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04.07.2012

Solar Power suits Cellular Telecoms

In the UK, the solar power feed-in tariff has been a necessity in getting consumers to take up solar power in the form of photo voltaic panels. The reduction in the level of this government support is being blamed for a collapse in demand and redundancies in the industry. The feed-in tariff, which was originally 43 pence per kW-hour, has already been reduced to 21 pence and on 1st August 2012 will come down to 16 pence. However when the cost of conventional power generation is around 4 pence per kW-hour one has to ask the question: if such a massive subsidy is required to induce consumers to buy, is perhaps the concept of solar power for domestic power generation simply not viable in the UK?

This is not to say that solar power does not offer huge opportunities for reducing dependence on fossil fuels, but it does mean it has to be appropriately applied. As data centre design and build specialists, data centres are of course our first interest, and although power requirements for data centres are so large that a PV array would never be able to fully support the load, they can certainly make a contribution. As an example, DuPont’s new 470,000 sq ft data centre in New Jersey has its roof covered in solar panels capable of delivering over 2 megawatts of power. This may be only about 6% of the data centre’s final power requirement, but it is still 2 megawatts less that has to generated by other means.

At the other end of the scale, mobile phone base stations are an ideal candidate for solar power, particularly in developing countries where grid power is unreliable and many remote areas rely on diesel generators. Besides the cost of the fuel and of delivering it to remote sites, a further cost in some countries is theft – either with entire tanker loads being hijacked or smaller quantities of fuel being siphoned off.

All this, together with the (relatively) small power required at each base station, makes solar power for mobile phones an attractive proposition. So much so that Nigeria’s Airtel has recently announced plans to upgrade 250 of its diesel powered site to solar power. Other African countries, notably Kenya and Malawi, already have solar and wind powered base stations in operation.

In countries where cable and fibre are not available in many areas and 3G and/or microwave links are the main means by which data is distributed, a reliable cellular network is a vital element in providing internet connectivity. Therefore anything that improves this network will ultimately benefit the data centre industry.

And perhaps eventually, as manufacturing volumes increase and costs come down, photo voltaic power may become viable for UK households, without the need for unsustainable subsidies.

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