Eskom, the state-owned power utility which supplies the country with 95% of the electricity is in crisis and unable to keep the lights on.
Electricity is central to the broader development agenda. Electricity is also essential for basic things like charging one’s mobile phone or powering a household water pump and heater. For more read: What lies behind Africa’s lack of access and unreliable power supplies
MTN, the country’s second-biggest mobile phone operator, is continuously seeking opportunities to extract energy efficiencies where possible and to maintain investment in renewable sources of energy.
This strategy is to help MTN not to be 100% reliable on struggling national energy firm Eskom.
MTN consumes energy from diesel, gas, coal and hydro-powered national grids, and directly generate energy from solar and wind.
To ensure that the operator is not entirely relying on Eskom, Jacqui Jacqui O’Sullivan, an executive for corporate affairs at MTN South Africa, said the company recognizes the importance of reducing its impact on the environment, and to develop solutions that can reduce these challenges.
As part of its renewable energy strategy, MTN has 32 baste stations that are powered by solar and wind energy, said O’Sullivan.
The company, which believes in leveraging digital technologies to support the growth of green economies, already has a valid Independent Power Producer (IPP) licence.
The IPPs are the main producers of wind and solar energy. Increased use of solar and wind energy would reduce SA’s reliance on coal, which is used to generate the bulk of electricity.
As part of its strategy to embrace renewable energy, MTN decided in 2010 to embrace trigeneration plant that is powered by methane gas. The gas is powered all from Mozambique at a Sasol plant.
The methane gas from Mozambique has enabled MTN to have a 2-MW trigeneration plant, which is powering its building housing a data centre and a test switch centre at its head office campus in Fairland, Johannesburg.
“MTN intends to expand its Trigeneration Plant with at least 3.2 MW in the near future,” said O’Sullivan.
“This means the plant will be completely energy independent.”
Furthermore, in 2014 MTN revealed Africa’s first concentrating solar cooling plant, paving the way for South African companies to adopt similar strategies to reduce their carbon footprint.
The more than R5-million concentrating solar power (CSP) plant, which would power MTN’s energy-intensive data centres, had a peak cooling capacity of 330 kW and comprised 242 solar mirrors tracking the sun from an area of 484 m2. For more read: MTN unveils first concentrated solar plant
Furthermore, in 2018 MTN partnered with Chinese tech giant Huawei to deploy cell tower made specifically for rural areas.
The initiative known as RuralStar initiative has enabled MTN to provide cost-effective mobile broadband services as well as traditional voice services in remote areas.
“Over the past years MTN has been an advocate of digital inclusion, our main objective as a company is to lead the delivery of a bold, new digital world to our customers, this initiative will ensure that we achieve this objective by making sure that more South Africans have access to basic connectivity and digital solutions.,” said O’Sullivan.
She added that this also makes financial sense to MTN as it (RuralStar) is designed to provide communications services only to the immediate surroundings of the village, so the antenna mast is smaller and cheaper than usual, cheaper to install and more power-efficient to run.
The implementation of Huawei’s RuralStar, an innovative solar-powered network solution for remote rural areas, has enabled MTN to avoid diesel use and GHG emissions while supporting is goals of digital inclusion and BRIGHTer lives for customers.