Telecom tower companies are increasingly installing lithium-ion batteries for uninterrupted power supplies to their towers, with Reliance Jio Infocomm a key adopter of this longer-lasting and cost-effective power storage technology that is also friendlier to the environment compared with other traditional options.
Lithium-ion batteries have more than double the life of traditional lead-acid batteries and help cut about Rs 5-6 from the Rs 22 it costs otherwise to store each unit of electricity. Energy costs account for a third of network operating expenses for tower companies, and reducing it would help them improve profitability.
Batteries are used to store and supply electricity to telecom towers when grid power fails. When battery life is longer, the need for towers to depend on costly diesel-fuelled generators (DG) becomes lesser.
"Li-ion batteries have definite technical advantages in terms of power to weight to volume ratio, absence of pollutants like acid and lead, longer life," said a Reliance Jio Infocomm spokesperson in response to ET's queries, confirming installation of li-ion batteries across its existing 25,000 towers, instead of the more traditional lead-acid batteries and diesel generators. "Thus, Reliance Jio towers are classified as green towers as they have lower overall energy requirement and are completely nonpolluting."
The Reliance Industries unit is expected to launch fourth generation communication services next year. Alternate energy solutions provider ACME Cleantech, one of the installation partners for Reliance Jio, told ET that li-ion batteries would be installed in all 70,000-100,000 towers that the operator plans to set up countrywide.
"They will have advantage of lower energy cost over energy cost of current towers. It is one of the best initiatives taken by them," said Manoj Kumar Upadhyay, founder and chairman of the ACME Group.
While Reliance Jio has taken the lead, others are also on the same path, though not at the level of deployments with some issues related to longevity need to be tested. DS Rawat, chief executive of Bharti Infratel, the telecom tower unit of Bharti Airtel, said it is testing li-ion batteries as the technology looked more promising than existing storage solutions, especially in areas where grid power fluctuates.
"We are piloting li-ion and we have 50 sites already where we have deployed li-ion batteries for power storage in Infratel standalone. Similarly, Indus Towers is also trialling in their respective circles," he said.
"It has fast-charging capability which we believe will be a big plus but the entire business case also rests on how long these batteries last." Bharti Infratel, which has operations in 11 telecom circles through more than 36,000 towers, has a 42% stake in Indus Towers, the world's largest tower provider with over 114,000 facilities across 15 circles in India.
Between them, the two cover the entire country with operational overlaps in four circles. Umang Das, director general of the Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association, said about 100,000 Li-ion battery modules had been deployed across operators and tower companies. "As an industry we're trying to reduce burn time on DG sets," said Rajan Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents carriers such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India which use GSM-based technology.