Does Your Cell Phone Run On Fossil Fuels?

How can an iPhone that fits in your pocket run on coal, or oil? The truth is, the energy that powers the telecoms network comes mostly from fossil fuels, and for off-grid cell phone towers, this typically means diesel generators. Think about the carbon footprint of your next phone conversation or text message. Now multiply that by 2,000,000,000.

Diesel powered towers are especially prevalent in remote areas around the world where the electricity grid is not available, such as in developing countries. This is also where the most growth in the market will happen in the next few years; the next two billion mobile phone users will come from the rural areas in the developing world.

That number may seem daunting, especially paired with a study by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) which found that the country’s 3,10,000 cell phone towers consume about 2 billion liters of diesel per year. However, there is a light at the end of this toxic tunnel. Efforts from government regulations and the operators themselves in countries such as IndiaAustralia and Brazil are releasing mandates with aggressive targets to reduce these emission levels. Recently, TRAI announced its plans to shift to green technologies like solar, wind and biomass which it says could save 5 million tons of carbon emission and $1.4 billion

Telecom operators are not only beginning to see the environmental benefits of using renewable energy to power their sites, but also the costs they save from reducing their consumption of fossil fuel. Not only has price of diesel risen and the cost of solar panels and wind turbines lowered, green solutions eliminate the fear of diesel theft (yes, diesel theft at these sites is common!) as well as the maintenance and transportation to frequently refuel the sites. 

The reliability that green energy has been successfully producing for telecom towers will not only improve communication, but will also serve as a model for future energy infrastructure in the developing world. Check out UGE’s solutions for telecoms here.


-Katelyn Schatmeyer | Telecoms