Power to the people – GSMA’s mini-grid vision

| November 24, 2010

By CommsDay International

The GSMA and the International Finance Corporation – the commercial arm of the World Bank, has launched a new program designed to turn mobile base stations sites into power generators for the communities they serve.

The Community Power for Mobile program will aim to turn excess power generated by mobile network base stations into charging stations that will help power everyday consumer electronic equipment, such as mobile phones, lanterns and other appliances.

According to Chris Locke, managing director of the GSMA Development Fund, typical base stations are configured to generate at least 5kW of excess power as an operating margin. That power will be made available for neighbouring communities as part of the new program, especially in off-grid sites.

“The mobile industry is experiencing unprecedented infrastructure growth in off-grid regions in the developing world, where nearly 1.6 billion people live without access to the electricity grid, and we estimate that 485 million of those have access to mobile phone services,” Locke said. “As base stations are typically the only powered infrastructure within walking distance of the community, the Community Power from Mobile initiative can simultaneously improve the business case for off-grid telecoms and have significant societal impact.”

The first pilot projects for the CPM program are expected to be deployed in East Africa and India by the first quarter of 2011, Locke said. The aim of the pilots will be to established industry best practices and develop a viable business model for other operators.
Because of the fact that the mobile infrastructure has outstripped the coverage of the electrical grid, the CPM model offers an alternative to the deployment of the energy infrastructure, especially in markets such as Africa, he explained to CommsDay during the GSMA Mobile Asia Congress.

The idea is to leverage the power supply model to off-grid sites, including those running on renewable energy such as solar and wind power, to create so-called mini-grids. In this way, the telecoms industry can now help to bring power to the population currently living outside the electricity infrastructure.

These mini-grids, Locke said, may actually be the most efficient way to bring electricity coverage to new markets.

There is also an opportunity to generate additional revenue for mobile operators. According to GSMA figures, mobile subscribers in off-grid locations spend as much as $3 per month – equivalent to a third of their monthly spend, on charging their phones. As such, a CPM model could conceivably provide a new revenue stream for operators. Whether or not mobile operators would charge for the use of the power is one of questions that the pilots will seek to answer, he added.

Even if operators don’t charge for the power, the ability for their users to keep their phones powered up would lead to an increase in ARPU.

“Availability of off-grid handset charging has been demonstrated to raise ARPU by 10%-14%, equivalent to an additional revenue opportunity of US$2.3 billion if the 485 million off-grid subscribers had access to handset charging,” the GSMA said.

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Category: Global energy, Green corporations, Mobile, Networks, Renewables

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