Africa has always offered unique challenges that stand in the way of development. In addition to regional conflicts and hostile terrain, much of the continent remains very much off traditional power grids making it difficult even to use a basic mobile phone. In remote areas in Africa, as well as in similar rural areas throughout the rest of the world, the typical solution to mobile base stations is diesel generators. The amount of fuel burned each year isn’t good for the environment or the mobile providers’ bottom line.
Swedish start up Flexenclosure has a solution to provide flexible green power instead. Called an E-site, this system includes a traditional base station along with both solar panels and a wind turbine, as well as battery back-up and a diesel generator.
“This isn’t just a shelter, it is a complete solution for a telecom site,” says Flexenclosure’s chairman of the board Per Grunewald. While still in the developmental stage this clean tech solution uses multiple energy sources to maintain round the clock service. The company is currently doing studies in Kenya to determine how the multiple systems would work together.
“In a normal situation we would rely on wind about 70 percent of the time, with solar providing power for another 10 to 15 percent of the time.” The rest of the time the E-site would be powered by battery or via a diesel generator. But rather than just switching automatically based on time of the day, Grunewald says that the system’s computer would consider numerous factors. “Our goal is to have an artificial intelligence that can learn, and determine what is needed and when. If it is very warm outside than the generator might not be ideal, as it would have require additional energy to keep the system. It would wait a few hours until the temperatures were cool, and run on battery in the meantime.”
By relying on wind and solar power the E-sites would burn less fuel, and in remote areas this would mean that trips would be made to refuel the tanks. Grunewald adds that typically solar power has been seen as too expensive, but the intelligent controls of the E-site make it more affordable. One reason for this is that the E-site can survive in very remote areas with little maintenance. The wind power turbines need little maintenance, while the back-up batteries may only need to be replaced every 10 years, says Grunewald in comparison to the typical three to four years of base stations relying on diesel.
The E-site’s computer can keep users updated on conditions remotely, which is not a problem as the whole site is designed as a communications hub. “If the solar panels are giving less efficiency, an operator can determine from a distance where it is just sand or dirt, and if a technician needs to go out there. Alternatively, the decision can be made to switch to wind in order to power the system.”
Beyond just allowing users in remote regions of the world to make calls, Flexenclosure sees potential outside the telecom space. Says Grunewald, the same type of hybrid renewable power plant could be used for small and remote villages to meet energy needs.