Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Saturday, June 10, 2023

NOXIOUS FUMES - Power-hungry cell towers poisoning air


New Delhi : A day without your smartphone can be demanding. But a new study has thrown up some interesting finds about how energy-guzzling the telecom industry is.Scientists at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and Forschungszentrum Julich in Germany have revealed that the Indian telecom sector could be consuming up to 7.5 billion litres of diesel annually to run its mobile towers.


Because mobile towers require continuous power supply not assured in either cities or rural areas, they largely depend on diesel generator sets and electricity from the grid whenever possible. In Delhi alone, the telecom sector used 6.6 lakh MWh energy in 2011 which generated 382 tons of carbon dioxide and 2,123 tons of particulate matter, the study has said.


But Delhi consumed the least energy for telecom, compared to rural areas in other states where power supply is irregular. According to the study , the number of Indian telephone connections rose from 22.8 million in 1999 to approximately 1 billion in 2013.Of these, 96.5% were mobile lines. There is currently a net work of 8.6 lakh operational base transceiver stations (BTS) in India.


“Supply of uninterrupted electric power to BTS sites is a major challenge. In rural BTS, masts have power for only 13.5 hours a day compared to 20 hours per day in cities,“ the study says. In Delhi, there are over 14,000 mobile towers or BTS.


The authors of the study--SK Sahu, MG Schultz and Gufran Beig--used the emission factor or the average emission rates from the diesel generator sets used for telecom towers to project nationwide figures. “We have an estimate of how many towers there are in India. We also know how much diesel is required per hour and the number of hours DG sets are used on an average. The emissions have been estimated based on the data already available,“ said Beig.


The total annual emissions from the sector are huge at about 27.9 million tons of carbon dioxide and 295 gigagrams of nitrogen oxides. The World Health Organization has recently defined diesel fumes as carcinogenic. The telecom sector's dependence on diesel is hence worrying.


“Total particulate matter emissions from telecom sector are three times the particulate matter emissions of Delhi,“ the study concludes.