More Mobile Operators Go Green in Africa
Wednesday, June 9, 2010  Printer Friendly Email this article

Leading telecommunications operator in Africa, MTN, and a GSM cellular network, Vodacom, are delving into renewable energy to power their base stations in sub-Saharan Africa.


MTN has completed and deployed an off-grid wind and solar powered base station with hydrogen fuel cells as a secondary power source in the Karoo region of South Africa. As part of its five-year plan, MTN is looking to expand with three main sustainability projects: greening internal operations, cutting down power consumption, and addressing electronic waste. “When you take electronic waste, it's not just about recycling mobile handsets, but also the base stations. As base stations mature, e-waste will become more of a problem, and MTN is looking to recycle the actual field structure, and more importantly, the battery used to power the base station,” MTN Group sustainability manager, Zakhiya Rehman, explains.


The company operates in Guinea, Rwanda, Liberia, Nigeria, Sudan, and Uganda where it is also piloting projects using solar, wind, and hydrogen fuel cells.


Meanwhile, Vodacom, in collaboration with Vodafone, has established a 70% target in energy consumption savings. The cellular network will deploy the same methodology as MTN to power its network. The company has installed fuel cells to power 40 base stations and also plans on rolling out an e-waste recycling program with its IT vendors.


Spiwe Chireka, Frost & Sullivan industry analyst, says the adoption of green technologies by mobile operators is a supplier-driven initiative led by companies such as Ericsson. “What we expect to see is European telcos, such as Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent, which operate in Africa, to be at the forefront of driving green technologies.” Chireka adds that over the next five years, mobile operators will start to take an incremental approach to alternative energy.


Last October, the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association released its “Charging Choices” report that shows a $2.3-billion potential for mobile operators through the provision of off-grid charging solutions, using items like solar phones or external solar chargers in emerging markets. The research also found that there is significant interest in off-grid solutions – 60% of mobile operators interviewed already have or are exploring off-grid charging initiatives – but there is currently only limited understanding about the full scope of options and the associated social and business benefits.


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