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Optimising Energy Use: Approaches and strategies

October 31, 2011
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Sharat Chandra, Managing Director, TelEnergy

A number of business models are currently being used in the telecom sector. The three predominant ones are the pure capex model, the partial capex model (which refers to the emergence of tower companies) and the partial opex model.

The persisting issues in the sector include a deficient grid; declining average revenue per user; increasing grid, fuel and manpower costs; and difficult access to rural areas.

Each telecom site is unique, with a different set of variables for the diesel generator (DG), battery, cooling facility and the switch mode power supply.

The key drivers for managing energy costs are: a pay-per-consumption approach; a predictable cash flow for energy and associated infrastructure management; measurability and transparency of opex components; and equitable distribution of direct and shared energy.

The on-field deliverables include replacing and repairing cables and connectors; power management devices; control, alarm and sensor devices, etc.; enhancing capacity and performance; shifting and displacing batteries and cooling platforms, like renewable energy solutions, new technology platforms, remote management and sensors, etc.

Application engineering imperatives for energy management include implementing a remote monitoring and management system, which leads to 3-5 per cent of energy savings and 20-30 per cent of operational savings; deploying efficient power management devices, which results in 8-40 per cent energy savings; deploying heat management systems (10-30 per cent energy savings); and using renewable energy (15-50 per cent energy savings) and alternative energy (5-10 per cent energy savings) sources.

A few things an operator must avoid are: commencing operations without conducting an energy audit; not implementing a per tenant DC metering system; and not prioritising low-grid, single- tenancy in rural areas. Moreover, an inadequate cash flow limits the capex to opex transformation.

Sairam Prasad, Chief Technical Officer, Bharti Infratel

According to data released by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, a number of sectors contribute to India’s carbon footprint. These are: electricity consumption, 38 per cent; the transport, residential and cement segments, 7 per cent each; other energy-centric activities, 5 per cent; the iron and steel segments, 6 per cent; the agriculture sector, 18 per cent; the other industries segment, 9 per cent; and the waste material sector, 3 per cent.

Of this, the telecom sector is part of the other industries category, which also includes the textile, pulp and paper segments. These industries have a combined greenhouse gas emission of only 9 per cent.

However, it is still vital for the telecom industry to focus on energy management in order to sustain its businesses in a hyper-competitive market.

Energy management may be defined in two ways. It is the process of monitoring, controlling and conserving energy in an organisation, or as, “The judicious and effective use of energy to maximise profits (minimise costs) and enhance competitive positions.”

The objective of energy management is to achieve and maintain optimum energy procurement and utilisation throughout the network, and to minimise energy costs and waste without affecting production and quality. Efficient energy management will also reduce the adverse impact on the environment.

There are several benefits of energy management, which include ensuring lower opex, profitability, sustainability, competitiveness, a low carbon footprint and minimising risks.

Also, energy management in telecom infrastructure needs to combine the aspects of energy efficiency, renewable energy and load reduction coupled with effective monitoring and control tools.

Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass and fuel cells can be used. The tower company can tie up with renewable energy service companies to implement these sources.

Using solar energy entails a huge capex but also helps accrue high savings. However, it requires plenty of space to be set up and offers only five hours of availability.

Fuel cells entail a medium capex and result in moderate savings. In this case, fuel logistics and storage are a key challenge. Alternatively, using biomass as an energy source involves medium capex but offers high savings. However, maintenance- and fuel-related logistics could be a challenge here. Meanwhile, wind energy requires medium capex and offers medium-to-high savings. However, it is not easily available and is an unpredictable source.

Tower companies can also implement several strategies to ensure maximum energy efficiency. These include IPMS, DCDG, a fuel catalyst and a DC FCU. The operators should also tie up with the vendors supplying such infrastructure.

IPMS is an integrated DC and AC power system that is 4 per cent more efficient as compared to regular power generation mediums. DCDG is a variable speed DC generator that offers up to 60 per cent savings. A fuel catalyst functions by breaking aromatic hydrocarbons and leads to 5-8 per cent of savings. The DC FCU cools the shelter using ambient air and ensures 15 per cent savings.

Several initiatives can be taken to reduce load at the site as well. While installing an indoor base transceiver station (BTS) helps minimally, using an outdoor BTS is a better option. Complete TRX shutdown is even better, while using a low power BTS is the most effective way of reducing load.

Remote monitoring and control is another option for ensuring maximum efficiency at the plant. This method increases productivity, reduces site visits, improves uptime and enables effective energy management.

In line with its objective of becoming an environment-friendly organisation, Bharti Infratel has launched the P7 Green Towers programme, which focuses on both enhancing energy efficiency and using green sources of energy.

The programme has helped the organisation save 57 million litres of diesel annually, reduced 154,000 million tonnes of carbon emissions per annum and accrued 25 per cent energy savings. In all, Bharti Infratel has improved its profitability, used green technology successfully and ensured customer satisfaction.

Ruza Sabanovic, Senior Vice-President, Development and Delivery, Uninor

While the Indian telecom sector has achieved many milestones, several concerns continue to plague the sector. For example, though the sector is among the fastest growing in the world, with over 18 million new users being added every month, it is also the second largest energy consumer after the railway sector, with only 40 per cent of its power requirements being met through the grid. Moreover, the sector’s over 350,000 base stations are run primarily on diesel. Also, since its future growth is expected to come from the rural areas, its dependence on diesel will only increase going forward.

The telecom industry is one of the largest consumers of diesel in the country. According to industry sources, the number of hours in a day a DG set is used is the highest in Uttar Pradesh (East) at 16.93 hours and the lowest in Gujarat at 1.16 hours. The other states that have high usage include Bihar, Haryana, Assam, Uttar Pradesh (West), Jharkhand, and Jammu & Kashmir.

An operator’s typical network opex can be broken down into electricity costs (21 per cent), cell site infrastructure costs (40 per cent), port charges (6 per cent), leased lines (8 per cent), maintenance (15 per cent) and DG fuel costs (10 per cent). Energy is one of the largest expenses incurred by an operator. This, coupled with rock-bottom tariffs, very small margins and intense competition in the telecom sector, strengthens the business case for green technology.

Energy management involves a number of steps. First, the operator needs to assess his cost base and set the target for reducing this amount. He then needs to replace the old equipment with new, smarter infrastructure. The operator should opt for new-generation equipment, which is more energy and space efficient, and has smarter features for reducing energy usage.

Uninor has taken several such initiatives. The company’s sites have advanced automatic shutdown functionalities, whereby sites that are inactive shut down automatically.

The third step is to enhance infrastructure efficiency. In this context, infrastructure sharing is a highly viable option for an operator. Passive sharing includes sharing towers, shelter cabinets, power supply units and AC units. Active sharing includes sharing antenna systems, backhaul transmission systems and base station equipment. These measures could lead to greater efficiency.

The fourth step is to monitor, control and communicate with the site. This includes putting an alarm integration mechanism in place, generation of a daily hotlist, implementing a DC meter and analysing the various trends over a specified period of time.

The fifth step is to adopt a control-centric mindset within the organisation.

Other energy sharing measures include using free cooling units, which use ambient temperatures to cool equipment and reduce the dependence on air conditioners. Uninor has carried out a pilot project at 7,500 sites in this regard, which has resulted in reducing energy consumption by up to 30 per cent.

Fuel catalysts can also be used to improve the efficiency of the combustion process. Uninor has conducted a pilot project with Viom at 4,500 sites for this. The project has led to energy savings of up to 10 per cent.

All in all, the telecom sector can increase its energy efficiency by 40 per cent by implementing simple solutions.

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