Idea Cellular, India’s 3rd largest mobile operator, has been awarded a Grant of over USD 1 million from the US Trade & Development Agency (USTDA), to fund a pilot involving deployment of Solar Hybrid Methanol Based Fuel Cell (SHMBFC) at telecom sites in India.

In a first ever funding of a Green Telecom project in India by the USTDA, Idea will be supported by ICF International (Fairfax, VA), which will undertake a feasibility study and pilot project that will assess the technical, economic and financial feasibility of deploying methanol based fuel cell (SHMBFC) systems that provide continuous and uninterruptible power to off grid telecom towers at five sites belonging to Idea. The project aims to assist Idea Cellular’s effort to replace stationary diesel engines by demonstrating SHMBFC technology at five telecom tower sites using 2.5 and 5.0 kilowatt fuel cell units.

A Grant Agreement to this effect was signed between the US Ambassador to India Nancy J. Powell and Idea MD Himanshu Kapania, witnessed by Jamie Merriman, Country Manager – South Asia, USTDA; Nitin Zamre, Country Head, ICF Inc.; and Anil Tandan, CTO, Idea Cellular, at the US Consulate in Mumbai, last evening.

“India has a growing need for new sources of cleaner energy. Ultimately, this pilot project intends to demonstrate the viability of replacing diesel generators with fuel cell power systems not only at telecom towers, but also at other sites throughout the country that require reliable back-up power solutions such as hospitals, data centers and commercial areas,” said USTDA Director Leocadia I. Zak. “This grant demonstrates the active collaboration between the U.S. government and the U.S. and Indian private sectors to advance clean energy in India.”

During the signing ceremony, Ambassador Nancy Powell noted, “Projects like these directly support U.S. government policy priorities to promote domestic energy production, rural electrification, and cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels in India. And it will lessen the country’s dependence on oil and gas imports. I congratulate USTDA and ICF International, and Idea Cellular on this smart energy initiative.”

Accepting the grant, Mr. Himanshu Kapania, Managing Director, Idea Cellular said, “Idea Cellular, an Aditya Birla Group Company, has been a pioneer in Renewable Energy Technologies deployment to power telecom sites in India, for the past several years. The grant offered by the USTDA will further spur our efforts towards reducing carbon emissions from telecom infrastructure in the country.”

Idea has been at the forefront of adopting environmentally sustainable practices to reduce carbon emissions and operating costs of telecom network operations in India. After over a decade long effort in this area, Idea started its ‘Green Idea Programme’ in 2012, which is aimed at Carbon emission reduction through the use of renewable energies such as Hydrogen, Solar, and Battery-DG Hybrid systems; deployment of highly energy efficient hardware; and optimisation of Generator and Air Conditioner usage, besides others.

Over a decade ago, Idea initiated passive infrastructure sharing in the Indian Telecom industry, and spear-headed an industry venture which not only later became a viable business project, but was also enshrined in the National Telecom Policy mandate of the Government. Nearly 90% of Idea’s over 100,000 telecom sites are operating from shared locations which has helped the company reduce carbon emissions, and operating costs, substantially.

Way back in 2006, Idea, along with the GSM Association, accomplished a project utilising Bio-fuel for running diesel generators at telecom sites. Idea is the first and only mobile operator in India to use Hydrogen Fuel Cells for running Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) sites.

With a two-fold objective of reducing carbon emission and operating costs, Idea has undertaken several other initiatives such as the deployment of Outdoor BTSs which do not require air conditioning and lead to almost 35% less energy requirement. Over 44% of Idea sites are now outdoors, hence, more energy efficient. Idea uses Low Power Network Hardware, and Re-uses hardware, thus minimizing electronic waste. Over 75% of Idea’s BTSs procured in FY13 are 40% more energy efficient than the existing models.

With the support from organizations such as the USTDA, and global expertise from ICF Inc., Idea aims to undertake and execute more such energy efficient projects for CO2 emission reduction from telecom sites across India.

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