Ascot: fuel savings up to 100%

Ascot introduces H-Power System

Read this article to learn:

  • How to meet the changing energy requirements of multi-tenant tower operators           
  • Tailoring solutions to meet the power needs of sites with varying climactic conditions and grid availability
  • Deploying a significant number of hybrid solutions across African and American portfolios
  • How the business case for solar and wind power is justified by logistics and the criticality of coverage
  • What it will take for demand for hybrid energy to reach the ‘tipping point’

With eight years of experience and thousands of installations in critical markets throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the Ascot hybrid energy solution for telecom is considered one of the most reliable and proven hybrid solutions on the market. Approved and widely used by the Vodafone Group, Helios Towers Africa, IHS Tower, STC Saudi Telecom, Ooredoo, Zain and Sudatel in their critical operations, Ascot’s technology has been proven as the right product for harsh environments such as in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Sudan – as well as mountain top sites in Nevada.

Ascot’s certified performance has been proven over a decade of accumulated system data thanks to a sophisticated and efficient remote control system embedded in the Ascot Hybrid Power Unit (HPU).

TowerXchange: Please introduce where Ascot Industrial fits into the telecoms infrastructure ecosystem.

Dr Michele Greca, CEO, Ascot Industrial:

Choosing Ascot today means trusting an organisation with twenty-seven years of international market experience with a brand name that means quality and reliability. Our typical products include hybrid generators: AC and DC generators designed by a team of in-house, highly skilled engineers in accordance with our customers’ specifications, which work with advanced controls and energy storage, often incorporating renewable energy sources.

Telecommunication companies historically recognise Ascot as a leader in the sector thanks to its innovative products and technologies for generators and for the family of hybrid solutions deployed globally in thirty-eight countries.

This is the true know-how of Ascot competence and flexibility. It’s only by visiting remote sites and looking at how they are configured that we can apply our knowledge to optimise hybrid systems to benefit both the operator and ourselves!

TowerXchange: How did Ascot Industrial get into the hybrid energy for telecoms market?

Dr Michele Greca, CEO, Ascot Industrial:

From the inception of Ascot Industrial from 1986 until 2000, our core business was developing generators for the military, oil and gas, power plant and marine sectors. The defence sector has been for us like Formula One is to Ferrari – a cutting-edge R&D function we’ve applied to the telecoms sector.

For example, back in 1997 we developed an application to charge the huge batteries on submarines while in port. Ten years later I was speaking with a manager at Zain who challenged me to produce an engine with low fuel consumption to power his cell sites. At first I thought it was impossible, but from his words came the idea to apply the same technology we used to charge submarine batteries to charge cell site battery banks, even when the generator is switched off.

Having proven our application in large scale projects such as the submarine one, it was relatively simple to adapt it to charge the 600-1550 amp hour batteries at cell sites, and we quickly developed and sold our first hybrid solution in 2008, which was installed in very harsh physical and maintenance conditions in Sudan.

Between 2008 and 2009, we installed fifteen units in as many countries for various telecom operators, so we tested the solution in different temperatures, humidity and altitude scenarios – it was a good challenge that pushed us to invest in the project.

When we were working with the operators in the field, Ascot was fixing the problems of today and of tomorrow. Ascot is well established to meet the specific needs of telecoms. A cell site in a remote location is like a forward communication base in war – reliability is critical and maintenance visits must be kept to an absolute minimum. As competition becomes more aggressive in telecoms, battles will be won by whoever can provide the best service at the lowest opex, so it’s critical to improve energy efficiency.

Tower Xchange: What is the Ascot Hybrid Power System?

Dr Michele Greca, CEO, Ascot Industrial:

Ascot Hybrid Power System is a complete and flexible solution that allows up to 100% fuel savings (in battery mode), as it combines generators (Hybrid, DC or AC gensets) with PV solar panels, batteries and/or electrical grid (if present), employing the cheapest energy source available in that moment.

TowerXchange: Why do telecom operators need to reduce opex?

Dr Michele Greca, CEO, Ascot Industrial:

The role of the operators is to provide subscribers with an always-on service, grow usage and reduce customer churn. In order to gain more market share than their competitors they need to have a reliable network operating at the lowest possible operating expense.

A decade ago when the competition was minimal, operators expanded rapidly and the cost of phone calls was high. At that time operators did not pay very much attention to opex, concentrating on building their infrastructure rather than finding an optimised power solution. Very inefficient energy solutions, based on standard and often “disposable” diesel generators as the primary energy source, were installed with very high servicing costs – especially for off-grid and weak grid sites.

That era is now over. To be and remain competitive in the future, operators and tower companies have to find and implement new strategic energy solutions to enable lower opex than their competitors.

Subscriber revenue generated by telecom operators has a direct impact on opex. In fact, only with lower expenditure and reliable service can the operator decrease call tariffs, acquire more subscribers and generate more revenue.

TowerXchange: Can you tell us more about the hybrid solutions already in the market?

Dr Michele Greca, CEO, Ascot Industrial:

As hybrid technology is relatively new, today’s market offers different solutions made by combining different brands of products to form a hybrid package: ie. X Controller and Y Batteries combined with Z generator et cetera.

The result of that mix is the manufacturer of each single part guarantees their part as a stand alone item, not associated with other components, hence the controllers available on the market are not specifically designed for the scope and the integration of the parts to combine into a hybrid package – resulting in cell site energy being very expensive and inefficient, and with no single point of accountability.

The innovative Ascot patented DC-HPU is an integrated “plug & play” power solution designed to supply energy to telecommunication sites using up to 68% less fuel than the current diesel generating sets running 24 hours a day and using up to 98% less fuel when integrated with solar solutions.

We have recently deployed our first fleet of U.S. hybrid sites including generator, solar and battery storage for remote locations. These unique off-grid sites can include a non-penetrating tower foundation, rapid deployment multi-tenant monopole tower and our hybrid power system. It can be constructed and commissioned in less than one week but run autonomously for six months – a design necessity for mountain top cell sites which are inaccessible for many months throughout the year.

Minimal site disruption achieves speed and environmental goals; no power lines are necessary where they do not exist and are terribly expensive, and the optimum RF site coverage objectives were achieved in one case with one off-grid site rather than four sites that were located near existing power. The opex and capex savings are compelling and our solution is applicable for difficult sites throughout the region.

TowerXchange: How has your offering evolved as the off-grid tower market changes?

Dr Michele Greca, CEO, Ascot Industrial:

In the last couple of years, hybridisation has attracted the increasing interest of the telecom operators. They have pushed the market to propose hybrid solutions to power their sites. However it’s not easy to replace a traditional generator with a hybrid solution because most of the current hybrid solutions on the market are new and also the local maintenance teams are not prepared to manage these sophisticated systems. Operators want hybrid power solutions but once installed, they can face a lot of problems if they don’t fully understand how the system works.

To overcome that resistance, Ascot offers a “plug & play” hybrid solution, which utilises the same interface as standard generators – typically a DeepSea Control System – that can dialogue with the internal logic of the hybrid component.

In addition, today we include a service called “Flying Doctors” which means that once our clients have purchased the technology we can offer installation, training and operational support along with the package (for example we used this on the 1,500 sites we recently upgraded for Vodacom). We also offer a package where our team and local partner will go side by side installing the machines and doing onsite training in order to guarantee the machines’ installation and performance. We use this team to identify the main difficulties faced in the field by our clients. Our “Flying Doctors” team report back this information immediately allowing us to continually improve the difficulties faced in operations. For example, if they don’t like the control panel we can change it to work better for them. This helps us to provide our clients with the solutions they need.

For tower operators, we created and integrated a distribution box which just didn’t exist before, meaning the client had to supply it. Now it’s integrated into the system so the output of the machines matches the output for the tenants so you can have one, two or more different tenants. It’s a market-proven product especially in Africa; network owners like Helios Towers Africa and Vodacom are using our hybrid systems and are making referrals and giving references to use Ascot products as they are so easy to install, manage and maintain.

Our solution easily integrates with PV or wind power so these energy sources can plug and play with our machine. We’re also offering a remote monitoring and control system so our clients can remotely manage the performance of our machines.

Ascot is a manufacturing company so originally, our business model was just to supply the equipment and leave the client to organise other details – namely financing packages. Now some clients want a capex-based model and some want an opex model with integration in a financial package. We can now offer both and have the flexibility to provide what our clients desire.

TowerXchange: How do hybrid solutions compare to running diesel generators 24/7?

Dr Michele Greca, CEO, Ascot Industrial:

The magic number of fuel savings is 68%, achievable with the Ascot Hybrid. You can reach 98% in combination with a Solar PV System.

Operators were only using diesel generators off-grid because there were no other financially viable solutions until recently.

When a consumer goes out to buy a hybrid car, those cars are not competing with normal cars. They are serving different needs and there is simply no comparison in terms of fuel consumption.

The telecom sector is just like the automotive industry – in the future no-one will use diesel (or petrol) engines – hybrid power is the future. Why don’t people use hybrid now? Price, performance and availability – and Ascot is at the forefront of improving all three.

Telecoms operators want hybrid power already, but like consumers changing their normal car for an electric car, they want to know how the change will affect their operations. Once telecom operators are sure hybrid power works, it will only be a matter of time before all off-grid and weak grid cell sites are upgraded to hybrids.

Essentially hybrid solutions are big battery chargers. Their role is to produce, store and reuse energy. As the price comes down and the performance and reliability is proven, the business case for hybrid energy becomes more compelling at more and more cell sites.

There will be a tipping point where demand for hybrid power rises very quickly. At the moment, innovators are still finding competitive advantages, which they don’t want to share, but when innovations are collated, everyone will want it and it will stimulate that big jump in demand. Investors aren’t afraid of those consolidated technologies.

TowerXchange: How do the power requirements differ between single and multi-tenant cell sites?

Dr Michele Greca, CEO, Ascot Industrial:

Towercos often have to invest in power solutions before they know how many tenants will be on the tower and before they know their total power requirements.

So energy systems for shared sites need to be modular, with a low initial capex investment for single tenant sites, and a small increase in investment for each additional tenant. Towercos don’t want to deploy the capex to support multiple tenants right away, they need scalable modules with a few small extra parts for additional tenants.

Ascot’s tested and proven power solution for towercos, our modular DC-HPU for one to three BTS of up to two kW, has an engine capable of supplying power to three banks of batteries, so the main change to accommodate multiple tenants is just to add extra battery stacks. We also enable metering to bill tenants for their own energy consumption. We allow customers to right-size their power systems and then stack on new systems only when needed. This drives fuel efficiency and sequences capex properly.


TowerXchange: Tell us about the innovative LPG solutions Ascot is bringing to the market?

Dr Michele Greca, CEO, Ascot Industrial:

Our innovations are always driven by market demand.

Today the main challenges are fuel theft and the possibility to deliver our systems to remote and difficult areas. To overcome these challenges we have developed a range of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) hybrids – we now offer LPG powered engines.

In markets like Nigeria, LPG is cheap and easily available, and it’s also far more complicated to steal. The LPG hybrid project was developed for the United States market and now we’re making it available for the African market where we foresee a lot of uses.

In terms of delivering the system to remote areas, today we offer two solutions: a semi-knock down product that can be hand carried and then easy reassembled on site and a containerised cargo package which is a complete and mobile telecom site; both are effective and very popular solutions.

Other advantages of LPG include eliminating fuel degradation and associated damage to diesel generators (LPG does not degrade over time) and more acceptable environmental aspects – we are deploying these systems into sensitive ecosystems such as U.S. Government public lands.

We continue to evolve and expand our portfolio by quickly learning and adapting to the most difficult site requirements, based on both the most rough and remote conditions as well as sites with the most difficult environmental and government approval processes.

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