Ten years is a long time in telco. A decade ago I remember many operators had high hopes for renewable energy sources to power their base station sites.
For operators hoping to achieve a zero emission radio access network (RAN), renewable energy is essential – energy efficiency improvements alone will not do it. This is partly why we saw some advanced deployments of zero-emissions sites that ran solely on a mix of solar and wind power.
So what happened? Why have renewables slipped down the telco agenda?
Well, some of these early test deployments were not so successful – with costs higher than expected and poor reliability. After the initial fanfare, the economic and practical realities sank in.
Fast-forward ten years and things have changed today.
First, the cost of renewables has fallen dramatically and continues to drop. For example, the cost of a solar panel has dropped by a factor of ten and the technology is now more compact, challenging the perceived wisdom that solar installations require a lot of costly real estate.
Second, the energy efficiency of base station sites has risen equally dramatically, driven by advances in hardware efficiency and energy-saving software innovation. A decade ago, most base station sites wasted 80% of the energy they took from the electricity grid, emitting more than 70 tonnes of CO2 annually. Today’s base station sites cut that figure to just 17 tonnes.
And the improvements keep coming. For example, the Nokia 5G-ready AirScale Base Station has up to 60% lower energy consumption than even our own previous generation radio access solution. And that means much less renewable energy generation capacity is needed – cutting costs even further.
The third aspect is a growing realization that you don’t need to go instantly from zero to 100% renewable energy for a base station site. The fact is, you can deploy renewables at any base station site. At an off-grid site powered by a Diesel generator set, even a small amount of renewable energy will reduce OPEX significantly.
There are also many base station sites worldwide connected to electricity grids that are prone to interruption and typically use generator sets as a back-up. Adding renewable energy will cut costs by reducing their use of Diesel fuel. Even base station sites connected to a reliable power grid will benefit from renewable energy, by reducing electricity bills and carbon emissions.
Such hybrid sites that combine carbon-free and fossil fuel energy also cut the need for costly back-up battery installations. While solar power remains the principle form of renewable energy generation, wind power is also becoming more viable, while even hydropower and fuel cells are developing fast and becoming more practical options.
With falling investment costs, more compact installations and better battery technology, renewable energy is looking more attractive than ever. Maybe it’s time for you to take a fresh look at how renewables can cut your energy costs and carbon emissions.
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