Thursday 12 December 2013

Cutting energy costs with technology trials
4 Nov 2013

Telstra is working on a new way to feed solar power into its telephone exchanges, one of several initiatives underway to reduce its reliance on coal-fired electricity. The carrier's director of asset and facilities management, John Romano, told iTnews the "new solar design" is being worked on by an internal technology team with the aid of consultants.

"We've come up with a new solution on how we feed our sites with solar, and we're in the process of getting a few trials done around the country," he said. "It looks viable but we've got to test it. In three months we'll better understand if it's viable."

Some Telstra exchanges currently have the ability to run equipment on a mix of mains and solar power, but the number is partially kept low by the cost and potential benefit. "What we do is feed the site with mains power and solar, so we reduce the cost and use of mains power," Romano said. "The solar panels are cheap but putting them on some of our sites and building them large enough to actually provide any benefit costs a fair bit".

The systems also typically provide only about "four or five hours a day" of benefit to an exchange site. But Telstra sees a far bigger future for solar and other renewable energy sources, such as tri-generation, biofuel and fuel-cell technology, which it made standard for back-up supplies to mobile towers and small exchanges last week.

"Ultimately it would be fantastic if we had to use no energy from coal to keep our sites running," Romano said. "That'd be the ultimate objective, but that's never going to happen while I'm alive. [For now] it's about what can we do with some of the new technologies that will enable us to use less coal power."

Telstra has about eight trials running Australia-wide trialling various renewable energy sources to power telecommunications exchanges and equipment. Romano is more or less in the same boat as other testers in Australia — trying to find a business case to deploy technology that is at various stages of maturity.

"Some of this technology may not be viable now but it may be in three years," he said. "We're going to continue to assess [the technologies] and if they're viable we'll roll them out."

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