In South Africa, a subsidiary of British multinational telecommunications company, Vodafone South Africa, is planning to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cell base stations to reduce the amount of problems caused by the country’s frequent power outages and to reduce the amount of fuel theft incidents.
The Register UK reported that Vodafone supports remote mobile sites by installing on-site generation and microwave backhaul. The sites can be specific to 2G, 3G, 4G or use a variety of technologies.
Many remote locations do not have access to the national electricity grid, which means that diesel generators are needed for power. However, Vodafone has intentions to reduce the need for diesel as it is a dirty fuel source as well as the machinery being considerably noisy.
Fuelling the mobile sites
In South Africa, the mobile sites are generally powered by the mains supply but with the current ‘power fast’ this is no longer a feasible option.
According to the Register UK, Vodafone will occasionally use solar power instead of diesel, which can be limited when operating in urban areas as a suitable area for solar modules is not always easily available.
In Africa, vandalism and theft of fuel is rife resulting in regular power outages. According to the register UK, it is not uncommon for people who are responsible for operating the base stations to sell the fuel and then charge people to climb the tower to get a signal.
Hydrogen a safer alternative
By substituting diesel with hydrogen, a substance which is a lot more difficult to re-sell, may hopefully reduce the fuel theft.
Hydrogen is stored in compressed cylinders and does not need cooling. Currently there are various makes of cells being used and tested, generally producing 2.5-5kW.
Vodafone told the register UK: “For sites where we use hydrogen fuel cells, we swap out empty cylinders with full ones as required. Frequency of refills depends on how much the fuel cell runs, i.e. the worse the grid quality, the more frequent the refills.
“Some sites are connected to our remote monitoring solution, which gives live status of the unit and its fuel levels.”