Indian telecom sector has witnessed an exponential growth over the past decade. On the last count, the number of mobile subscribers in India is almost 951 million and growing. The growth story can also be illustrated by the fact that from 50,000 towers in 2007, India now has four lakh towers across the country. The mobile subscriber base is expected to hit the one billion mark by 2013-14. This effectively means that more than one lakh towers will be required to support additional capacity.
After major lobbying by Greenpeace and in the backdrop of this massive growth story, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) came out with a consultation paper on February 2011 on 'Green Telecommunications'.
What prompted the need for the paper was the observation that most mobile towers ran using diesel resulting in a not only a high carbon footprint for the industry, but also a very high amount of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.
TRAI underlined the following reasons for Green Telecom
1. Need for reduction of cost of operations of the telecom network by reducing energy cost.
2. Need to expand network into rural areas where power availability is poor.
3. Availability of renewable energy technology at low costs
4. Confluence of socio-political trends towards environmental responsibility, pressure groups against global warming
5. Creating sustainable businesses where the objective is not only to create products and services through ethical means but also minimize environmental impact and help local communities
6. To adhere to international treaties like Kyoto Protocol, where India has committed to reducing emissions by 25% by 2020.
The paper ended up exploring ways and means by which the telecom growth story could be made sustainable. TRAI described the greening of telecom networks as a way of minimizing consumption using energy efficient technology and eco-friendly sources. Some of the alternative sources of energy that can be used for the running of mobile towers are solar energy, wind energy, ocean/tidal energy, pico-hydro energy, biomass energy and fuel cell energy.
Close on the heels of the TRAI report, Greenpeace launched a campaign urging Bharti Airtel to stop using diesel to power its mobile towers and to switch to renewable sources of energy. This was because there was no action from the industry regarding the TRAI directive to go green. The report criticised the telecom industry for using state subsidised diesel and a non renewable source to script their growth story. Not only was an online petition launched, they also came out with a report called 'Dirty Talking.'
Despite TRAI's directive, the telecom industry has not adhered to it. The industry continues to use diesel to power the generators all over the country. Greenpeace has come out with a report called 'Clean Talking' that looks into how usage of clean energy will impact the industry by 2020.
According to the report, the tower industry consumed at least 16.5 billion units of energy last year. This is approximately 2.5% of all of India's electricity consumption! Looking at the growth trajectory of the telecom sector, the number is poised to rise to a whopping 22 billion units!
The report also says that effective implementation of the Green Telecom Directive will result in Indian Telecom industry saving over Rs 2430 crores on annual energy expenditure. The report also recommends that clauses related to carbon emission disclosures ought to be simplified and that clean energy transition should be incentivised.
Greenpeace advocates the use renewable energy to power the mobile towers and urges the industry to switch to renewable sources of energy. To understand more about the issue, please have a look at 'Enable Clean Talking'. We plan to carry a series of blog posts exploring this issue and various aspects of the report. The subsequent blog posts will look into different aspects of energy consumption by the telecom industry in the backdrop of energy shortage that India faces currently.