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Greening Up the World's Cell Phone Towers

solar cell mast

Within five years, something like 5% of the world's cell phone tower base stations will be powered by one form or another of green energy. If that doesn't sound like much, the figure's just 0.11% today. And with cell phone use growing, the number will be significant.

A new report today from Pike Research (a "market intelligence" business that specializes in green tech) is the source of this data, and the raw figure is actually that by 2014 4.5% of the cell phone base stations dotting the world will be powered by solar and wind-based electrical power generators. In 2010 only 0.11% of base stations get their power from sustainable sources, and it's not so much because the installations are driven by environmental issues, but that they're far away from traditional power sources. This is typically the case in remote rural areas where even shipping diesel fuel to power a generator is a problematic task.

As concerns about the carbon footprint associated with every electrical installation like this become more important, a clean-tech installation is an obvious quick and easy score to reducing the impact of a cell phone network: It doesn't need cabling, no fuel needs to be shipped to the location or even burned in a remote power station. It can also reduce the cost associated with connecting a base station to the larger grid. According to an earlier Pike report, currently, to connect a traditional base station in the wild to a power grid can cost up to $8,000. A solar-wind combination, with a back-up fuel cell system, is an excellent alternative.

A 2009 UN report shows that more than half of the world is now paying for access to a cell phone, and the fastest growing areas are in rural Africa. Clean tech cell phone infrastructure is going to be hugely important for communication in the bush.

Photo via Phil Catterall.

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