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MTN tackles SA power woes with wind & solar hybrid project

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MTN South Africa has launched an integrated wind and solar renewable energy generation project as part of its Net Zero efforts.

MTN said the wind and solar program is the first in a series of projects it is planning to unlock off-grid, clean and reliable energy alternatives in South Africa, a country battling major power shortages.

Scheduled power cuts by state-owned power utility Eskom known as load shedding have become a major issue in the country and telecoms operators like MTN are being forced to look to alternative power solutions to keep towers and other connectivity infrastructure powered during blackouts.

In March 2023, MTN said it would invest R1.5 billion (US$79 million) in South Africa to help mitigate ongoing power blackouts in the country as it plans to get its basestations completely off grid in the future.

In May 2023, rival Vodacom said it had spent R4 billion ($211 million) "on energy resilience capex" over the last four years, and in the past financial year R300 million ($15.8 million) worth of operating costs went mostly to diesel purchases.

South Africa had over 200 days of load shedding during 2022 and is expected to endure more than 250 days during 2023.

Blackouts are likely to continue for at least two more years while the power utility overhauls its electricity-generating fleet.

Renewable energy to provide relief to power instability

Hybrid renewable energy systems provide green energy to power assets sustainably, reducing reliance on unstable grids and the carbon-emitting fuels that are driving global warming, MTN said.

MTN's renewable energy generation project forms part of a six-month plan – which it plans to complete by the third quarter of this year – with a small-scale field trial in Worcester in the Western Cape.

It will be followed by a series of projects in the Eastern Cape, which is a proven geographic destination for wind energy.

"The solution avoids the need to work with complicated masts, guy wires, or towers and the windmills being used can be installed at various levels of a cell tower to harness more wind energy," MTN SA said in a statement.

A standout feature of the project is the integration with MTN SA telecommunication equipment to provide hybrid renewable energy generation for Base Transceiver Station (BTS) sites and other asset classes with low workload.

MTN believes by substituting fossil fuel-fed run time with alternative energy, a further benefit is that there will be a reduction in the amount of diesel burnt per site by reducing generator run hours.

It also increases power security per site, mitigating the effects of load shedding in line with MTN's plans to bolster network resilience, with properly sized hybrid, wind, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, and battery arrays.

The path to Net Zero

"MTN continues to harness best-in-breed technologies to ensure we drive sustainable solutions across our network. Innovation in generating green energy is critical in achieving MTN Net Zero goals as we move towards fulfilment of our Ambition 2025 strategy," MTN SA CEO Charles Molapisi said of the project.

MTN SA CEO Charles Molapisi.   (Source: MTN SA)
MTN SA CEO Charles Molapisi.
(Source: MTN SA)

MTN aims to achieve Net Zero Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2040, ten years earlier than the sector pathway as set out by global telecommunications industry body GSMA.

"As part of our commitment to protect the planet, we achieved a 13.9% reduction in absolute Scope 1 and 2 emissions (tCO2e) in 2022, excluding MTN SA, against a 2022 reduction target of 3.5%. reductions. Including South Africa, the Group achieved 9.85% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 due to the challenges associated with load shedding in MTN SA," the operator said.

Under Project Zero, MTN SA is concentrating its efforts on decreasing GHG emissions across its footprint and in so doing, enhancing operational efficiencies, extending the lifecycle of network equipment, reducing energy use and investing in renewable energy sources.

Four-phase green energy program

MTN SA is busy with the rollout of a four-phase green energy program. Planned initiatives include onsite renewable deployment, off-site renewable power purchase agreements and driving energy efficiencies at technical buildings, corporate buildings and technical infrastructure.

This includes energy-efficient lighting replacement and the decommissioning and removal of legacy high-energy redundant hardware. As part of these energy efficiencies at the technical buildings, the use of gas generators and a concentrated solar plant provide additional energy security while emitting fewer carbon emissions.

"MTN is firmly on track to deliver broad, deep-rooted and beneficial alternative energy projects that make a difference to the planet while ensuring we deliver network stability and excellence to our customers. Everyone deserves the benefit of a modern connected life, and innovation cannot stop as we work to deliver against this promise," added Molapisi.

The MTN Group is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in South Africa and has telecoms networks in 19 markets across Africa and the Middle East with a total of 289 million mobile subscribers.

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*Top image source: Image by Freepik.

Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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