Vodafone has potentially removed the need to power its mobile phone masts, after it unveiled a solar and wind powered 4G mobile tower in a rural location in Wales.

Vodafone announced that it’s mobile phone mast in Pembrokeshire, Wales, incorporates a wind turbine, solar panels and on-site battery storage, and is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The UK operator said this initiative shows how mobile masts and towers can be installed in rural and remote ‘not-spots’ locations with no ready access to the national electricity grid, so as to improve rural connectivity.

Vodafone self-powered mobile tower in Pembrokeshire

Self-powered tower

Certainly, the installation could also prove to be of interest to developing nations, where access to electricity and national grids is often problematic due to under developed or poorly maintained infrastructure.

Vodafone however is touting the achievement of the tower helping it reach its carbon target of net zero UK operations by 2027.

Vodafone’s self-powered mobile tower in Pembrokeshire will provide 4G connectivity to the community of Eglwyswrw (located between between Newport and Cardigan).

So what exactly makes this self-powered mobile mast so special? Well according to Vodafone the tower incorporates a unique Crossflow Energy wind turbine that can generate power even in light winds.

Another plus point is that the mast can be installed without the need to dig trenches and lay electricity cables, making it faster and easier to install and reducing the impact on the local environment.

On top this, this self-powered mast is also extremely quiet, making it viable for sensitive sites such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Vodafone says it can also be ‘filtered out’ as a solid object by radar, birds and bats, so it is easily avoided, making it less harmful to wildlife.

“Connectivity is vital to everyone, no matter where you live,” noted Andrea Dona, chief network officer and development director at Vodafone. “This self-powering mobile phone mast, with on-site battery storage, could help us connect places that were previously impossible to reach. It will also help us reduce carbon emissions and minimise our impact on local environments.

“If this trial is a success, we would like to roll out more ‘self-powering’ masts, with a focus on areas with poor or no coverage,” said Dona.

Experimental tech

It should be noted that this tower is just a trial at the moment, but Vodafone worked in partnership with wind turbine technology specialists Crossflow Energy and mobile infrastructure partner Cornerstone.

The trail will run for two years and data gathered will help Vodafone optimise the technology and determine which sites are most suitable for ‘self-powering’ masts.

“Improving mobile coverage and digital connectivity across Wales is a priority for the UK Government and is hugely important for our economy,” said Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales.

“As we look to create more sustainable growth and jobs, it is fantastic to see green innovation being trialled in our rural communities,” said Hart.

“We are incredibly excited to be partnering with Vodafone on this UK first,” added Martin Barnes, CEO of Crossflow Energy. “Until now, the use of ‘small wind’ turbines in the race to net zero has been limited due to issues of performance, reliability, and planning concerns, such as noise, vibration, and damage to ecology.

“The unique design of our wind turbine addresses all these challenges head on,” said Barnes. “We believe that one day its use could be as widespread and commonplace as solar panels.”

Truly self-powered?

Vodafone did however admit that in order to ensure local people in Eglwyswrw remain connected while the ‘self-powering’ mast is being trialled, it retrofitted an existing mast site that is connected to the national electricity grid.

According to Vodafone, the mast will be mainly powered by the green energy generated on site but can be ‘topped up’ by electricity from the grid if required.

In future, for remote sites with no national grid connection, another power source will be required as back-up, the operator stated.

Vodafone said it is exploring a range of potential options for this.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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