Eight months since it began running rural base stations on biofuel-powered generators, Idea Cellular says the equipment is working but not yielding much in the way of opex savings.
With the help of Ericsson and the GSMA Development Fund, the Indian operator launched four greenfield base stations in Maharashtra last June that were powered by fuels developed locally from fish oil and waste vegetable oil. The aim was to help extend coverage in rural areas - where power grids are either unreliable of non-existent - using more environmentally-friendly biofuels as well as to study the feasibility of biofuels as a power source.
At a GSMA Development Fund roundtable Tuesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Idea Cellular CTO Anil Tandan said the base station generators have been running on a mix of about 80% regular diesel and 20% biofuel.
"We want to have a higher mix of biofuel, but that has a detrimental effect on the diesel generator sets," Tandan said.
Tandan also said that Idea wasn't seeing much in the way of economic savings, largely because of the small amounts of biofuel being used, and the comparatively small amount of biofuel being produced in India. "There's only a limited supply of biofuel being produced, it's only being produced out of Hyderabad, and there's no distribution system in place for it, so for the moment we're only seeing marginal savings," he said.
Tandan added that whether cost savings could increase from escalated production of biofuels in the future would depend on the manufacturers and the type of crop being used to produce it. That said, Tandan said that there were other incentives to use biofuels besides the cost savings, such as carbon credits and the chance to promote the use of alternative fuels.
The Indian government has been formulating policies to encourage biofuel production, but not without some controversy. An October 2007 report from the International Water Management Institute claimed that plans by both India and China to increase biofuels production from irrigated maize and sugarcane could aggravate water shortages and undermine food output.
However, India has also been promoting the use of jatropha as a biofuel source, which requires little irrigation and would have no impact on food supplies because it's inedible, according to the Centre For Jatropha Promotion.