2016-09-26
Trai to review rules on green energy-driven mobile towers

The government's green telecom policy has hit a roadblock with the telecom department (DoT) urging the sector regulator to review the rules relating to runningmobile towers on hybrid power amid financial and technical challenges faced by carriers. The green telecom policy unveiled four years ago required mobile carriers to migrate 50% and 20% of their cell towers in rural and urban areas to hybrid power respectively by December 2015, and as much as 75% and 33% by December 2020. Hybrid power is a mix of grid supplies and renewable energy based on solar, wind, biomass or fuel cells.

But with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) taking a relook at the policy, indications are that these gogreen targets could be recalibrated significantly, said a senior industry executive aware of the matter. "We have a recently received a back-reference (from the government) and are taking a relook at the rules on renewable energy technology (RET) deployments in the telecom sector," a top Trai official told ET. He, however, declined to reveal when Trai would submit fresh recommendations to DoT.

Trai, it is learnt, was asked to review the green energy norms after a DoT-led inter-ministerial panel suggested that the directives issued in 2012 be recalibrated after assessing the current status of RET deployments and also taking stock of the new stirrings in the RET space, especially with the advent of new cost-efficient energy solutions and advances in battery technologies for mobile networks.

But amid all this, telcos have taken a slew of measures to go green. For instance, Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio Infocomm has installed pollution-free green telecom towers that consume a fourth of the power consumed by existing conventional towers. Market leader Bharti Airtel has recently migrated 40,000 of its network sites to green technology. Airtel's green network sites, typically, are designed to operate largely on battery-hybrid, lithium-ion and solar hybrid solutions consuming very little diesel. Viom Networks said 35% of its sites were "sugar free" or not using any diesel, as it had deployed innovative alternate energy solutions.

However, telecom companies said the back-reference to Trai and a review of targets could further delay RET deployments in telecoms, and are looking for immediate clarity from the government and the sector regulator. "We understand the matter is under review by Trai and the approach on individual tower numbers and percentages (in the context of existing RET deployment targets) will be recalibrated," T R Dua, director general at Tower & Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA), a group representing tower firms such as Indus Towers, Viom Networks, Bharti Infratel, American Tower Corp, GTL, Reliance Infratel and Tower Vision, said in a written response to ET's queries.

Ideally, he said, "the overall objective of going-green should be reduction of carbon footprint, in terms of carbon intensity, and the mode and enablers to be used for such reduction must be left to the operators choice". According to Rajan Mathews, director general at Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), there are several technical and financial challenges regarding deployment of renewable energy in the telecom sector and the industry is awaiting the new recommendations from Trai.

Although go-green has been a popular theme in the telecom space for the past four years, ever since the erstwhile Congress-led UPA government unveiled the green telecom policy, the country's financially stressed telcos have not shown much enthusiasm yet. They privately say they cannot afford the huge sums needed to set up capacity to generate alternate sources of energy such as solar, fuel cells or wind in order to meet the existing RET deployment targets.

(This news story is from The Economic Times)