FAQ: Switch Off Diesel

Frequently Asked Questions about the campaign

This FAQ addresses questions concerning our campaign and our report, Dirty Talking: A case for telecom to shift from diesel to renewable. Click on a question to view an answer.

  • 1. What is the purpose of this report?

    The report analyses the rising energy demand from the growth of mobile networks and builds an economic case for the telecommunication industry to substitute diesel consumption with cleaner and renewable source of energy to power its growth.

    The key objectives of the report are:

    > Highlight upward carbon emission growth trajectory of the Indian telecommunication industry in relation to its exponential growth
    > Reframe the “Green” debate within the Indian telecommunication industry to highlight the need for telecom companies to become transparent and focus on the shift towards renewable energy.
    > Showcase an economic pathway for the industry to decouple its economic growth from the growing carbon emissions by significantly shifting towards the cleaner source of energy

  • 2. Why has Greenpeace released the report only on the telecom sector when other industries consume much more energy and are also responsible for GHG emission?

    Indian telecommunication industry is well placed to make a significant shift towards cleaner source of energy, thereby not only reducing its own growing emissions but also set an example for other industries to follow.

    Rapid surge in mobile telephony in the last two decades has revolutionised the way we communicate and share information. It helps millions in the country to stay connected all the time. However, this growth is irresponsible and does not go well with “Clean Solution” image of the industry. Further, continued reliance on diesel to power its mobile towers, has pushed the industry on economic brink of sustainability because of the volatile nature of international crude oil and the increasing price of diesel in the country.

    Moreover, there is an on-going debate within the Indian telecommunication industry on “greening the mobile towers”. The debate is largely focused on energy efficiency measures and philanthropic approach on the use of clean energy but lacks transparency & commitment on carbon emission reduction and business approach for adoption of clean energy sources.

    Greenpeace is concerned about the growing carbon emissions from other industrial sectors as well. Greenpeace has been running several campaigns on the reduction of carbon emissions from the sectors like transportation and coal-power industry. In India, Greenpeace has campaigned in the past for fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles. Internationally, Greenpeace is campaigning on no future oil exploration in fragile ecosystem and demanding policy makers to think beyond Oil.

  • 3. How big is the Indian telecommunication Industry?

    India is now the second largest telecom market globally and is projected to overtake China with gross revenues exceeding US $ 35.6 billion and a growth rate of 45% CAGR. By 2012, fixed line revenues are expected to touch US$ 12.2 billion while mobile revenues are expected to reach US$ 39.8 billion. To put this growth in perspective, the country’s cellular base witnessed close to 50 per cent growth in 2008, with an average 9.5 million customers added every month.

    India is currently adding 8-10 million mobile subscribers every month and this would translate into 800 million mobile subscribers, accounting for a tele-density of around 51 per cent by 2012. The telecom sector is likely to see tremendous growth in India’s rural and semi-urban areas in the years to come.

    The number of telecom subscribers, from July to September 2010, grew from 671.69 million to 723.28 million, registering a growth of 7.68%. Similarly, the number of telephone subscribers reached 806.13 million at the end of January 2011 from 787.28 million in December 2010, registering an overall tele-density of 67.67.

  • 4. How are Mobile Network towers currently contributing to climate change?

    While globally the telecommunication sector contributes around 0.7% of the global GHG emissions, the corresponding figure in India is 1%. While this figure might appear to be not so significant in absolute terms, the rapid growth of telecommunications envisaged over the next decade calls for an effort to contain and reduce the carbon footprint. According to Greenpeace’s “Make IT Green” (March, 2010) report, the forecasted electricity consumption of the Telecom sector is estimated at 951.72 Billion kWh and that of the total ICT sector at 1,963.74 Billion kWh by 2020. Carbon emission from the Indian mobile network is 22.8 mt (year 2009 figure). However, given the exponential growth within the Indian telecommunication sector, particularly in expansion of mobile towers, emissions from mobile towers will grow by more than 100% by 2012. This emission will be significantly high from one of industrial sector in India and accounts for country’s 2 % GHG emissions.

  • 5. What is the scale of the energy demand from the Indian telecommunication sector?

    According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the Indian telecommunication industry consumes around 14 billion units of electricity, which under current growth of base transceiver station (BTS) will go upto 26 billion units of electricity by 2012 which is 1 % of the total electricity demand of the country.

    60 % of the total electricity used by the industry comes from burning of diesel alone, which is 18 billion liters per annum, the rest 40 % of electricity comes from the grid which is mostly coal based power.

  • 6. What is the projected growth of mobile towers in India?

    In 2010, India had 5.35 lakh base transceiver station (BTS) which under current growth will be 7.39 lakhs by the end of 2012. On an average, two base transceiver stations are installed on one mobile tower; therefore, by the end of 2012 India would have 3.65 lakh mobile towers. Telecom service providers are now eyeing the largely untapped rural mobile market. Industry estimates indicate the size of this rural market to be Rs. 40,000 crore (US$10 billion). To support this growth, around 300,000 new BTS sites will be required to roll-out in three to five years, thereby doubling the existing numbers.

  • 7. What are the current energy sources used by the Indian telecommunication companies for their mobile towers?

    60 % of the energy demand of the industry is met by diesel, while remaining 40 % comes from grid electricity. Though, there are solar and wind powered mobile towers piloted on ground but these are marginal in number.

  • 8. Is there any assessment of energy policy and practices of individual telecommunication companies in the report?

    Yes, there is one section on the climate and energy policy of top six telecom operators in India. Unfortunately, none of the companies has clear energy policy on clean energy adoption and target for carbon emissions. Except Vodafone, none of the major operators publicly disclose their carbon emissions. Although, Vodafone disclose carbon emissions of its Indian operation, the information is not easily accessible on its Indian website. The disclosure is part of its Global Sustainability Report. Further, Vodafone did not set any carbon emissions reduction target for India, although it mentions emissions intensity reduction target for emerging markets in its sustainability report.

    None of the India based telecom operators including market leader Bharti Airtel has discloseds its carbon emissions. Though, Airtel, in its 2010 annual report, claimed that it will participate in Carbon Disclosure project (CDP), non-profit organization, programme on corporate carbon emission disclosure, information from CDP reveals that the company did not respond to CDP query since 2008 and so did not disclose its carbon emissions.

  • 9. What is the current and projected emission coming from the use of diesel in Indian telecommunication Industry?

    In 2009, carbon emissions from diesel consumption of mobile towers were 22.83 MT of CO2 which will double and reach to 48.39 MT of CO2 by end of 2012. carbon emissions will double within three years. no clear data isavailable for longer projection.

  • 10. Is there any economic incentive provided by Government for the Telecommunication industry to use diesel for powering their mobile towers?

    There is direct subsidy on diesel price in consumer market to the tune of 21 % to artificially reduce its impact on use for transportation of essential goods, for public transport and agriculture. The subsidy on diesel has however been smartly exploited by the Telecom Sector, given the absence of a dual or differential pricing of diesel. This has also encouraged inefficient consumption in the telecom sector. According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the consumption of diesel by the telecom sector was 2 billion liters in 2007-2008 which now increased to over 3 billion liters by 2010.

    The consumption of diesel by the telecom sector, at current rates, results in an annual loss of around INR 26 billion to the state exchequer or the costs from which sector benefits as a result of current subsidy on diesel. If the current subsidy on diesel utilized by the telecom sector were removed, its annual expenditure to power its network towers would increase to USD 150 billion. Interestingly, this would be equivalent to the CAPEX required to solarise around 500,000 network towers.

  • 11. Are these clean sources of energy economically feasible and technological viable given the demand of the industry?

    Telecom Operators or service providers are better placed in setting up renewable power based infrastructure, in spite of significant capital expenditures. While the initial CAPEX is higher as a result of research and development investments, manufacturing control, supply chain control, and management, this can be offset by significantly lower OPEX, further supported by Government subsidies.

    Simultaneously, there are additional savings considering that there is no expenditure towards grid supply or diesel generators. For instance, a Solar based power solution on a 3-tenant tower can reduce DG runs from 16 hours to less than 4 hours, reducing energy OPEX to INR 10,000 every month (from INR 40,000 on a DG dependent tower), resulting in savings of INR 30,000 per month, which ploughs back to offset the CAPEX.

    Several projects have demonstrated the cost-effective potential of running telecom towers through renewable sources, which brings down operational expenses by as much as 30%. Considering the fact that operational expense plays a vital role in determining the sustainability and profitability of a telecom network site, be it BTS, repeaters or boosters, the business case for renewable energy is highly compelling.

    In shifting to renewable power and energy efficient technologies, telecom operators could earn twice the power savings in the form of carbon credits. Average carbon emissions by a tower in India is around 40,000 tonnes and so operators in India can potentially reduce carbon emissions by up to 5 Million Ton annually.

  • 12. Is Solar energy cheaper or will be cheaper in comparison to diesel and how?

    Renewable energy sources like solar is one of the most cost-effective ways of spreading the reach of telecommunications in remote areas.

    According to a report of an expert group on viable and sustainable pricing of petroleum products, one unit of electricity from diesel would cost INR 28.23 in the year 2020 due to increasing global price of imported crude oil and possible removal of reduction of current subsidy on diesel. On the other side, with technological improvement which leads to higher efficiency of solar power generation, one unit of electricity from solar source would cost INR 5.02 by 2020. This is the projection in Greenpeace Energy revolution report, a yearly assessment by Greenpeace and EREC on technological viability of renewable energy.

    When Compared to any other source of Renewable energy, Solar is adaptable for Telecom sector given the nature of energy generation in solar energy and the way telecom towers are situated across the country.

  • 13. How accurate is Greenpeace projection on pricing of different source of energy?

    These projections are taken from existing literature which is credible and reliable in nature. There is no objection raised on these projections till now. Greenpeace Energy Revolution report is an independent energy assessment document prepared by energy experts and accepted widely by Industry across the world for its precision.

  • 14. Is there any kind of fiscal incentive or other provided by Government for Telecommunication to switch to clean energy?

    In Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), 30 % direct subsidy is provided to telecom companies for making their existing or new mobile towers powered by solar energy. However, there is cap of 100 mobile towers per Telecom Tower Company which is limiting and restrictive in nature for sector’s progress towards clean energy adoption.

  • 15. Is there any framework or standard existing in India for the disclosure of GHG emissions by Telecommunication Industry?

    There is no standard existing in India for disclosure of carbon emissions. The Government has not formulated any standard for disclosure of carbon emissions in India. However, due to increased public scrutiny and the need to position themselves as “Green and responsible corporate”, few companies across the economy are now disclosing their carbon emissions for public information. The commonly used framework for disclosure of Carbon emissions is “Sustainability Reporting” of Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) which covers energy along with other aspects of sustainability in its reporting framework and it is voluntary in nature. Another framework widely used is GHG protocol of World Resource Institute (WRI). WRI’s framework is more focused and relevant for carbon emissions and energy disclosure. Greenpeace accepts and recommends WRI framework to companies for their carbon emission disclosure.

    There are few major companies in India like Wipro, HCL Infosystems, Tata Consultancy Services, Mahindra Group who have disclosed their carbon emissions using either of these frameworks.

  • 16. Is there any telecommunication operator which has formally disclosed its GHG emissions?

    Multi-national brand Vodafone through its global sustainability report has disclosed its carbon emissions from its Indian operations which stands at 2.28 million ton of CO2 excluding air travel by its employees. However, it accepts that the emission figure is not up to the mark and is working to improve It.

    Bharti Airtel claims to be in association with UK based Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a not for profit organization for its carbon disclosure, there is no emission figure available either in its annual report or on its website though. On the other hand, CDP website suggests that Airtel did not responded to its query since 2008.

    No other Indian telecom company publicly disclosed its carbon emissions in India till 3rd May, 2011 when the final research for the report was conducted.

  • 17. How can the telecommunication industry help to reduce growing GHG emission in India?

    Greenpeace believes that substantial clean energy installation coupled with enhanced energy efficiency measures adopted by the telecommunication industry across its digital infrastructure will help in reducing its growing emission and put the industry on low-carbon economic pathway.

  • 18. What about energy efficiency? Aren’t all telecommunication companies now building energy efficient mobile towers? Energy saved means energy generated, isn’t it correct?

    Yes, the energy efficiency measure has a significant role in curbing down growth of carbon emissions from mobile towers. But efficiency measures alone won’t help in achieving the required emission mitigation targets. Exponential growth in Indian telecommunication sector is actually outstripping whatever gains made by efficiency measures. Ultimately, Climate damaging CO2 is being added into the atmosphere in absolute terms, even efficiency measures reduces it per unit basis. But since there are large number of towers being set-up, efficiency alone can’t reduce the growing emissions in absolute sense which is actually needed to avert the runaway climate crisis.

    The sector as a whole still defines 'green' as being 'more efficient'. This failure to commit to clean energy in the same way as energy efficiency is being embraced is driving the demand for dirty energy and is holding the sector back from being truly green.

  • 19. How can telecommunication companies be more transparent?

    When telecommunication companies refuse to disclose their own energy footprint or the sources of energy used to supply their mobile towers and other infrastructure, we are left in the dark with regard to the net impact that mobile telephony has on carbon emission and thus our own use related emissions. The energy consumption and performance data of telecommunication operations is particularly opaque. Most companies justify their lack of transparency by asserting that such information is a trade secret and that it will be used by competitors, which is not correct.

    The sector has preferred to emphasize progress made in energy efficient design and performance, although some companies have adopted overall greenhouse gas reduction targets and report on their progress through frameworks like the Carbon Disclosure Project.

    There is a need for greater transparency and reporting on how telecommunication companies are managing their energy and carbon emission, choice of their energy source etc. Therefore, telecommunication energy & emission transparency and reporting should include:

    > Annual reporting of GHG footprint and energy consumption on a corporate level
    > Reporting on quantified data on type of energy used for running Mobile tower and other infrastructures like facility and building including emission factors or renewable energy percentage; and
    > Disclosure of performance-based metrics on energy efficiency measures adopted in Mobile Towers.

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