Are fuel cells the answer to meeting sustainability targets and 5G energy requirements?

SerEnergy share their thoughts on the viability of fuel cells for telecom tower power and talk merger with Advent Technologies

Fuel Cell

Read this article to learn:

  • New opportunities available to SerEnergy following their merger with Advent Technologies
  • Why methanol fuel cells offer a sustainable alternative to diesel gensets
  • Use cases in rural and urban areas, and on bad/off grid locations
  • How fuel cells can help meet 5G energy requirements

SerEnergy is a supplier of power solutions based on methanol fuel cell systems, based in Denmark with a global footprint. They are joining TowerXchange at the 9th annual Meetup Africa from 5-7 October (online) and 13-14th October (in Dubai). This interview was originally conducted as part of the TowerXchange energy report.

TowerXchange: SerEnergy was recently acquired by Advent Technologies – can you tell us how this is going to influence the company going forward?  

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy: SerEnergy was a part of the German family-owned Fischer Group since 2011, and joining Advent is a significant milestone for us. Prior to Fischer’s engagement as a shareholder, the company was founded as a spin-off from Aalborg University, and we made commitment to generate methanol based sustainable energy in 2008.

Joining Advent Technologies is a huge opportunity for us, as we join a larger portfolio of core technology and products, supporting a wider range of solutions. We will be able to tap into their engineering expertise, whilst our experience in telecom, creates synergies useful to the entire group.

As part of the Advent family, we also have a broader presence worldwide –in addition to our locations in Denmark, Germany and the Philippines, we now have a presence in the USA and Greece. This gives us a joint platform to enter these markets, working with a well-established and recognisable company.

We expect that off-grid and telecom tower products will benefit significantly from Advent’s capabilities in new materials product development. In addition, we predict that their manufacturing experience will further accelerate our go-to-market plan. The merger of SerEnergy and Fischer Eco Solutions into the Advent Group positions the group as a fuel cell leader with the ability to deliver thousands of systems yearly in the off-grid, portable, and other power-generation markets.

TowerXchange: You mentioned your commitment to generating methanol based sustainable energy – why is this so important and why do you think Methanol is such a viable fuel source?

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy: Our solution is an environmentally-friendly and sustainable energy storage and power generation supply. We see a lot of operators setting carbon reduction targets and we offer a CO2 emission reducing solution (the degree of reduction depending on the source of the methanol chosen) that also solves other challenges as well. For example, our solution makes less noise and does not vibrate, meaning lighter footprints posed on local environments. Our systems are strongly climate resilient and can be remotely monitored, which is critical to secure uptime, and stability of operations. Besides, fuel cells are not subject to vandalism nor fuel and equipment theft to the same extent as diesels gensets.

Methanol fuel cells offer a cheap fuel source and represent a technology placing operators in a favourable position as they prepare for green transitions. Methanol fuel cells run on a blend of water and methanol which is easily accessible in most parts of the world at low rates. Green sources of methanol are rapidly emerging world-wide also.

TowerXchange: What types of sites does this have the most impact on?

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy: Fuel cells have their use in both urban and rural areas. In urban areas they are convenient; they generate less noise, have reduced emissions and leave smaller footprints than conventional energy solutions, which means in tight spaces they are compact systems taking up far less valuable room.

In remote locations, we offer a remote access system and a cloud-based management system that allows for long service intervals. In some instances, service intervals have been extended by up to 10 times, and inspections are not required as regularly either. Another benefit in rural areas is that operators do not need to refuel as frequently compared to a diesel generator.

In both urban and remote locations, fuel cell systems are very flexible. They offer a compact design per kW. They can either be installed in an outdoor cabinet next to the actual telecom equipment or integrated into an existing indoor solution. In an outdoor solution, the footprint for up to 15 kW is typically not bigger than 1×1 metre. This includes the cabinet, fuel cell units and a tank. For an indoor installation, fuel cell systems offer an even smaller footprint, for example they can be integrated into a 19’’ rack system. Not only are fuel cells convenient on existing sites but also low cost in rental and installation.

They are also versatile in terms of grid reliability. If a telecom site requires six to eight hours of back-up power (no matter how frequently), batteries are often too heavy, space demanding and expensive to maintain. Diesel generators offer long back-up times but are characterised by an extensive maintenance and due diligence schedule. Fuel cells do not have these drawbacks, but offer the same back-up power potential.

When it comes to supplementary power, fuel cells will take over power generation when the primary power system is not running. Alternatively, as part of a hybrid solution, fuel cells ensure the site functionality 24-7 by substituting for renewables like wind and solar when they are unavailable.

Methanol fuel cell systems are a great alternative to traditional diesel generators when it comes to providing power on off-grid sites. Typically, there are large investments involved in connecting especially remote sites to the grid, so together with the low operation costs and the relatively small investment, the fuel cell system can offer significant cost benefits for the customers. Compared to diesel generators, both maintenance and fuel cost are often less when operating a methanol fuel cell system.

TowerXchange: How do SerEnergy anticipate 5G rollouts will impact energy requirements on sites?

I think there are two elements at play. Firstly, due to the increased capex requirements caused by the 5G rollouts, we will see increased collaboration between operators, towercos and suppliers. To facilitate this, we anticipate closer and more long-term partnerships between energy providers and tower operators.

5G networks are also far more power-intensive to run, and it is increasingly critical that those networks stay running in order to safeguard new business models and value-chains including new end-users in health-care, critical infrastructure, industry and utility.

Fuel cells are versatile and easily scalable systems. The unit produces up to 5kW and as it is modular, multiple units can be interconnected in a system. Our systems scale power of 1- 15kW – meeting the increasing power demands from base stations and the 5G rollout. It has a flexible run time with external fuel kit, and typically runs several weeks on IBC tanks. The systems are ready to plug and play as a single back-up unit or in hybrid solutions.

To find out more about SerEnergy, visit their website here.

To find out more about Advent Technologies, visit their website here.

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy

Morten Thomsen, Senior Sales Manager, SerEnergy

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