For the past decade, the company’s critical challenge has been providing cellular coverage to places that lack even the most basic services, such as running water and electricity. Running power to rural cell towers was expensive and cable theft was rampant. To reach the rural customer, Vodafone planted generator-supported towers throughout the African countryside. The new tower sites reduced grid dependency, but also increased operational costs to ensure the reliability.
Around 2009, the concerns over energy security were also met with concerns over environmental degradation, or dramatically changing climates. Gasoline prices increased and soon Vodafone faced rapidly increasing costs to support reliability to its least paying customers, rural villagers. Additionally, Vodafone was under fire for excessive CO2 emissions from the gasoline generators powering those rural towers.
Vodafone was forced to “design for real needs”. Hybrid green sites have emerged as the solution. The project was taken on internally by the Cost Reduction team; the “Green Technology Program” aims to implement diesel hybrid sites, solar power, fuel cell technology, along with new methods of cooling and storing battery power. The results will reduce operational costs, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and further improve service reliability. Today, the hybrid powered sites stand in Kenya, the DRC, Mozambique, Lesotho, Tanzania, and South Africa. There are only a handful of towers operational, but the results are promising.