PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell developer, Intelligent Energy, has made a start on implementing its ambitious plans to install fuel cell power generation systems at Indian telecom towers, hoping to have about 50 towers fitted with fuel cells by May.


A £1.2 billion deal with infrastructure services company GTL, to take on responsibility for providing power to telecom towers, was announced on 1 October 2015, and is expected to be finalised by March 2016.

India’s telecoms network "burns billions of litres of diesel every year in backup generators to keep telecom towers operational because of persistent grid failure", says Intelligent Energy. The UK based company purchased contracts from GTL Limited to supply energy management services to over 27 400 telecom towers via its wholly owned Indian subsidiary Essential Energy and plans to phase out and replace diesel generators with clean hydrogen powered fuel cells over the next ten years at the majority of sites.

“This landmark deal represented a major milestone in hydrogen fuel cell commercialisation", says Intelligent Energy. Over time, it is expected to have a "transformative impact on India’s poor air quality and inefficient power generation."

In addition, it is reported that, since beginning the deployment of fuel cells on a limited number of the sites, Intelligent Energy, via Essential Energy, has successfully increased the up time of the telecom towers to nearly 100%.

Peter Brown, Managing Director of Intelligent Energy’s Distributed Power & Generation division, said: "We have clearly demonstrated that not only can our fuel cell technology provide more efficient, cleaner power in challenging remote areas, but that it has a clear role to play in helping India manage its emissions and tackle concerns on air quality issues. We have done only a small proportion of the work that we intend to do over the next 10 years and the results are really impressive. Extrapolated over a larger scale and they could be game-changing.

“Importantly, what has been demonstrated is that the technology is robust, it is working well and it is performing well in the field as we expected it to, following all the tests we have had in place since 2011. The first fuel cells deployed have delivered so much already.

“We believe this deal is facilitating the largest deployment of fuel cells in history and we remain on track to hit our medium term targets for our Essential Energy business to manage power for 125 000-135 000 towers …

“The potential for growth in India is incredibly exciting. Over time, we believe our fuel cells can provide similar benefits in a number of other territories."

Intelligent Energy is currently deploying what it call its "305" modular fuel cell system in India to provide the power. These systems use the same technology Intelligent Energy has developed over a number of years, and which is licensed to Suzuki for use in its fuel cell powered Burgman scooter. In addition, the modular "305" fuel cell unit can be monitored remotely using Intelligent Energy’s proprietary remote asset monitoring technology (AMBIS) to optimise performance and operation through real-time system data analysis.

The transaction agreed in September and announced on 1 October aims to deliver contracted revenues of approximately £1.2 billion over ten years to Intelligent Energy, which says it "demonstrates India’s long-term commitment to fuel cell technology."

The deployment of Intelligent Energy’s hydrogen fuel cell technology to power Indian telecom towers "marks a watershed transformation of the Indian power grid, previously faulted for stifling India’s economic growth due to persistent unreliability."

According to Intelligent Energy over 70% of India’s circa 425 000 telecom towers experience power outages of approximately eight hours per day leaving nearly half of the country’s 935 million mobile phone users frequently disconnected for extended periods. Diesel generators are used to keep telecom towers operational during persistent grid blackouts, burning over 2.5 billion litres of diesel annually, but as a fuel, "diesel is costly, inefficient, and emits high levels of CO2, NOx and harmful carcinogenic particulate emissions", Intelligent Energy notes, observing that "hydrogen fuel cells are proving to be more efficient and cleaner and can be more economical on a total cost of ownership basis than diesel generators."

Among challenges faced in implementing the fuel cell plan are procuring hydrogen and at a price that is competitive with diesel. "There is a lot of hydrogen in India, the challenge is to get it to the telecom tower sites", said Lee Juby of Intelligent Energy, speaking at a 9 February London IMechE conference on stationary fuel cells. There are also climatic issues to contend with, in particular extremes of temperature and high dust levels.


(Originally published in MPS February 2016)