Telecom providers using renewables, energy storage to protect infrastructure from power outages

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As the telecommunications network has grown, it has become a major consumer of electric power. Distributed generation (DG) is a key tool that network providers can now use to reduce their energy costs. At the same time, the market for energy storage (ES) solutions for telecom infrastructure sites is also growing — and wireless providers and their subscribers have little patience or tolerance for power outages that cause interruption to their service.

Caption: Mobile tower in Oregon. Credit: M.O. Stevens/Wikimedia Commons

Enormous growth in mobile telecommunications around the globe, coupled with the emergence of data-intensive Internet use and new network standards, has poised the telecommunications industry for increasing amounts of power and energy services, according to Navigant Research, and distributed generation and energy storage are two of the most vital energy technologies that can provide electricity to fuel the industry’s expansion while reducing its energy costs.

These factors will drive global telecommunications network provider spending on DG and ES from $2.4 billion in 2015 to $3.4 billion in 2024, according to Navigant.

By producing their own electricity at the site, network owners and operators can often avoid high retail electricity rates and insulate their operations from grid unreliability, as well as power sites that previously could not be connected to the grid or could not rely on the grid for their power through the use of DG systems and backup storage systems.

Most mobile tower sites have old-school lead-acid battery-based backup systems, but increasingly, new technologies such as lithium ion (Li-ion)-based systems are being installed, Navigant says. In developing markets, especially Africa and parts of Asia Pacific, the number of off-grid (or bad grid) mobile tower sites is growing markedly and is where DG or microgrids combined with ES solutions will increasingly power telecommunications infrastructure, with the use of newer technologies, such as solar PV, fuel cells, and lithium ion batteries, also growing, Navigant contends.

“In just over three decades, wireless has replaced landlines as the leading form of voice communication worldwide — but the need for additional network infrastructure will nonetheless continue to grow strongly over the next decade as mobile data usage increases by several orders of magnitude,” said Richelle Elberg, principal research analyst with Navigant Research. “Carriers are increasingly looking to DG and new ES solutions to ensure that their networks don’t go down with power outages, to reduce the cost of electricity at tower sites and, notably, to connect previously unconnected remote regions in emerging markets like India and Africa.”

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