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Nov 21 2012

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A wrong approach towards green telecommunications in India?

Earlier this year the Department of Telecommunications in India (DoT) passed a regulation on “Approach towards Green Telecommunications” requiring telecom service providers to declare their carbon footprint on biannual basis and reduce their
carbon footprint by 25% by 2020.

For someone like me working in the climate change sector such initiatives are a sign of hope. It underlines the idea that Governments are taking climate change seriously and India will continue to show leadership via voluntary measures despite the absence of International agreements to combat climate change.

If the Telecom sector manages to successfully pull this off – the sector will move towards a more sustainable business model by reducing their diesel consumption. The telecoms sector in India is one of the largest consumers of Diesel having around 400,000 towers and emits 16 million tonnes of CO2e per annum. The reason for such high consumption of diesel is because towers in rural or urban areas where connection to the grid is either absent or partially available hence diesel is used as a back up energy source.

Each tower on an average consumes about 8,000-litres/ year (average diesel consumption considering mix of urban & rural towers). Logically reducing their dependence on diesel should reduce their operating costs as well as improving the environment. Some of the Telecom infrastructure companies have already seen the benefits of diesel free sites.

Then whats wrong about the approach?

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a methodology to calculate the carbon footprint for Telecom service providers, which is necessary given the difficultly for Telecom companies to deal with this new subject on a biannual basis. That’s the good news. However the bad news is that the proposed methodology is a serious deviation from the widely used and now globally accepted GHG protocol for corporate carbon accounting and reporting. Concern abut the proposed methodology has now been raised by organisations such as Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association ( TAIPA) & Greenpeace India. Both have issued position papers highlighting the carbon footprint methodology issue and recommendations.

One of the key issues with TRAI carbon footprint formula is carbon emissions from diesel generators are fixed on the basis of the installed capacity of the DG

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set. This assumption leads to inaccurate results. The diesel generator operates at different loads at different times hence; the power output from the DG set is not always equal to the installed capacity. Secondly, the efficiency of the DG set is not constant throughout its operation.

The Carbon Footprint results vary significantly when the same sets of calculations are performed using the GHG protocol and based on actual fuel consumption.

Now some pundits may argue as long as the methodology adopted by TRAI is consistent throughout there is no need to worry. However some straightforward calculations show that TRAI methodology gives higher estimates of the carbon emissions in comparison with the GHG protocol.

This could make International comparisons invidious when the Indian telecom sector is benchmarked with international telecommunication companies (using the GHGP )- it will create a negative impact due

to higher emissions per subscriber.

However help may be at hand as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has now developed a specific recommendation L 1420 which is based on the Greenhouse gas protocol specifically for ICT organisations to calculate their carbon footprint. This gives TRAI the opportunity to now adopt a methodology developed by the ICT sector itself

and based on the global approach for carbon accounting.

Despite this methodological hiccup, TRAI/DoT are to be commended for this initiative which aims to get the Indian telecommunications sector

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to cut its carbon emissions.

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This will definitely make other sectors in India think about regulations and opportunities. However I believe it’s important for TRAI to amend their methodology in line with tried and tested methods right away.

For those of you interested to learn more about the Methodologies to assess the carbon footprint from ICT / Telecom sectors I recommend the upcoming conference organised by GISFI in collaboration with ITU on December 17th’ 2012. There is a session on Day 1 (second half), which will cover this topic in more detail.

http://gisfi.org/news_meeting_details.php?id=51&mno=11th

If you’d like to attend the GISFI conference please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.

About Carbon Masters

Carbon Masters is a carbon management consultancy which helps organisations in the public and private sector to measure, manage, reduce and report their carbon emissions.

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