USTDA & Partners Pilot Clean Energy Solutions for Telecom Towers in India
Solar hybrid methanol fuel cell systems commissioned at five telecom sites for Idea Cellular

By: Rajat Mukarji, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Idea Cellular, New Delhi, India

There are a few times when one can closely relate office work with the happenings in everyday life. The past few months, our team at Idea Cellular has been involved in a project that has given me such an opportunity. The project presents a very interesting and novel solution to answer pressing questions around the ever increasing pollution in Indian cities that is progressively resulting in health hazards.

A close friend of mine frequently suffers from shortness of breath that gets heightened when she travels on city roads. Kids and the elderly in my neighborhood frequently complain of the deteriorating air quality and attribute it to modernization, swelling numbers of vehicles on roads and diesel engines used for back-up power in residential and commercial establishments. Further, the large number of diesel-powered telecom towers mushrooming across the city catering to the growing consumer base remain a significant contributor to our air quality woes. As I have always wanted to dedicate a fraction of my professional efforts towards solving these issues, I have been thrilled to be a part of the team at Idea Cellular that is working towards minimizing diesel consumption by telecom towers.

Under this project, Idea Cellular has commissioned solar hybrid methanol based fuel cell (SHMBFC) systems at five pilot telecom sites with the support of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Two sites are located near New Delhi and three sites are in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. All these sites had exclusively relied on diesel generation since there is no grid connectivity available at these locations. Now they rely on clean energy, as the SHMBFC systems have replaced stationary diesel engines to provide continuous and uninterruptible power to the telecom towers.

Currently, about 80% of telecom sites in the National Capital Region of India need to generate power from diesel engines. It appears to be quite clear that the innovative SHMBFC technology carries tremendous potential to both improve the local environment by reducing harmful diesel pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions and to save power costs. Being part of such an innovative study reinforces my faith that we can use technological solutions to resolve pollution problems that have plagued our daily lives in India for a long time.

There is a constellation of leading U.S. and Indian firms working together to implement this solution on ground. ICF International (headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, with an office in New Delhi) is managing this project, with system integration, equipment, implementation, operations and maintenance provided by Cambridge Energy Resources (CER), a leading clean energy service company in India. Ballard Power Systems, a leading provider of proton exchange membrane fuel cell power solutions, provided the fuel cell units that were integrated into the five SHMBFC systems. The three firms worked closely with Idea Cellular to coordinate project activities including site selection, system design, regulatory review, equipment procurement and installation.

USTDA Director Leocadia I. Zak visited one telecom site in New Delhi this February and appreciated efforts of the involved firms in designing and implementing the important project. This site has a 2.5 kilowatt methanol based fuel cell and a 4 kilowatt photovoltaic system that powers an Idea Cellular 2G Base Transceiver Station around the clock. ICF and CER are now monitoring system performance at all of the sites and assessing the financial and environment impact. Moving forward, the pilot project report will help to create awareness about this technology. The report will also help stakeholders understand and outline large-scale implementation of SHMBFC technology in multiple applications – such as hospitals, data centers and commercial establishments – at similar sites across India that need reliable back-up power solutions. By successfully demonstrating how such initiatives can improve quality of life for fellow citizens, Idea Cellular hopes that eventual large-scale implementation of these technological solutions can be included within government frameworks and adopted into public policy to have a large-scale impact.

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