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American Companies to Supply Fuel Cell Technology for Indian Cellphone Towers

TransAct Energy Corp. and Altergy Systems have entered an agreement which will give TransAct Energy the right to market and sell fuel cell technology made by Altergy Systems for powering and providing power backup for cellphone towers in India.

The $10 million agreement gives TransAct the right to sell 10,000 such power and storage systems during the first phase of operations in India. In addition, the deal can also lead to TransAct setting up a manufacturing unit in India thus giving it the advantage of reduced cost of operations.

India is one of the fastest growing telecom markets in the world adding more than 15 million users every month. According to figures up to August 2010, India has 670.6 million mobile users after adding a whopping 18 million users during the same month. The size of the Indian telecom market can be realized by the fact that the number of mobile users is more than the population of any country in the world, except China.

And to provide almost 700 million mobile users unlimited and uninterrupted connectivity India’s telecom companies use over 350,000 cellphone towers. These cellphone towers use three to five kilowatts of power and are not connected to the grid. The cellphone towers are powered by diesel generators which use up to about two billion litres (530 million gallons) of diesel every year.

The Indian government plans to replace these diesel generators with solar panels to provide at least a part of the power required for running the cellphone towers. The government has already launched this program which is part of its ambitious National Solar Mission which will make India the world’s largest solar power generator by 2022 with an installed capacity of 20,000 MW.

The continuous requirement of electricity in cellphone towers results in substantial production of carbon emissions. By completely replacing diesel as the fuel with solar panels, an estimated 5.3 million tonnes of carbon emissions would be offset annually. The savings in monetary form are likely to be around $1.4 billion per annum.

Power supply during the day is ‘no problem’ as India receives around 300 sunny days in an year. Continuous power generation is a problem at night and during cloudy days (especially during the Monsoon). Therefore, storage of energy is important.

Solar energy can be used for powering the cellphone towers during the day and a part of the power generated would also be used for powering a fuel cell which would split water into hydrogen which would then be stored for later use.

Although there will be significant initial capital investment for installing solar-fuel cell power systems but there will be no fuel costs. In addition, the government is also offering subsidies for installing solar panels. The Indian cellphone industry has not unlocked its true value yet with many companies looking to sell stakes either through acquisition mode or public offers. Such transactions are likely to generate substantial funds some of which can be used for upgrading the cellphone towers.

Such technologies can help India expand its economic growth to the rural areas as well. President Obama, on his recent visit to India, witnessed how the Indian farmers are being benefitted from the growth in mobile telephony. The Indian government has already launched programs for helping famers get information regrading agricultural practices on their mobile phones.

About 600 cellphone towers will go solar by October 2011 and the cost of solar power system installation on each tower would be about $35,500.

With India’s mobile phone users likely to cross one billion by 2015 and the possibility of establishing a manufacturing facility in India, TransAct Energy seems to have hit a jackpot and has even more expansive plans for the future.

Financial and carbon emission calculations of replacing diesel generators with solar panels

Image: Steve and Sara/ Flickr (CC)

The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.

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Written By

Mridul currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.


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