September 18, 2008, 10:12 AM — Industry organization GSM Association (GSMA) has launched the Green Power for Mobile program, which will help operators that want to use renewable power sources, including solar, wind or sustainable biofuels, to power base stations, it announced on Thursday.
"We've had a number operators ask us informally if the GSMA could do some research in this area, and actually look at the feasibility of different energy sources, particularly in off-grid locations. They also wanted to see if we could bring some economies of scale to the operators -- electricity and energy is not their core competency," said David Pringle, spokesman at GSMA.
The list of supporters includes Bharti, Mobinil, Orange, Orascom, Safaricom, TelefÃ³nica, Vodafone and Zain.
The goal is to power 118,000 new and existing off-grid base stations in developing countries by 2012, saving up to 2.5 billion liters of diesel per year and cutting carbon emissions by up to 6.3 million tons. Up to 50 percent of new off-grid base stations in the developing world could be powered by renewable energy by that time, according to research done by the GSMA Development Fund. "These are not pie in the sky figures, we have taken a very measured view of what can be done," said Pringle, and as the underlying technology improves the numbers can go up.
Currently only 1,500 base stations worldwide are powered by at least one form of renewable energy, according to the GSMA Development Fund. Challenges to date have included commercial viability, equipment availability and lack of expertise. But as the cost of diesel goes up, environmental interest grows and operators also want to move into new areas interest is on the rise, according to Pringle.
Vodafone, for example, announced in April it plans to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent by 2020, and that it will help customers lessen their burden on the environment.
All mobile carriers are currently investigating how to improve energy efficiency. "The main driver is to reduce the cost of running mobile networks, but then you also get to reduce CO2 emissions as a bonus," said Gartner analyst Martin Gutberlet.
The Green Power for Mobile program will take what the GSMA Development Fund has learned working with a number of different operators using renewable energy sources and develop step-by-step instructions for others that want to do the same. "What the Development Fund produces, as a way to spread the knowledge, are replication manuals, which is a hefty document that shows what the operators need to do to reach a certain goal," said Pringle.
The GSMA Development Fund has gathered its findings at its Web site.