplied units of energy. These services involve a minimum contract period of 15 years.
Dr Satish Kumar, Energy Efficiency Ambassador and Vice-President, Energy Management Services, Schneider Electric
The telecom sector witnessed significant growth between 2002 and 2012. However, several challenges still remain, especially in the areas of telecom infrastructure, regulation as well as energy management.
The majority of challenges faced by the sector are related to energy, especially in terms of availability, cost and efficiency.
For example, the telecom industry’s annual electricity requirement is about 2.3 GW, which is more than 1 per cent of the country’s installed generation capacity. Telecom players annually spend Rs 185 billion on energy, which accounts for 25-30 per cent of the operating costs of tower operators. For example, at a BTS, 51 per cent of energy is consumed by the critical power source. Lighting and air-conditioning requirements constitute 2 per cent and 47 per cent of the energy consumption respectively.
Reducing energy-related costs involves four steps. Operators should undertake an energy audit to assess consumption (both passive and active). To ensure efficient passive energy consumption, they can take steps like switching to equipment that consume less energy, utilising insulation material and modifying the current power factor levels.
Operators can optimise active energy consumption by automating and regulating various processes through the use of lighting control mediums and variable speed drives. Thereafter, they need to monitor, maintain and improve on the existing systems, by installing meters and analysing software.
Three levels of benchmarking exist at a tower site. The first is the critical facility level, which includes the BTS, the base station controller and the mobile switching centre. The second level comprises electrical and cooling systems, power components, and telecom and fire safety equipment. The third level consists of subsets of cooling and power equipment – air distribution systems, green power solutions, DG usage, etc.Benchmarking a telecom system can provide benefits such as reduced energy consumption, improved safety and reliability of critical facilities, remote data measurement for regulatory compliance and assessment of emission levels.
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