Dear Mr. Bishop:
We enjoyed reading the article “Hurricane Season is Coming: Are You Ready?” by Leticia Latino, CEO of NeptunoUSA in the recent Above Ground Level Magazine. Coincidentally, there was another article in the same issue of the magazine by GenCell CEO, Rami Reshef, entitled “Overcoming Off-grid Power Problems for Rural Connectivity.”
In the article about hurricanes, the author mentions that to be prepared for the event that hurricanes are likely to cause power outages, telecom providers should invest in power generators and/or COWs. However, with the advent of such serious climate change issues worldwide, we highly recommend that telecom providers and others needing backup power end their use of diesel and other fossil fuel generators that, in addition to requiring high maintenance in order to be reliable, are also highly pollutant. Instead we recommend that providers turn to clean, cost-effective and ultra-reliable backup power solutions such as fuel cells.
In fact, a 2017 study by the NREL indicates that since 2007, more than 3,000 fuel cell systems were installed at cellular facilities owned by telecom companies—Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, MetroPCS, and others—to power their facilities. The sites include both remote and urban locations. The fuel cell systems are networked and monitored remotely, and they provide benefits that include:
• Longer runtime (greater than 8 hours) to meet emergency power needs
• Quiet operation
• Rooftop installation capability
• Low total cost of ownership
• Small footprint
As such, we believe that fuel cells in general, and high-efficiency alkaline fuel cells in particular, offer a strong value proposition to the telecom industry both for off-grid and backup purposes.
In fact, we also propose that telecom providers consider both stationary as well as portable fuel cells to harden the infrastructure for important emergency safety communication infrastructures such as for FirstNet, the topic of yet another piece in the same issue of AGL – “New FirstNet Cell Site Launches in Baltimore Area to Support Public Safety.” (All roads lead to Rome!)
We highly enjoy reading AGL magazine and thank you for talking about so many important aspects of powering telecom.
Marketing Content & Strategy Manager
Hurricane Season is Coming: Are You Ready? ran in the May 2019 edition of AGL magazine.
April 25, 2017
Challenging the status quo can be difficult, and redefining it can be transformative. After all, it hasn’t always been the norm to video chat around the world in the palm of your hand. Superior technology, however, does not guarantee status quo-breaking success.
In 2007, U.S. Navy weapons researchers developed a revolutionary advancement in gun technology called railgun. Railgun uses electricity instead of gunpowder to fire projectiles at speeds up to Mach 7, at ranges 10 times farther than current naval guns and with greater accuracy. Railgun is safer to operate and is effective against multiple threats, but naval leaders did not take the technology seriously, essentially because the program could not break through the status quo.
Elizabeth D’Andrea, Ph.D., the Navy’s program officer at the time, realized most of the challenges railgun faced were based on misperceptions, uninformed opinions or a lack of awareness. She launched a communications effort aimed specifically at challenging the status quo, and the Office of Naval Research now attributes much of the railgun program’s success to that educational outreach.
Batteries and generators have been the critical power status quo for decades. Neither technology has changed substantially, though the demands placed on backup power systems have grown over time. Consider the loads and system complexity when batteries and generators became entrenched as the go-to backup power choices in the mid-1960s. We were not then a digital society dependent on 24/7 connectivity across vast wireless networks.
Time to Reimagine
It’s time to look at the critical power status quo more critically.
Valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries and diesel generators have well-documented, widely accepted performance issues. Heat drains VRLA batteries like replacement batteries drain budgets. Even with exhaustive maintenance, VRLA batteries don’t typically run long enough to protect modern networks. Battery renewal contracts have become as inevitable as death and taxes, yet the incredible inertial power of the status quo makes the buy/maintain/replace cycle remarkably difficult to break.
But norms do change.
Fuel cell technology has long held significant critical power potential because of its zero-emission performance and lack of moving parts. The knock against fuel cells has been that they were fragile, expensive and hand-assembled, so they couldn’t be mass-produced or widely deployed. Conventional fuel cells posed no threat to the status quo.
Today’s advanced fuel cell technology, however, envisions a world where the critical power norm is clean, safe, sustainable and cost-effective power on demand. To reimagine the critical power status quo, fuel cell technology itself had to be reimagined.
Advanced fuel cell technology produces consistent power through an electrochemical reaction between naturally abundant hydrogen and oxygen. As with conventional fuel cells, there are no emissions. Advanced fuel cell technology replaces fragile parts with rugged components, incorporates integrated membrane bonding and infinitely more efficient flex-plate electrical contacts, and features a compact footprint that allows a 5-kilowatt system unit to fit virtually anywhere a standard microwave oven can.
Perhaps most significantly, advanced fuel cell technology uses an automated robotic fuel cell assembly line. The combination of stronger components, compact design and automated assembly can reduce costs by as much as 80 percent, compared with traditional fuel cells. Compared with VRLA batteries and diesel generators, advanced fuel cell technology can reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) by as much as 50 percent.
Powering a Status Quo Breakthrough
Fuel cell reliability is well established. The U.S. military and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have trusted advanced fuel cell technology for many years. Advanced fuel cell technology has successfully provided uninterrupted power to cell towers during normal outages and during the aftermath of natural disasters when legacy technologies failed, including Hurricanes Sandy and Joaquin and the South Napa earthquake.
The reliability is there, proven in extreme temperatures and severe weather. The savings are evident through reduced capital expense, lower maintenance expenses and TCO analyses.
Yet, the status quo remains powerful and, somehow, comfortable — until battery contracts come up for renewal or the rules on diesel generator emissions change again. That pain is predictable.
What’s been missing — and prevented advanced fuel cell technology from truly breaking through — has been the corporate hammer: the directive that motivates change and makes it safe to evaluate alternatives to the status quo. That may be changing as businesses increasingly identify sustainability as a corporate value and align investments accordingly.
Advanced fuel cell technology offers other advantages: installation that takes hours instead of days, runtimes from hours to months on a single fill-up, quiet operation, inherent scalability, greater deployment flexibility (the compact footprint simplifies rooftop installations in urban locations and rugged durability is well suited for remote antenna sites) and low maintenance that is mostly air filter replacements once a year. But the ability to lower an organization’s carbon footprint? Being zero-emission green and quiet? That sets advanced fuel cell technology apart and may power a status quo breakthrough.
Acceptance as a Backup Solution
Reliability was the top priority when a large telecom installation in Florida switched its backup power to advanced fuel cell technology in 2016. On-demand power must, by definition, be available on demand. Ultimately, the critical power solution that goes beyond reliability requirements, that demonstrates environmental responsibility and that represents a commitment to sustainability was deemed to provide the greatest value.
Hundreds of cell towers nationwide relied on backup power from advanced fuel cells in 2016, with that number growing every month as fuel cell use reaches wider acceptance. Advanced fuel cells have replaced VRLA batteries and diesel generators in more than 8.3 million watts of applications and have logged more than 32 million hours of runtime.
Fuels cells’ acceptance as a backup power solution may receive a boost from what’s happening in the automotive sector. Every major automotive manufacturer is developing models powered by hydrogen fuel cells, the same hydrogen that powers fuel cells for critical power. Perhaps Toyota, Honda and Ford putting fuel cells right under our seats will finally lay to rest misguided hydrogen-safety concerns that have lingered for years.
The buy/maintain/replace cycle can be broken. Modern networks can be supported by 21st-century technology that delivers cost savings, performance and enterprise value improvements.
Revolutionary designs and proven performance have put a new spotlight on advanced fuel cell technology. Green initiatives and sustainability’s ascension among corporate values may provide the impetus to usher in a new critical power reality, revealing an exciting new future for backup power.
Andrea Humes is marketing director at Altergy Systems. The Folsom, California-based company provides reliable backup power solutions for telecom and critical power applications. Humes’ email address is email@example.com.
Heterogeneous networks are the primary tool in wireless carriers’ efforts to augment bandwidth capacity and
overcome spectrum limitations. Alpha Technologies, a supplier of power and battery systems for macro cells, with +24-volt and −48-volt rectifiers and converters, now offers what could be the industry’s only NEBS-certified, environmentally hardened UPS for outdoor DAS. The system combines rugged UPS and batteries in carrier-grade enclosures for use in the outdoor environment. For indoor DAS and small-cell applications, the company has pioneered a 48-volt line-powering technique that enables service providers to use safe and low-cost Class 2 circuits to power remote devices from a centralized location. www.alpha.ca/das
The FCC will convene a series of field hearings in the coming months to examine challenges to communications networks posed by Superstorm Sandy. The hearing will address backup power, carrier readiness and resource-sharing protocols.
The hearings, which will inform the FCC’s recommendations and action to improve network resiliency, were announced less than a week after Sen. Chuck Schumer (D- NY) called on the commission to develop a plan to ensure that cell towers can endure long-term power outages, related to natural disasters or terrorist attacks, because of the high number of citizens that rely on wireless as their primary communications device.
“Unimpeded cell phone service is a necessity for emergency workers and a lifeline for residents left without power,” said Schumer. “After Sandy hit, far too many impacted residents struggled to get service because far too many cell towers were rendered inoperable. In an age where many people only have cell phones, the bottom line is we must fix that problem ASAP. The FCC has the capability to develop a nation-wide plan to ensure that cellular service, a lifeline to residents without power and first responders, is not completely severed in the wake of a storm.”
Beginning in early 2013, hearings will take place throughout the country in locations that have experienced major natural disasters, starting in New York. They will include businesses, public safety officials, engineering and academic experts, and consumers. The focus of the field hearings will be on challenges faced before, during and after Superstorm Sandy as well as other natural disasters.
“This unprecedented storm has revealed new challenges that will require a national dialogue around ideas and actions to ensure the resilience of communications networks,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. “As our thoughts and sympathies remain with those who have suffered loss and damage as a result of Superstorm Sandy, I urge all stakeholders to engage constructively in the period ahead.”
The field hearings will look into the extent that service providers took advantage of the advance notice to stage communications assets such as portable cell sites and backup generators to reduce the effects of the storm and to the extent that they notified consumers of their communications options in advance of the storm.
The FCC also plans to explore how service providers can work together by sharing resources, such as cell sites, Wi-Fi networks and transmission facilities, and how this cooperation can be facilitated.
Similar to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the FCC will delve into the issue of how backup power can be improved to keep cell sites on the air.
The FCC noted that, in addition to back-up power, cell site backhauled failed, resulting in disruptions to wireless communications. The commission will ask panelists to compare the resiliency of different backhaul technologies and the feasibility of backhaul redundancy.
One of the question the FCC plans to ask is. “How can transport, interconnection, and switching be made more reliable in disasters and less vulnerable to floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards and other damage? What other interdependencies are there that should be reduced and how?”
Cell site backup power systems were put to the test late in June as a freak series of thunderstorms with hurricane-like winds, known as a derecho, caused 22 deaths and knocked out power to millions in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as to hundreds of cell sites across the region. A state of emergency was declared in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., as power companies worked to restore electricity.
T-Mobile, which lost power to one fourth of its cell sites in the area, deployed generators and thousands of gallons of fuel. Angry residents reported cellular outages, July 2, on the Sprint Nextel system across the Washington, D.C., metro area, with one frustrated user coining the term “cell-mageddon.”
“T-Mobile began deploying generators to cell sites without power on Friday evening, June 29. T-Mobile also dispatched additional personnel from surrounding markets over the weekend to restore service to areas hardest hit by the storm,” a T-Mobile spokesman said in a email. “Additional mobile generators were deployed Sunday to the greater Washington D.C area alone. By Tuesday evening, July 3, the T-Mobile network was operating at normal or near-normal levels in all areas affected.”
Ever since the Katrina debacle, the government has pressured the wireless industry hard to keep cell sites on the air after natural disasters, proposing to mandate backup power at one point. Verizon installed 1,300 generators nationwide in the last year and had more than 450 sites running on generators because of the storm. AT&T said it has doubled the number of generators in the field to 10,000 in the last three years.