Scientific and Technological Background

Remotely located RBS for Telecom application are becoming more and more important with the increasing penetration of mobile services. As for many of these stations the connection to the electricity grid is not an option, specific off-grid power generation solutions are required which are quite often based on diesel fuel generators. More recently, the GSM Association has developed an interest for developing renewable based generation systems which are supposed to be “the best way for mobile operators to extend their networks off-grid while minimising energy costs and their impact on the environment” according to the Senior Programme Manager of their Green Power for Mobile (GPM) initiative. PV and small wind generation are the standard generation system although their inherent unpredictable characteristics presents critical issues requiring either the use of large battery sets or the back-up use of diesel generators.

Fuel cells are one promising technology, but it is necessary to prove that the technology does indeed offer an attractive alternative or complementary capacity.

Hydrogen is considered as the optimal carrier for the surplus energy storage from renewable resources. Although hydrogen and its application in fuel cell is considered as a high-cost energy system the Telecom application has the potential to be a cost-efficient solution for their use in stand-alone applications.

During the last few years, off-grid power generation systems based on fuel cell technology have experienced a significant surge in interest, due to the fact that they can offer economic advantages to potential users, as well as technical and environmental benefits. These potential benefits may be briefly summarised as follows:

  • when properly designed to cover peak power requirement, fuel cells can meet a longer lifetime with the present status of the technology with respect to batteries;
  • due to the inherent nature of hydrogen fuel cells, which have not mechanical moving parts other than fans lower maintenance requirements are expected with positive influence on the operational costs of the installation ;
  • better scalability than diesel generator as fuel cells can easily be designed to match the given power requirement and thereby ensure high efficiency even at low power requirements. In the off grid power-type applications the power requirements are often low matching conditions where the fuel cell can be operated at its best performance.

Several studies have also pointed out the economic benefits of fuel cells over these other alternatives. Lifecycle cost analyses reveal that fuel cells provide a more economical alternative over both batteries and diesel generators over their lifetime. Primarily this is due to the replacement schedule of batteries and the significant maintenance needs of diesel generators, adding up to significant O&M costs that overcome the larger initial capital investment in fuel cells. With these factors in mind, it is clear to see where the increasing interest in fuel cell-based solutions comes from. While there are several specific markets that fuel cells can enter, the telecommunications industry is perhaps one of the most attractive, due to their use patterns and overall increase in size worldwide.

Based on data published by the ITU – International Telecommunication Union on the GSM Association’s (GSMA) Green Power for Mobile program – they report the GSMA to expect to see 118,000 new base stations to be powered with renewable energy sources by 2012, many of which operating in off grid conditions.

This trend has been confirmed by a very recent market study from Fuel Cell 2000 (ref S. Curtin and J. Gangi Fuel Cell 2000 The Business Case for Fuel Cells September 2010) in which a number of business case for Fuel Cells and hydrogen in the Telecom market are reported identifying a significant potential for these technologies.

However, although a significant number of projects are going on, FC are still primarily used as back-up power sources. The number of demonstration of RBS powered using H2 & FC integrated with local RES has been limited so far and there is a lack of data to further rise the interest of potential users. Moreover, there is a lack of European activity in this field and this represents a limit to the diffusion of this technology which could instead already represent a more efficient solution compared to standard configuration and could furthermore be instrumental to further diffusion the use of renewable energy sources. Furthermore the field operations will produce a complete set of info with respect to fundamental issues as life duration, cyclability, maintenance schemes, etc.

With this situation in mind, the FCpoweredRBS Project aims to establish a significant demonstration across a number of EU countries of an off-grid power generation solution. This implies a concerted effort with a greater number of units at the same time being tested at several sites, which provides a level of reliability in data across test sites. The project will also work on the development of a benchmark protocol for the FC technology for the reference application field to be added in parallel to the available benchmark protocols. This procedure will be developed and implemented by independent parties (the R&D centre participating the project and the JRC which is a reference lab to this aim), providing further reliability and a point of reference for final users, who now know how their units perform in relation to the benchmark data. The project will also connect with parallel ongoing FCH-JU project focusing on both Telecom applications and off-grid operations.

Dissemination will be another fundamental project activity to inform potential users of the high level of technical performance achieved to increase the level of awareness about this technology both in the target industries and to the large public.


Demonstration Project for Power Supply to Telecom Stations through FC technology