T-Mobile goes 'wireless' with solar power

German cellular network provider T-Mobile has deployed a solar-powered cellular base station in Pennsylvania. The solar array has taken the tower "off the grid," and can generate surplus energy.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor

T-Mobile has gone off the grid in Pennsylvania. A solar array has been placed atop a cell phone tower as a means to reduce the company's carbon footprint and ultimately lower its utility bill.

The site is located just outside of Philadelphia in the suburban town of Chalfont. It consists of 12 solar panels, and generates enough energy to feed power back into the grid "at times," GigaOM reports. The solar array also replaces diesel generators during blackouts.

Whether T-Mobile is truly serious about investing in renewable energy or is merely seeking some green "PR," its decision to deploy the technology is none-the-less encouraging. The potential payback is also clear: T-Mobile could markedly increase the energy efficiency of its network infrastructure while reducing its carbon emissions.

T-Mobile could ostensibly generate additional income by becoming an energy producer, or at the very least reduce its costs if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) places a cost on carbon. The EPA was directed to regulate carbon as a pollutant by the U.S. Supreme Court.

I am from the greater Philadelphia area, and have noticed a far greater number of solar arrays entering the local energy mix compared to the recent past. A sole solar panel on a neighbor's rooftop -- installed well over a decade ago -- has been eclipsed by solar powered streetlights in parking lots.

T-Mobile's use of renewable energy and solar street lights may seem like a novelty in Pennsylvania, but solar powered towers are frequently adopted as a best of class solution in the developing world.

Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL) uses the technology to serve remote populations in India where the cost of maintaining diesel generators isn't as economical as harnessing the sun's rays. It has developed a network of solar base stations that it calls WorldGSM.

Pike Research, a market research firm that covers the renewable energy market, forecasts that 4.5 percent of cellular base stations will run on solar or wind energy over the next four years. That may not seem like much, but the world's cellular networks rolled out in very much the same way.

Ericcson has deployed wind-powered towers in several locales during the past several years. It says that the technology reduced each station's energy consumption by as much as 40 percent, according to reports.

Cell phone tower operator Core Communications has been field testing small wind turbines from Helix Wind for nearly a year.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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