SA networks could save billions by giving up diesel

South African telecommunications providers suffer whenever load-shedding hits, mostly due to the greatly increased operational costs that come with running diesel generators at base stations and other connectivity hubs.

However, they can save greatly on their running costs when their power is out by using less conventional backup energy solutions.

GenCell CEO Rami Reshef told MyBroadband that local mobile operators and fibre providers could save greatly on operational costs by switching to the company’s hydrogen fuel cell products for off-grid power solutions.

Unlike diesel generators, GenCell’s power units do not produce any pollution while running. The cells use hydrogen found in ammonia and oxygen from the surrounding air to produce energy, with their only waste product being water.

Reshef said that the advancements GenCell has made in developing this technology makes it a great competitor to diesel solutions in terms of cost and reliability.

Load-shedding and operational costs

Reshef noted that the cost of ammonia is half or even one third the price of the equivalent weight of diesel, making GenCell’s backup and off-grid fuel cell solutions an ideal solution to cut down on operating expenses during load-shedding.

The company’s backup systems can provide enough power for multiple days and can be switched on in under 4ms in the event of a power failure.

“This modern technology is completely clean and far more affordable than diesel,” Reshef said. “Based on the feedback from different markets including South Africa, both our backup and the primary off-grid solutions have their place in the market.”

South Africa offers one of the biggest tax incentives in the world for companies to use clean energy, and fines businesses R120 for each tonne of carbon they produce.

This means that in addition to the cost of running diesel generators to power their telecommunications infrastructure, local networks will also need to pay for polluting the environment.

“Right now, we are having discussions with multiple companies in South Africa, mostly concerning a solution on the long-duration backup.” Reshef said.

“I believe that the pressure on fully replacing the diesel entirely with fuel cells will come in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Massive savings

Changing from diesel generators to GenCell’s hydrogen fuel cell backup system can result in immense cost savings, Reshef said.

He said that if a mobile operator in South Africa implements the GenCell backup product on only 1,000 of its sites, it could save around $140 million over a period of ten years compared to diesel.

It is important to note that this example only refers to a small portion of diesel-supported sites, with big mobile operators like MTN and Vodacom having tens of thousands of sites around the country.

Subsequently, this technology could have a massive effect on operation costs, especially if load-shedding is expected to be a major risk going forward in South Africa.

“We are in negotiations with several mobile operators, and hopefully very soon we will be in South Africa,” Reshef said.

“There is a huge demand for backup,” he said. “Telecommunications companies have hub sites which are critical and backup power is crucial for these.”

He said that GenCell aimed to steadily replace diesel with more modern, efficient, and cleaner technologies like its hydrogen fuel cell technology by offering a more cost-effective product.

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SA networks could save billions by giving up diesel