International suppliers including Sweden’s Flexenclosure AB, China’s Huawei and ZTE – key providers of environment-friendly energy solutions, are likely to pitch for the project. However, whether Bharti will opt for multiple vendors or a single one is yet unknown.
Bharti Infratel is the carved out tower arm of Bharti Airtel with 33,000 towers in seven of the 22 regions in India and is slated to invest in an additional 4,000 units this year. Around 9,000 sites of Infratel in rural India lack access to grid electricity, a reason why the company is exploring solar energy solutions. The decision to invest in green technologies comes on the heels of its recent pilot, the GreenTowers P7 initiative that focused on reducing diesel usage and carbon emissions across its tower network.
Indian tower firms together have about 400,000 sites and splurge a whopping Rs 8,500 crore annually on diesel, according to consultancy firm AT Kearney as about 70,000 of the sites are not fed by grid power. However, only around 5,000 have switched to solar power since the cost of Rs 40 per unit weighs too high as compared to Rs 6 per unit for grid power.
The capital cost of converting a diesel-powered tower site to solar is pegged at roughly $35,000 (Rs 19.6 lakh), pegging the cost of the Infratel project roughly at about $280 million. Recently, sector regulator TRAI had directed tower companies to minimise dependence on diesel and reduce carbon emissions by adopting to hybrid power by 2015.