Tests show that fuel cells are tomorrow’s backup power for telecom networks

TeliaSonera of Sweden has been running tests for more than a year with the aim of evaluating the possibility of using fuel cells as backup power for telecom exchanges. The trials produced very favourable results and the system is the first of its kind in actual service in Europe. TeliaSonera is now also beginning an equivalent test on fuel cells for mobile phone base stations.

TeliaSonera telecom exchanges are normally powered from the ordinary mains power network. In the event of a power cut, a backup system now consisting of batteries and a diesel generator will cut in. In the north of the Småland region, three telecom exchanges have instead been equipped with fuel cells that can serve as backup for up to two weeks, which is much longer than today’s system can manage. Moreover, the environmental impact of fuel cells is minimal, with only clean water as the residual product.



“We are very pleased with the results of our tests,” says Dag Lundén, Environmental Manager for Network & Production at TeliaSonera in Sweden. “We have gained a great deal of experience of how fuel cells operate in practice, and they are fully up to our expectations as regards reliability and reduced operating costs. If technology and cost developments continue at the same rate as in recent years, there is every opportunity that the backup power supply for the telecom network will be replaced by fuel cells, either wholly or in part.”



In Byarum, south of the city of Jönköping, TeliaSonera is now also commissioning a mobile phone base station with fuel cell technology as backup power. In the event of a power cut, the reliability for mobile telephony will then improve, which will thus reduce the dependence on the power supply being quickly restored after storm damage, for instance.



“We continually endeavour to make TeliaSonera technology more efficient and environmentally friendly, and the use of fuel cells leads not only to better reliability, but also reduces the environmental impact,” says Dag Lundén.



A fuel cell is basically a battery that needs no charging. The technology is based on hydrogen and oxygen being fed through the fuel cell and generating electricity, heat and steam by a chemical process. In addition to the direct emissions consisting of only water, the benefits are that the fuel cell has few moving parts, which minimizes wear and maintenance needs.