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Rural Base Stations to Divert Surplus Electricity to Local Communities

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The GSMA Development Fund has partnered with Lighting Africa, a joint IFC and World Bank programme, to launch the Community Power from Mobile (CPM) initiative. The programme will support and encourage mobile network operators and tower sharing companies in developing countries to provide excess power generated by their base stations to local, off grid communities.

Mobile operators have become proficient at generating their own off-grid power, typically by diesel generators, but increasingly using alternative energy such as solar and wind. Typically with more than 5 kilowatts (kW) of excess power each, the off-grid base stations will initially be used to charge a range of devices such as mobile handsets, lanterns and household batteries, and ultimately, to power, businesses, clinics, vaccination refrigerators, schools and homes.

The off-grid base stations are often physically close to villages which means that communities will no longer have to waste time travelling long distances to charge devices.

"The mobile industry is experiencing unprecedented infrastructure growth in off-grid regions in the developing world, where nearly 1.6 billion people live without access to the electricity grid, and we estimate that 485 million of those have access to mobile phone services," said Chris Locke, Managing Director, GSMA Development Fund. "As base stations are typically the only powered infrastructure within walking distance of the community, the Community Power from Mobile initiative can simultaneously improve the business case for off-grid telecoms and have significant societal impact."

The CPM programme plans for pilot projects in East Africa and India to be launched in Q1 2011.

GSMA members are planning to install 640,000 off-grid base stations by 2012 across the developing world in close proximity to off-grid populations. By mid-2012, CPM will aim to have developed commercially viable business models and assisted 10 network operators to expand their rollouts across the developing world.

Globally, poorer households spend USD433 billion per year on household energy, primarily for lighting, cooking and powering electronic devices. Handset charging alone costs an average of US$3 per month for an off-grid subscriber, equivalent to a third of their monthly mobile spend, and kerosene purchases for lighting typically add another $5-10 per month.

"While the rest of the world is enjoying increased electrification levels, Africa's non-electrified population is growing steadily, projected to reach 700 million by 2030. The situation is particularly acute among the rural poor, who account for 88% of those without electricity," says Arthur Itotia Njagi, Lighting Africa's Programme Manager. "Partnering with the mobile phone operators promises to develop new business models and delivery models for modern off-grid lighting and related energy services."

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