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  • Off the grid: Battery-based solutions for remote telecom sites

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Grid availability at telecom tower sites varies from one location to another.

The World Bank estimates that 75% or more of the 7.3 billion people on Earth use cell phones, and Cisco forecasts an 11-fold increase in mobile traffic by 2018. Telecommunications companies are expanding their operations to meet higher demand, especially in developing and emerging regions – where the power grid may be unreliable or nonexistent.

Serving subscribers in emerging regions often means towers and base stations occupy off-the-grid, rough terrain such as mountaintops, forests and jungles, and deserts. Telecom companies have long relied upon diesel generators to power remote installations. However, diesel runs at lower efficiency, is becoming more costly, and produces high CO2 emissions. In fact, diesel generators can account for over 20% of a telecom company’s operating expenses.

Saving money and improving the environment

To reduce the dependency on diesel generators at remote sites, telecom companies have begun to adopt battery-based power solutions that may include integrated solar energy. Rather than continuously running a diesel generator at lower capacity, a battery solution allows the generator to run at higher capacity for shorter periods of time.

Here’s how it works: The generator charges the batteries when running at more efficient, higher loads, and the batteries discharge to support the site loads when the generator is switched off. Such a hybrid system can cut telecom tower operating expenses by more than 35% and greatly reduce carbon emissions. Integrating a solar solution can further reduce the dependence on diesel.

Designing a battery-based solution

Every site is unique in terms of environmental conditions, load profile, number of generators, monitoring needs, and grid reliability. However, the overall approach and principles for designing a battery-based solution for telecom tower sites are the same for any installation.

A systematic seven-step investigative approach enables telecom companies to identify potential operational challenges in advance and address them during the design phase.
Step 1 sets the contextual framework that informs everything that follows. For example, why does the company want to reduce its dependence on diesel generators — to operate more efficiently and reduce costs, or to ensure greater reliability at any cost?
Steps 2 - 5 collect information and data about the tower site that become the parameters and inputs for selecting components and equipment for the solution (Step 6). For instance, site locations involve different environmental conditions (extreme heat or cold, snow, rain) that impact load requirements (especially for cooling), grid availability, and solar potential. The environment also affects remote monitoring needs and determines whether the solution will be installed indoors or outside. Step 7 circles back to confirm objectives and tie down final details. 
Whatever the specific design, a battery-based solution should:
  • include a robust monitoring system with detailed data logging capabilities for all system components
  • be composed of premium batteries and best-in-class equipment from reliable manufacturers
  • incorporate thermal best practices for optimal performance.
Following this seven-step design plan for energy-efficient remote site operations can maximise uptime while improving a telecom company’s ROI and the bottom line.

If you need to reduce operating costs at remote telecom sites, download this free guide Seven Steps to Designing an Optimal Battery-based Solution to Reduce Diesel Costs of Telecom Towers
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