T-Mobile USA launches their first solar powered cell tower [100% renewable]

cellsolar

In a move that’s unheard of in the developed world, T-Mobile USA has launched their first solar powered cell tower in Chalfont, Pennsylvania. Details are scant, but what we do know is that it’s powered by 12 solar panels and is completely self sufficient. When network demand isn’t that strong it even feeds power back to the local utility company who can then sell it to their customers.

Now I said this was unheard of because typically developing countries are the ones who are installing these green towers. Their lack of a reliable power infrastructure menas that many African and Asian operators are dependent on disel burning generators to keep their networks up. That’s obviously not good for both the Earth and in terms of reliability. According to analysts at GigaOM a solar powered cell site runs between 2 and 3 times the cost of a regular cell site. Such prohibitive capital expenditures leads me to believe that this is nothing more than a marketing move and at most an experiment to see how this upcoming technology works.

Advances in technology have not only made cell towers more efficient, but also smaller, and more powerful in terms of serving a large customer base. Earlier this year Ericsson announced that they sold their 2 millionth cell site. It took them 20 years to sell the first million and only 3 for the next. That says something about how fast mobile technology is being adopted both in terms of emerging economies getting connected and rich nations feeding their demand for mobile broadband. How many of those towers are going to be “green” and what’s the incentive? People pick their operator based on network performance, not their carbon footprint. Would you switch to T-Mobile if they made a promise to replace each and every one of their towers with these new solar powered models?

  • http://downdurnst.posterous.com/ downdurnst

    While it may not be cost-effective right now, I’d argue that there’s a business case for solar powered towers in many areas in the form of uptime and reliability. Look at how much of a clusterfuck mobile access was during Hurricane Katrina – not really even because of Wind and flooding, but mostly because the grid was down and they had to wait until they could get fuel in for the backup generators.

    At this point, being 2 or 3 times the cost probably doesn’t justify the expense – but if it came down to say 1.5 times the cost of a regular tower, and you’d be able to boast that you really did have the most uptime and cleanest footprint?

    Cool stuff, regardless.

  • http://www.photomfa.com gordon

    That is a pretty rad way of saving energy. Imagine if all cellphone towers were solar powered and feeding their excess power into the grid.

  • http://www.hghreviews.org/ Bob

    This is cool..

  • http://www.idcredit.org/ Piter

    Thanks man fro sharing this idea

  • Uncle B

    Advances in electronics have made possible Solar realities beyond our wildest dreams – most miracles have come from Asian endeavors, not American ones and we face a knowledge deficit in America. With our Asian manufactured cell phones we are the fatted calves on the Asian alters! Economical communications that depend only on the sun and wind are likely to take mankind to a new level. Corporatism beware the wily communist Asian he encroaches on your territory with this ingenious methodology and others! America beware of progress designed and manufactured outside your knowledge base – if you depend on it, the builders own you. Americans don’t know it all, Asians just let them think they do! The cell phones are of Asian manufacture, and are a dependency item for Americans, especially Solar and Wind operated ones! India has the same technology in use in their homeland – not a new idea, but a very dangerous one to the corporatist – he may lose control. Google, Torrent, the movie, “Who Stole the Electric Car” for the basis of this paranoia!

  • Al

    It might make business sense, (if one was took the long term view most companies don’t), in that by putting up a tower disconnected from the power grid doesn’t include the expenses of getting power run to the tower, and then getting ripped every month by the power bill. Multiply that by the number of towers and it might very well add up to some savings, if the solar conversion kit doesn’t cost much.

    Most likely they did it this once because it was in a location not serviced easily by a power company.

  • K

    Is that initial cost to build (which it sounds like) or build plus operational costs?

    I’m betting that it’s the cost to build, and long term the operational costs are competitive.

    Also, in that part of the country snow may be an issue (both access and outage), so it may provide reliability benefits as well.

  • shiggins

    Looks like this install was done some time ago – perhaps last spring. If this picture is indeed a recent Chalfont PA snap, (which is about 5 miles from my home) — there seems to be snow on the ground and no leaves on the trees. That’s not what I’m seeing when I look out the window in Sept.

    Good for T-Mobile – I’m sure with the state grants on solar energy, the cost is even lower. Combine that with the fact that PECO (the local electric company) will be increasing their Kw/Hr rates — this is a slam dunk idea. Hey — perhaps when they do sell excess electric back to the electric company the cell site will actually generate revenue… What a business model!

  • Jacob

    The use of solar technology with cell sites is way over due! I had this thought as a site development agent when searching for optimum rooftop site locations for Sprint PCS, T-Mobile and AT&T in NYC and the thought came to me again years later when I began a new career selling solar installations in Florida. Cell sites are typically placed in areas free of obstructions with great solar exposure and/or at high(er) altitudes for great wind exposure. The use of wind/solar is really a “no brainer” and it really needs to be investigated and packaged for the top cellular companies to realize what they are missing. Anyone interested to put the package together showing the gains of sustainable energy, please contact me: jacobmgeorge@gmail.com. We need out of the box, innovative thinkers to put this puzzle together for the close minded corporatist that can’t see beyond what they have done in the past….if it is wrong and unsustainable.

    The major carriers need to evaluate the use of solar and wind power in more ideal terrains like Arizona, Nevada, California, Florida, etc., As for the parts of the country that there is snow fall, the snow eventually melts and the loss is really not that bad! The sun shines even after snow storms and the wind blows all the time!
    The cost may not be appealing right now, but there are tax incentives and selling the excess power produced may make this very appealing depending on the market area of the site. When this is implemented and analyzed, it has to be done carefully in a region where the excess electric sold back to the utility makes it profitable along with tax incentives to sweeten the deal. Go green for PR and image, but more so, to foster a cleaner environment with clean, sustainable (cheaper) electric rates! Let’s follow India’s lead with their use of solar cell sites, as they show us again that necessity can be the mother of yet another “invention”.

    “People asking questions lost in confusion, well I tell them there’s no problem, only solutions”

  • http://www.prayag.net Prayag

    Somewhat disappointed with the authors POV on this move by T-Mobile.

    Solar cells have been powering street lights to parking meters to several other utilities where it has proven to be economically viable and suitable.

    It needs to be reflected that, long term large scale power grid outage quite often takes out cell network along with them and its about time we looked into creating cell network that were more resilient to external factors like that.

    I would agree that, there’s far too much talk about carbon footprint than the general consumer care about.

    However if I knew my operator was offering cell signal at a remote location without utility power etc, I might be interested in that operator.

  • TEJAY47111

    THERE IS A COMPANY IN FLORIDA THAT JUST INSTALLED A SOLAR UNIT IN OKEECHOBEE AT A CELL TOWER SITE.I DROVE BY IT THE OTHER DAY ITS PRETTY COOL LOOKING.CELL COMPANIES NEED TO GET MORE OF THESE SYSTEMS.

  • TEJAY47111

    THERE IS A COMPANY IN FLORIDA THAT JUST INSTALLED A SOLAR UNIT IN OKEECHOBEE AT A CELL TOWER SITE.I DROVE BY IT THE OTHER DAY ITS PRETTY COOL LOOKING.CELL COMPANIES NEED TO GET MORE OF THESE SYSTEMS.

  • TEJAY47111

    THERE IS A COMPANY IN FLORIDA THAT JUST INSTALLED A SOLAR UNIT IN OKEECHOBEE AT A CELL TOWER SITE.I DROVE BY IT THE OTHER DAY ITS PRETTY COOL LOOKING.CELL COMPANIES NEED TO GET MORE OF THESE SYSTEMS.

  • TEJAY47111

    THERE IS A COMPANY IN FLORIDA THAT JUST INSTALLED A SOLAR UNIT IN OKEECHOBEE AT A CELL TOWER SITE.I DROVE BY IT THE OTHER DAY ITS PRETTY COOL LOOKING.CELL COMPANIES NEED TO GET MORE OF THESE SYSTEMS.

  • TEJAY47111

    THERE IS A COMPANY IN FLORIDA THAT JUST INSTALLED A SOLAR UNIT IN OKEECHOBEE AT A CELL TOWER SITE.I DROVE BY IT THE OTHER DAY ITS PRETTY COOL LOOKING.CELL COMPANIES NEED TO GET MORE OF THESE SYSTEMS.

  • TEJAY47111

    THERE IS A COMPANY IN FLORIDA THAT JUST INSTALLED A SOLAR UNIT IN OKEECHOBEE AT A CELL TOWER SITE.I DROVE BY IT THE OTHER DAY ITS PRETTY COOL LOOKING.CELL COMPANIES NEED TO GET MORE OF THESE SYSTEMS.

  • TEJAY47111

    THERE IS A COMPANY IN FLORIDA THAT JUST INSTALLED A SOLAR UNIT IN OKEECHOBEE AT A CELL TOWER SITE.I DROVE BY IT THE OTHER DAY ITS PRETTY COOL LOOKING.CELL COMPANIES NEED TO GET MORE OF THESE SYSTEMS.

  • TEJAY47111

    THERE IS A COMPANY IN FLORIDA THAT JUST INSTALLED A SOLAR UNIT IN OKEECHOBEE AT A CELL TOWER SITE.I DROVE BY IT THE OTHER DAY ITS PRETTY COOL LOOKING.CELL COMPANIES NEED TO GET MORE OF THESE SYSTEMS.

  • TEJAY47111

    THERE IS A COMPANY IN FLORIDA THAT JUST INSTALLED A SOLAR UNIT IN OKEECHOBEE AT A CELL TOWER SITE.I DROVE BY IT THE OTHER DAY ITS PRETTY COOL LOOKING.CELL COMPANIES NEED TO GET MORE OF THESE SYSTEMS.

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