Plenty of people seemed to be interested in my brief post yesterday about T-Mobile's installation of a solar-powered cell site in Pennsylvania. So I figured you'll also be interested in some related comments made at the EmTech@MIT conference by Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse. (The conference is an annual one held by Technology Review magazine to highlight technology innovation.)
In any case, most of Hesse's comments centered on all the things that Sprint is doing to spread its 4G wireless options across the country. Sprint's WiMax service is now in 53 markets including, most recently, Boston. As it builds out this network, Hesse says Sprint is concentrating on how it can use clean and renewable energy sources including solar, wind and geothermal sources to make its cell stations as green as possible and reduce the electricity draw on the grid. This is important for one big reason: Hesse points out that mobile phone technology is easily the most rapidly adopted technology in history. This is great, but it's an increasing draw on the grid.
Key to Sprint's ability to use renewable energy sources, Hesse says, has been its work with hydrogen fuel cell technology that can kick in as a back-up to traditional power sources. Right now, most telecos use diesel generators as the back-up source. So far, Sprint has installed about 250 of these batteries. It has received a $7.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to double that amount in states including California, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
This, in my mind, is a big deal not necessarily because these cells are replacing diesel generators but because this is the sort of storage technology that could, in the future, help with storing electricity generated by intermittent renewable sources of clean energy such as wind, solar or geothermal. Hesse says Sprint is studying all of these technologies as a means of reducing its on-grid electrical usage. Incidentally, I was astonished to hear that approximately 90 percent of the electricity used at Sprint's headquarters office in Overland, Kansas, comes from from wind-generated sources, according to Hesse.
That's the network: Hesse says Sprint also has made it a priority to examine the green credentials of the devices that are riding on its wireless services. During this presentation, he said that three of the mobile devices currently riding on Sprint's wireless network incorporate biodegradable materials or recyclable plastic. Those devices are the Samsung Reclaim, which is made up of 80 percent recyclable materials, the LG Remarq and the Samsung Restore, which contains close to 30 percent recycled plastics in its outer case. Sprint has created a set of Eco-Criteria, which tells you what exactly it means to be Eco-Friendly in its marketing materials. The criteria include power management, packaging, materials and recyclability.
Speaking of the latter, one thing that Hesse really didn't cover was Sprint's extensive mobile device recycling options. It has collected roughly 22.2 million phones and related gadgets since 2001; about 90 percent of the devices collected by Sprint are prepared for some sort of reuse.