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Analyst calls for mobile base-station transformation

Mobile operators could reduce base station CO2 emissions by 30% if certain dramatic changes are put in place

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Harmful carbon dioxide emissions from mobile base stations today total 22 megatons, but could be reduced by 30% to 15.6 Mt by 2014, according to a report from Juniper Research. Getting from here to there will require instituting “transformational strategies” to reduce site inefficiencies and non-renewable energy resources, Juniper said, but most operators today are opting for an incremental approach that may end up hurting more than it helps.

The transformational model put forth by Juniper analyst Dr. Windsor Holden would require operators to invest substantially in power reduction in the base station and place greater emphasis on addressing issues including cooling, network planning and power management. If these goals are met, total base-station emissions would peak in 2010 and drop to 15.6 Mt by 2014, he said.

In a more likely scenario, however, operators will adopt an incremental approach in which they – and their vendor partners – don’t become fully proactive in ‘going green,’ outside of delivering short and medium-term objectives outlined within current corporate social responsibility documentation. In that case, emissions will actually rise at an average rate of more than 6% over the next five years to nearly 35 Mt, Juniper found.

Renewable energy is taking off in emerging markets and somewhat overseas, but has not yet seen the same push in North America. In developing and rural markets, it’s a question of access to the grid, while in developed markets, its a question of economics – is the grid energy cheaper than renewable energy? The answer today is yes, so carriers haven’t been incentivized to switch, Holden said. Going forward, however, there is clearly a need from an emissions perspective, which could become more compelling depending on goverment regulations and emissions trading, he said. Further, relying on renewable resources rather than diesel-powered generators will not only reduce CO2, but also achieve reductions in operating costs based on the rising price of fuel.

“Realistically you have diesel-powered generators or renewable energy,” Holden said. “Given the high cost of the diesel in most countries and also the associated cost on top of that of logistics, transport or security, you are talking about doubling the price at the pump. The upshot of that [is], if you go the diesel route rather than renewable energy,  you will rapidly get to a point where bills are 10% of your income, which is not sustainable.”

In most cases, the operator would get payback in three to five years or even sooner, he added, given that the implied cost of renewable energy is typically between 15 to 25 cents of power versus diesel, which is 50 cents, all things told. “The cost of diesel, regardless of what you use, will always go up, and the cost of renewable energy is going to come down,” he said.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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