Mobile phone equipment makers are taking steps to clean up their act and tackle a goal of powering nearly 120,000 base stations in developing countries by cleaner energy sources by 2012, players in the industry say.
The GSM Association, which represents 750 mobile operators worldwide, has said it aims to power 118,000 base stations which have no reliable electricity supply by renewable energy by 2012.
This is an ambitious goal as it says currently fewer than 2,000 out of over 3 million base stations worldwide are powered by renewable sources such as wind or solar power.
Critics of the mobile phone industry argue that reducing the number of base stations built is the best way to cut harmful carbon dioxide emissions. But mobile companies say networks with high data speeds require more base stations.
Nokia Siemens Networks said renewable energy will be its first choice for powering such sites by 2011. It currently has about 300 renewable energy base stations, which the company admits is a very small amount.
It is hard to get this moving forward but there are some factors helping take-up. There are more financing tools available and the business case keeps looking better when wind and solar prices are coming down, Anne Larilahti, head of environmentally sustainable business at Nokia, told Reuters.
RENEWABLE OR DIESEL?
Base stations are either powered by an electricity grid or, when they are located in remote areas in the developing world, they rely on diesel generators.
An average base station consumes about 20,000 liters of diesel a year, requires frequent maintenance and refueling and is vulnerable to fuel price fluctuations.
Sweden's Ericsson and Orange Guinea Conakry announced plans in February for 100 base stations in Africa to replace those running on diesel, using a mix of solar and diesel battery power.
The group plans to roll out more than 1,000 solar base stations at its African operations by the end of 2009.
Telecom network service company Averox Inc. added wind and solar power generator installation for telecoms base stations to its portfolio last year.
We are expecting several telecom operators to install wind or solar powered generators in the next few months, said a company spokesman.
But the telecoms industry, like other sectors in the economic downturn, is struggling to secure funding to make such investments, he added.
The GSMA has said it is working with financial institutions to improve financial vehicles to support renewable energy.
Operators facing capital limitations may increase investment in green power solutions if capital financing options were available, it said in a report on its website. (http://www.gsmworld.com/documents/green_power_top10.pdf)
In moves in Western Europe, Finnish telecoms company Elisa said this week it will pilot a wind turbine for powering one of its mobile networks in Finland.
The company estimates that wind power could reduce the network's operating costs by 10 percent.
If the results of the pilot test are worthwhile, Elisa said it might expand its use of wind power.
(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Keiron Henderson)