The three-year project, labelled Tower Power: Helping Rural Communities Establish Clean Energy Solutions, will ultimately switch five towers to natural gas or other gaseous fuel. It is the vision of Development Alternatives, one of the project partners in India, to reduce emissions from mobile phone towers, which currently consume about 2 billion litres of diesel fuel per year and emit more than 6.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). Telecom towers are the largest consumers of diesel in India – more than railways.
Eighty-two percent of India’s existing 390,000 mobile phone towers are connected to the electrical grid; however, only 169,000 of those have reliable connections, causing telecom dependence on diesel-powered generators. With the telecom market in India growing to an estimated 500,000 towers and by 10 million customers per month (about 333,000 new customers each day!) by 2015, reliable power is essential.
Add to this is the fact that many villages near telecom towers are not on the grid at all. By generating power on site, the project team hopes that any residual electricity can be directed to areas that currently lack power.
There’s a clear opportunity for a cleaner solution - such as natural gas or biomass - to service the mobile phone towers and bring power to nearby people, while reducing levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The solution will involve developing a natural gas or biomass engine and fuel storage using available fuels, potentially pipeline gas to biofuels, depending on location and sources. An initial tower will be selected and four more will follow by 2015.
Westport is facilitator and a technology provider to this project, and will use its experience in engine technology and cryogenic storage to help design a solution for the telecom towers. Westport will recruit other partners and financial supporters to make this commitment a reality.
This specific use of natural gas power is new to Westport, but natural gas and other gaseous fuel engine technology is the core intellectual property of Westport. We have applied our knowledge for markets from oil-field power generation to pickup trucks to Class 8 trucks and beyond.
If successful, there’s potential to apply this option to other countries or regions where electrical grids are slow in development, unreliable or non-existent. There is the possibility for parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and perhaps China to apply this type of solution.
As part of the CGI efforts to tackle some of the world’s most pressing development issues, Westport was invited to make a commitment to improve life somewhere in the world. Applying core strengths to this challenging issue and partnering to create natural gas or biofuel engine-powered towers will provide a win to the local people, mobile phone users and environments of the tower locations in India. Westport and its employees win as well – through the satisfaction that so many improvements can be made from switching the tower power to natural gas or biofuel.