Vodafone evaluating wind-powered mobile masts for remote area connectivity

UK based network operator Vodafone is examining one solution for connecting remote areas which use mobile masts that power themselves.  Vodafone has been working with a company called Crossflow Energy, which has a very interesting clean technology called Transverse Axis Wind Turbines. The turbines look more like something you’d find on a paddle steamer, but they’re apparently more efficient and reliable than regular ones. Vodafone’s plan is to use them, in combination with solar and battery technologies to make self-powering masts.

Vodafone has developed self-powered cell towers and aims to deploy them across the UK. This is the latest part of its plan to expand its reach and offer new services while reducing energy consumption in its future networks, supporting its target of achieving net-zero for UK operations by 2027.

In April 2021, Vodafone and Ericsson began a trial using drones and Lidar-based 3D technology. With drones collecting high-definition imagery and Lidar technology collecting data to help build 3D digital twin models, only specialist operators would need to travel to sites for surveys.And in September, Vodafone announced it was using a “breakthrough” energy solution from Ericsson for 5G network equipment to reduce forecast energy consumption in its future network. The new 5G radio unit is said to be 43% more energy-efficient than its legacy equivalent.Over the past two years, the operator has been working with renewable energy technology specialist Crossflow Energy to develop what is said to be the latter’s unique and innovative wind turbine technology, combined with new solar and battery technologies, to create a self-powered mobile network tower. Vodafone, alongside network partner Cornerstone, will now run a proof of concept to install Crossflow Turbine technology on rural mobile sites.

Vodafone regards the adoption of technologies such as the self-powered site as essential to meeting its energy-saving ambitions. As well as reducing Vodafone’s energy consumption, self-powered sites remove the need to connect to the electricity grid, overcoming what the operator says can be an insurmountable civil engineering challenge when building new sites in the most rural parts of the UK.

Other potential benefits of the Eco-Towers cited by Vodafone include: the use of locally generated renewable power to reduce the environmental impact of the site; increased renewable contribution by combining wind and solar with battery storage systems on site, which could remove reliance on diesel generators for back-up power; the quiet, bird-friendly turbine could make the Eco-Tower viable for the most sensitive of sites, including areas of outstanding natural beauty; and on-site power generation that is independent from the electricity grid may improve security of supply.

“We are committed to improving rural connectivity, but this comes with some very significant challenges,” said Andrea Dona, chief network officer at Vodafone UK. “Connecting masts to the energy grid can be a major barrier to delivering this objective, so making these sites self-sufficient is a huge step forward for us and for the mobile industry.

“Our approach to managing our network as responsibly as possible is very simple: we put sustainability at the heart of every decision. There is no silver bullet to reducing energy consumption, but each of these steps forward takes us closer to achieving net-zero for our UK operations by 2027.”

Martin Barnes, CEO at Crossflow Energy, added: “We are really excited to be working with Vodafone. It’s a fantastic opportunity to show how our self-powered Eco-Tower solves the problem of harnessing ‘small wind’ to offer not just that all-important carbon reduction, but also significant commercial benefits.

“In the case of Vodafone, it will help to accelerate the expansion of rural connectivity, transform energy consumption patterns and deliver significant economic and carbon savings. Our turbine technology has equally strong applications for so many other industries, but to have such a high-profile player as Vodafone deploying our Eco-Tower is a major endorsement for us and our technology.”

This project  seems be in the proof of concept stage right now, with the first such masts set to be deployed by the end of this year. They will face the same challenges as all other uses of renewable energy – principally what do to on rainy or cloudy days. Vodafone evidently believes that the low level of usage expected of these remote masts will mean their batteries never get totally drained. They will soon find out for sure, one way or the other.