Bharti Airtel to enhance solar installations in Africa

Bharti Airtel, the worldÂ’s fifth largest mobile phone company by subscribers, said in a statement released that the plan is to reduce sites using diesel generators by at least 70 percent by the end of next year. "Our first priority is to reduce the number of sites that are completely reliant on diesel generators," commented chief technical officer, Eben Albertyn.

The statement continued by explaining that the company has reduced the number of its telecom sites running solely on diesel by over 50 percent in the last year "by overcoming the challenge of lack of grid connectivity through use of innovative models such as Hybrid Battery Bank." As such, it says, close to 60 percent of its telecom sites in Africa are now powered using the Hybrid battery banks, which are said to collect excess energy produced by diesel powered generators in a battery.

Off-grid

Bharti Airtel, which has an estimated 243 million users globally, is said to be specifically targeting off-grid areas, where it has not been possible to connect to grid electricity. It has included solar in its list of energy technologies that will enable it cut down costs and transfer the benefits to its customers in the form of affordable services. "Where it is not [possible to connect sites to grid electricity], we are exploring alternative forms of power supply including solar, wind and battery banks," added Albertyn.

Over the last two months, the company says it successfully developed 105 solar sites in the landlocked west African country of Niger, where it has managed to reduce the use of diesel generators to a maximum of four hours, down from 24 hours.

With operations in 19 countries across Asia and Africa, Bharti Airtel is aiming for revenues of US$5billion, and operating profits of $2billion this year. In the fourth quarter of 2011, revenues from its Africa operations reportedly jumped 16 percent to $1.06 billion.

Green towers

In related news, Bharti Infratel, Bharti Airtel’s infrastructure development arm, is said to be expanding its solar capacity network across Africa and Asia under a clean energy program, dubbed ‘Green Towers P7 initiative. One of the initiatives under this program is the Solar DG (diesel generating) Hybrid, which has been installed in at least 650 of Bharti’s tower sites.

"The initiative helps in massively reducing noise and emissions from DG sets and also in reducing dependency on diesel, thereby contributing towards low energy intensity and better energy security," Bharti said in an earlier release. It added, "All this has been creditably achieved despite the absence of subsidies on solar unit installations."