Mobile network operators (MNOs) in Africa are increasingly migrating to renewable energy sources to power their networks. This trend is driven by a desire to reduce operating costs, decrease carbon emissions and ensure a reliable and sustainable energy supply.
At the 2023 Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, analysts presented data to show that MNOs have increased their use of renewable energy by at least 10% in recent years. This global trend has been sparked by the need to combat climate change and mitigate the energy crisis.
South African MNOs are no exception in this shift towards green energy. Major telcos are well underway with plans to make their operations more environmentally sustainable. With the prevalence of load-shedding, green energy is not only an ethical concern but a practical imperative. Curbing the impact of rolling power cuts has been a key driver for investment in renewable power sources.
MNOs invest in renewable energy
MNOs such as Vodacom and MTN are investing heavily in renewable energy solutions to power their base stations and data centres. This includes solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells. Around 50% of mobile network towers in sub-Saharan Africa are currently classified as off-the-grid.
In 2021, Vodacom installed three solar power systems at its facilities in Polokwane, Vereeniging and Bloemfontein. For this to happen, the telco giant invested over R8 million in renewable power projects as part of its commitment towards sustainable energy. MTN, similarly, has a sustainable energy strategy that aims to promote environmentally conscious business with reduced carbon emissions.
Benefits of renewable energy sources
One of the major benefits of renewable energy is its ability to provide a reliable and sustainable source of power, particularly in areas where access to the national grid is limited or unreliable. This is particularly important for MNOs, as network downtime can have significant financial implications.
Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, can provide a cost-effective alternative to traditional fossil fuels. The adoption of sustainable energy helps to reduce operating costs for MNOs; by generating their own power, they can avoid the need to rely on expensive diesel generators or grid power. This can also help to mitigate the impact of energy and fuel price increases and reduce the financial burden on the operator’s customers.
Shifting to renewable energy makes sense from a business perspective, securing operations for the future. However, it’s not just shareholders and customers that stand to benefit. The shift also has a positive impact on the environment. South Africa has a high carbon footprint due to its reliance on coal-fired power stations, which are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By investing in renewable energy, MNOs can help to reduce their own carbon footprint and contribute to the country’s efforts to combat climate change.
Building a sustainable future
The shift towards renewable energy is not without its challenges. One of the most significant obstacles is the initial investment required to install the infrastructure. While these initial costs can be a significant barrier for MNOs, they also need to account for additional expenses once systems are up and running – including the costs of backup power.
Another challenge is the technical integration required. MNOs must ensure that renewable energy sources are compatible with their existing network equipment. This requires specialised skills and expertise that may not be available in-house. They may need to partner with external experts or invest in training and development to ensure that their employees have the necessary knowledge and skills to manage the infrastructure.
Renewable energy sources can still have negative environmental impacts, particularly if they are not developed and managed sustainably. For example, large-scale hydropower projects can have significant environmental impacts, including the displacement of local communities, loss of biodiversity and altered water flow patterns.
Similarly, wind turbines and solar panels can take up significant amounts of land, potentially disrupting ecosystems and habitats. The production of solar panels and wind turbines requires the use of rare metals and other materials that must be mined and processed, which can generate significant amounts of pollution and waste. At the end of their useful life, these materials can be difficult to recycle or dispose of sustainably, potentially contributing to environmental degradation and pollution.
Despite these challenges, many MNOs are optimistic about the long-term benefits of this transition to renewable energy sources. This migration is generally seen as a positive development for both the industry and the environment. As more companies embrace sustainable energy solutions, we can expect to see further innovation and growth in this sector in the years to come.
4C Group of Companies supports the move towards renewable energy. Through our partnerships with mobile operators in Africa, we believe that renewable energy is key to future success. For more information about our various services for MNOs and telcos, please contact us today.
At 4C Group of Companies, we strive to effect operational changes and cost savings for customers through our iNSight product and associated services. This product’s main function is to re-purpose and deliver business-critical information to a variety of systems and stakeholders.
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