News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Friday, 21 May 2010

India's cellcos to balk at mandatory switch to solar-powered equipment?

Solar power: mandatory for India's cellcos?

The green credentials of DevelopingTelecomsWatch are pretty weak - this blog has never dedicated an entire article specifically to an examination of the environmental impact of telecoms technology.

Moreover, the only time DTW has discussed 'green' technologies at length, when wind and solar-powered mobile base stations were evaulated more than a year ago, the focus was mainly on cost benefits for operators. Just a cursory mention was made how such solutions compare favourably - in terms of environmental impact - to diesel-powered generators in the vast numbers of sites where electricty distribution infrastructure is inadequate across developing countries.

Even in terms of the narrower arguments about cost control, last April's article was by no means constructed entirely of fulsome praise for wind-powered and solar-powered mobile network infrastructure. It was noted that while running costs can, of course, look very attractive, the costs of investing in new solar panels and wind turbines themselves are not trivial. DTW also reported concerns on the part of the GSM Association about the results of trials of sun and wind-powered base stations.

Mobile operators, then, mindful of these questions, could presumably be resistant to any attempt to make reliance on these green technologies mandatory.

This is precisely the situation which could be facing cellcos in India.

Writing for India's Economic Times earlier this month, Subhash Narayan asserts that the country's government "may ask telecom companies to install solar panels to generate backup power for cellphone towers, a move that could hurt the sector already troubled by a squeeze in margins."

A proposal being finalised by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), writes Narayan, "is aimed at containing the use of polluting diesel gensets to provide back-up power" and "could increase the cost of network expansion significantly"

"The green drive will prevent these engines of development (telecom towers) from becoming grave environmental hazards," said an official with MNRE. "We are discussing the proposal with various stakeholders. A cabinet note is proposed to be finalised thereafter to get the clearance for the scheme," the official said, requesting anonymity

Predicatably, the industry response, as reported by Narayan of the Economic Times, is not terrible enthusiatic. "This could significantly impact the margins of companies already under pressure due to rising spectrum cost and the cut-throat competition in the sector," said 'an executive with a large private telco'.

Narayan asserts that the Indian government is not keen on providing any subsidy for solar power equipment, but says it could offer them soft loans under refinancing schemes of Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency.

This skepticism from India notwithstanding, one can still find evidence of cellcos in developing countries going down the green power route. Chinese vendor, ZTE, for example, seems to have encouraged MTN's Cameroonian opco to take delivery of an unspecified number of solar-powered base stations.

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