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Being future ready

The telecom infrastructure industry is gearing up for emerging technologies like 5G by deliberating on the development of sustainable telecommunication ecosystem. TAIPA had recently organised its Green Energy Conclave, themed on Developing Sustainable Telecom Eco System: Being Future Ready. A review.

Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) at its recently held Green Energy Conclave themed on Developing Sustainable Telecom Eco System: Being Future Ready, in the Capital, deliberated on the burgeoning energy requirements and synergizing infrastructure requirements for emerging technologies, such as 5G, IoT, M2M, AR, and VR. Telecom industry, committed toward developing green sustainable telecommunication ecosystem, has already deployed around 115,000 diesel-free sites by using innovative energy-efficient solutions like Li-ion batteries, advanced VRLA batteries, and other innovative solutions, such as diesel-free sites, outdoor sites and free cooling units.

At present, telecommunication sector is the major growth driver for Li-on energy-storage solutions. Currently, the energy-storage solutions contribute up to 5GWh toward power consumption by the telecom sector, which is expected to grow up to 25GWh by 2022. The technological innovations in the energy-storage domain are one of the highlights which will help reach this goal even earlier.

Expert Speak

Aruna Sundararajan
Telecom Secretary and Chairman,
Digital Communications Commission

“As we get ready for 5G, given the very large number of small cells and towers that will be required, digital infrastructure is set for at least a three-fold expansion. We have been adding fiber at a very aggressive rate too, with 5 lakh kilometers installed under BharatNet, apart from that by IPs and TSPs. Sustainability, therefore, becomes absolutely critical, which requires that power is available 24×7 and it must be green energy.

The industry is already committed to and practicing zero-environment harm. Moving forward, it is critical, and the telecom ministry and the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) have set up a joint task force. The MNRE has designed an attractive incentivization policy so that the telecom sector should become a priority recipient.

On our part, we are totally committed to promoting green telecom, and have specified so in the NDCP, as has the TRAI in its recommendations. The ministry of environment will not find the DoT lagging behind in its implementations.

We would like to see the coming together of the infrastructure providers in the telecom industry, the TSPs, and the RESCOs as they did in China. The industry is being powered by the convergence of three technologies, communications internet, energy internet, and mobility internet, all going toward being digital and decentralized, where the edge will contribute back to the core and it will be a completely networked matrix.”

Tilak Raj Dua
Director General,

“The spectacular growth of the telecom sector in the country has been possible due to the growth in the telecom infrastructure, the backbone of telecom services. We have 500,000 towers and 1.9 million BTSs over it. The grid supply is almost matched with the power demand, but there are distribution gaps and peak demand issues, due to which the grid supply is not ensured on round-the-clock basis, necessitating availability of back-up power. Further, due to the lowest data tariff across the globe, data consumption has escalated to 10–12 GB per month per active subscriber. It has made possible several applications like AI, machine learning, surveillance, video, and gaming. And with the launch of 5G, several new applications like robotic surgery, VR, connected cars, etc., are envisaged, which would lead to a humongous increase in data consumption. This is in addition to the government’s smart city program needing further augmentation of power.

The industry has responded positively to the sustainability challenges with adoption of methods like indoor-to-outdoor, BTH conversion, free cooling units, use of storage batteries solutions, etc. With this background in mind, we have initiated the second edition with all the stakeholders, the government, renewable energy suppliers, storage battery solutions providers, regulators, and OEM suppliers deliberate so that clear actionable areas can emerge.”

Rajan Mathews
Director General,

“Undoubedly, the future is uncertain, but what is certain about the uncertain future is that it will be disruptive and we must be prepared for the kinds of surprises and what it entails for us.

Moving ahead, partnerships will be absolutely critical, I want to take a page out of the recent history of our industry with regard to power. Around 2012, the TRAI released guidelines for the industry, which specified the parameters by which green was to be implemented, and carbon footprint reduced. And those parameters were detailed in terms of the available green options and rural and urban requirement, after which DoT released a directive. In response, when we did our homework, this was the time when solar panels were not as cheap as they are today, and renewable energy options were not as robust as expected; implementation cost was estimated as Rs 200 crore by the industry. We expressed our inability at being able to implement the directive, but were committed to reduce the carbon footprint. So we sought advice from DoT. The DoT formed an inter-ministerial committee, comprising vendors, equipment manufacturers, and energy suppliers, sought a white paper from PwC, and eventually the inter-ministerial committee agreed on the in-feasibility, in terms of cost associated with it, and it was referenced back to TRAI. TRAI then adopted a general approach specifying just carbon footprint and gave us a formula. However, going forward, when we applied the formula, we found that the carbon footprint emissions increased vis-a-vis the formula. When a switchover from diesel to electricity was made, electric grid generated from coal gave a larger carbon footprint. The formula then had to be adjusted by the regulator. It was only because we were working together with the regulator and the DoT that we were able to come to a much more optimal resolution and a way to market. If we had gone ahead to implement the original order, the operators would have to write off an estimated Rs 2000 crore of investment because of the way the prices came crashing down on solar.

On the same note, as we go forward, the future is far too dynamic to be able to predict with any great sense of accuracy. Disruptions will be the rule of the day and we must insist on a dynamic partnership between the regulator, the DoT policy maker, the industry, and the manufacturers, while we start putting together the equipment; and given the dynamics if we do not go forward together, I think we would do our country and our citizens a great disservice. The future is bright, let us work together to make this country great.”

Umang Das
Vice Chairman – TAIPA & Special Advisor,

“It is extremely important to recognize the criticality of a performance-based partnership, and just as telecom infra players have tied up MSAs and SLAs-based performance linked contracts with telecom service provider partners, the same principals and concepts will apply in our arrangement with our partners in the power and energy sector. Mutually, as we closely interact to further develop a partnership role each will play, on one side the telecom infra players focusing on optimization of demand management through innovative solutions, energy optimization, enhancement of sharing across the board, feasibility and new technologies induction; and on the supply management side, our partners in the power sector will be focusing on promoting rapid growth and variable energy technologies, induction of advanced technologies, and storage solutions. Together, we are part of the value chain and this value chain will help us in achieving the goals and commitments as we have envisaged in the quest to see the emergence of new Digital India.”

Rajesh Srivastava
Director and CEO,

“Demand for energy has increased multiple folds. This is further expected to increase once 5G services roll out. Service providers and users are looking for compact, smart, efficient, energy solutions with remote management features; robust solutions, which can work in outdoor environment at sub-zero to 55-degree temperature. Lithium-ion batteries are taking over from the conventional, legacy batteries, being comparatively lighter in weight, have higher energy density, and can volt at a wide temperature range and cyclic operations. Infra providers and users are looking for reliable and cost-effective energy-solution products, which can cater to the expanding digital network, and energy customization and scalability of the product are becoming key requirements.”

Vijay Jain
Tower Vision India

“Telecom operators have a tough job to manage 1.2 billion consumers. As the expectation of consumers increases, there is a constant increase of load and as a telecom infra provider we have to cater to that requirement. The basic criteria we look for while designing our power solutions are they should be reliable, scalable, environment-friendly, cost-effective, and not very bulky as real estate space is expensive. To meet these criteria, the best fit is grid; though not so carbon-friendly, it is available and reliable. We also use various types of storage solutions: VRLA batteries, quickly charged batteries, and lithium-ion battery solutions and solutions to store energy. On the third layer, we use secondary source of power, DG sets, solar, or other non-conventional solutions. And now our next challenge is to have renewal or green solutions, that are more efficient than green.

On one of my recent visits to Israel, a company shared a new product they are working on; a cartridge system, with metal and air as a base solution and aluminum as a fuel. It is expected to be 50 percent more economical. It is these kinds of innovations that will give the industry new direction.”

RS Sharma

“The current infrastructure is not going to be able to sustain the huge growth in demand that is continuing to take place, and an industry which is on the cusp of a completely new breed of technologies, especially 5G. It is imperative that huge investment in terms of fiber, towers, and cells be made. The number of towers from 500,000 will probably have to quadrupled, if not more in the next couple of years. And I expect more unbundling of players, end-to-end provisioning of infrastructure, and therefore more investment too. Going green is the obvious way forward. Having reached the tipping point with cost of electricity decreasing from Rs 8 to Rs 2.5 per unit, it is not surprising that the industry no longer views adopting green as prescriptive. That is a great thing, which has happened over the last few years.

Also, availability of electricity across the country has improved, albeit the distribution network leaves much to be desired. On the other hand, one of the great things about renewable and solar energy is that it is a completely local and standalone distribution solution, which is quite appropriate for the telecom industry. With the advantage of adequate sunlight, and constant endeavor of the industry to increase the efficiency and productivity of the solar cells and battery storage, India is on the right track. Great work has been done, great work is being done, and I am sure all of us in the telecom space are going to take advantage of that.”

“Renewable energy can play a large role in the telecom industry. With 5 lakh towers, and 1.2 lakh towers already made diesel-free by batteries and 20,000 towers working on solar energy, there is a huge potential.

The cost of solar panels in the past 2–3 years has come down substantially to Rs 2.44 per unit. Even for the small power plants installed in telecom towers, the cost is Rs 2.85 per unit, with 30 percent subsidy from MNRE for the rooftop. Even if the 30-percent subsidy is not availed, it is Rs 4 per unit, as against Rs 8, the rate at which power is supplied to the telecom towers. Simply by using solar energy, the industry saves 50 percent on the electricity bill.

In the last one-and-a-half years, battery storage charges too have come down to almost half, from USD 300 per kilowatt-hour to USD 170, and in another couple of years, are expected to come down below USD 100. The telecom sector already has a path breaking 1200 megawatt-hour battery storage system. Also, the life of lithium-ion battery is around 8 years, and that of solar panel 25 years. The 35-year life span of telecom towers almost matches that of the solar panels. Once the life of lithium titanium oxide batteries is able to extend to 25 years, and prices fall, the industry will have a solution ready. And it is not totally improbable. Maintenance-free is an advantage anyway.

Detailed calculation reveals that at Rs 4 per unit, the investment on solar power generation is recovered in four years. For setting up a 10-kilowatt per hour system, an investment of Rs 5 lakh is required, which may become difficult as energy requirement will go up with 5G. MNRE is soon introducing a payment security mechanism, where the lending bank has the cushion to draw 50 percent of the amount from a fund, if payment from a borrower is delayed. Also, multinational banks as World Bank and ADB, are introducing concessional loans; MNRE has access to USD 23 billion for loans to the industrial and the commercial sectors. RESCO also offers to supply and maintain the system for 25 years at a fee. Similar schemes are available for battery storage systems too.

At MNRE too, we are making major efforts to go green. We have given ourselves a two-year window; before hitting 2022, we shall achieve 175 GW of renewable capacity. We are completely on track, and aim to issue tenders for 60 GW of solar and 20 GW of wind capacity by March 2020. Solar installations have reached 6.6 GW with large-scale projects making up 5382 MW and rooftop installations accounting for 1240 MW. We are fully geared to the commitment to contain the rise of temperature within 1.5 degree Celsius, in keeping with implementing the 2015 Paris agreement. The towercos with 500,000 installations across the country can go a long way in playing their role to stay within the 1.5-degree limit too.”

GK Gupta
Joint Secretary-Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE),
Government of India

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