Powering the cell sites of the future

EnerSys® can become the only partner towercos will need to support their evolving power needs

Read this article to learn:

  • EnerSys®'s offerings for global tower owners
  • How 5G power requirements will change in the short and long run
  • Supporting increasing power demands in developing markets
  • How the right energy controls can help cell sites stay online

With power demands on cell sites increasing and steeper increases predicted, finding the right backup power solution partners is an increasingly important task for towercos. With variables in location, climate, budget, maintenance and deployment, keeping the total cost of ownership (TCO) to a minimum can be tricky. Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA at EnerSys® talks us through their global experience and how they work with customers to choose the most efficient solutions to meet their requirements.

TowerXchange: The first question our readers will want to know is ‘how proven are your batteries in the field’ – please tell us about your performance in the field – who is using it and what results have been achieved?

Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA, EnerSys:

EnerSys® battery systems have been in existence for more than 100 years through our predecessor companies. We serve over 10,000 customers in 100 countries as a recognised global leader for stored energy solutions and systems.

To illustrate its credentials, EnerSys® launched the PowerSafe® SBS EON Technology 12V range of batteries in 2008 aimed at robust applications. They have a very long design life (15 years at 20°C) and high cyclic life, meaning that they can be discharged and recharged regularly without compromising their performance. PowerSafe® battery solutions are used in a variety of applications, from stable grid-controlled operations to high-temperature environments with unstable grids. They can also function in a standalone off-grid solution.

Our Thin Plate Pure Lead (TPPL) technology has an improved surface area. The result is a higher energy density solution (lower volume and weight) than traditional Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries. Pure lead and other high purity materials make the grids more resilient to corrosion and prolong the battery life. Our technology developments continue to focus on longer battery life, resulting in fewer battery replacements and enhancing the Total Cost of Ownership benefits of our energy storage solutions. TPPL technology also fits well in data centre applications where UPS systems provide short term autonomy while backup generators come online during a power outage.

Another example of our understanding of application requirements is the PowerSafe® SBS XL range of batteries that are suited to stable grid applications. They offer long battery life even in high-temperature conditions. PowerSafe® SBS XL batteries have a design life of 20 years at 20°C or 10 years at 35°C.

As far as future developments go, EnerSys® has a program for developing a Lithium-Ion battery portfolio for the telecom market. This solution is based on the lithium chemistry and technology used in our NexSys® Ion battery range for the material handling market. Both these applications have high cyclic duty requirements.

TowerXchange: Although primarily known as a battery vendor, EnerSys® has also acquired Alpha® Technologies and NorthStar® Battery. What can you tell me about how these acquisitions have changed the EnerSys® offer to Towercos?

Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA, EnerSys:

Alpha® Technologies provides a full line of power products, software, services, and consulting principally aimed at the broadband and renewable industries. This acquisition made EnerSys® the only complete power solution provider for broadband telecom and energy storage systems. It allows us to take responsibility for the entire power conversion, storage, and distribution.

Our integrated solutions have significant advantages for the towercos. It means they have one partner to deal with who can support across the whole portfolio. We also believe this step is crucial for the future of smart, connected sites. In other words, the acquisitions position us to provide the services and solutions the industry will need in future. Having one partner can greatly improve and simplify this transition.

The NorthStar® Battery acquisition is about global TPPL battery supply. An upgrade to the NorthStar® production facility in the USA results in high production volumes of TPPL batteries, locally produced by EnerSys®. This will enable improved service to our customers in terms of available products and time to deliver.

TowerXchange: A spate of M&A and Towercos carve-outs by MNOs saw 100,000s of sites pass into Towercos hands last year. What top power management advice would you give to newly formed Towercos? 

Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA, EnerSys:

The industry is going through significant change with the rollout of 5G. It is vital for towercos not to lock themselves into a technology roadmap that limits their options for the future. We would advise organisations not to jump on the next thing without having a clear strategy for their development. For example, technology for power or energy storage is a use case selection. It is important to use systems that support your strategy to avoid the expense of replacement later.

Giving careful thought to the idea of “energy-as-a-network” will be critical to forming a power strategy. Future energy solutions will be smart and connected. This will open new business models if a Towerco prepares in advance by selecting the appropriate technology. Applying the correct sensors is a typical example. Having them easily integrated to the local site and further up the network management systems will be key to enable reduced OPEX and new revenue streams.

TowerXchange: How is 5G adoption changing power management for cell sites, and how can you help?

Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA, EnerSys:

This question has both a short-term and long-term answer:

Short term

The short-term focus of 5G systems is high speed coverage. Lower frequencies cover the broadest areas but don’t have the same speed of high frequencies. As such, some operators are developing their low and mid-range frequency networks first to get the coverage before moving into higher frequencies.

To achieve a broad 5G coverage, we will see a massive increase in power demand driven by massive MIMO (Multi-Input and Multi-Output), AAS (Advanced Antenna System) antennas et cetera. The 5G solutions will co-exist with existing radios and can challenge our ability to get enough power on the site. Power distribution to the tower loads on a site may also be challenging. 5G remote radio units (RRU) have a substantial power demand and could be located at long distances from the power equipment.

We will likely see a mix of new power feeding options, new higher density battery technologies and smart load shedding SW/HW (Software/Hardware) to overcome these challenges.

Long term

The long-term focus of 5G systems is latency. Ultra-high-speed bandwidth is essential for future networking applications, including interactive gaming, remote surgery, and autonomous vehicles.

Operators need to deploy small cells and mmW spectrum to reach ultra-low latency and high data speeds. Small cells need to be located very close to the user because high-frequency signals do not give broad coverage. This limitation introduces the challenge of obtaining space/building permits, as well as access to power and backhaul.

Remote powering solutions deploy multiple small cells on a single meter combined with fibre or coax backhaul. This strategy can help to provide for the power needs of small cells. Stealth designs and zero maintenance solutions will also be key enablers to get networks rolled out at speed.  We are aiming to speed up 5G deployment by simplifying the delivery of fibre and electrical power to small-cell wireless sites. Our next-generation remote power system is based on a high-voltage, high-power fault-managed power distribution topology. It leverages a composite cable solution that is tailored to meet deployment requirements, with the ability to power up to 15 small cell site locations from a single access point on the electrical grid. The end devices can be individually controlled in a point-to-point architecture up 1,700 metres in each direction (3,400 metres in total). The intent is to achieve capital expenditure savings and increased deployment speed for our customers.

TowerXchange: Loads are increasing in the developing world, too, with many sites running multiple technologies for multiple tenants. How can you help manage this increasing power demand?

Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA, EnerSys:

EnerSys® is well-positioned to provide solutions to the developing world because of our customised approach. Some applications rely on high-density energy storage, while others need an optimised total cost of ownership (TCO). Either way, EnerSys® has the solutions to meet the need.

We offer flexibility to increase battery storage capacity by adding a further battery string in parallel to an existing installation. This ensures the customer demand for increased power requirements can be achieved. In addition, battery solutions using 2V cells of up to 3900 Ah can provide high-capacity needs.

A feature of the EnerSys® TPPL battery technology is the low internal resistance. This feature allows batteries to operate in higher temperature environments without adverse effects. It also facilitates faster charging and discharging rates.

Electricity costs in developing countries are high. This challenge creates an opportunity for battery solutions in grid-tied sites. Peak shaving is where the battery supports the peak load during high demand and recharges when the load decreases. EnerSys® helps clients in developing economies to manage increasing load without excessive peak demands.

TowerXchange: How much tailoring to the specific requirements of individual sites can really be achieved through the selection of the right energy control and storage solution?

Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA, EnerSys:

Tailoring offers tangible benefits to customers in terms of increased life expectancy and reduced opex. However, it seldom applies at an individual site level. Most applications use similar site types across their networks, so it makes sense to design an energy control and storage solution for each type. The tailored solution then applies to multiple sites of the same type.

Choosing the best sensors and data collections can also contribute to the benefits. They allow customers to react faster to unexpected events, therefore, reducing the cost of an incident and improving the site’s uptime. EnerSys® has developed technology, which measures both temperature and voltage, to support its customers with additional site data. By utilising remote connectivity, we can help to prevent premature failures caused by inadequate or non-optimised power and cooling solutions. When implemented appropriately, the technology has the potential to deliver significant savings for our customers.

TowerXchange: SLAs often demand 99.9% or higher uptime – tell us about the reliability and autonomy of your solution.

Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA, EnerSys:

It is essential to understand the reasons behind an uptime performance metric. Sometimes, a generic target does not fully describe what the client is trying to achieve and what risks they are trying to mitigate. The higher the uptime requirement, the greater will be the cost of the solution. Some sites cannot afford to lower their uptime requirement at all, and they are willing to spend the capital to achieve it.

However, many sites can accept an uptime of 95%. This change makes a significant difference to the capital investment required. Some operators even do away with the battery backup for the 5G installation, using the 4G network as the fallback if the 5G network goes down.

Greenfield solar sites are an extreme example because they cover very few users in an area with no previous coverage. In these cases, 95% uptime is a significant improvement from zero.

TowerXchange: TowerXchange: Battery theft remains a major issue in some markets. How do you protect your batteries and deter theft? 

Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA, EnerSys:

Battery theft is not a new issue, but thieves are constantly evolving to find ways around security measures. We have been working with physical protection – as part of our outdoor enclosure solutions – in some of the worst affected areas for many years. However, even though our experience in this field is very effective, we still need continuous improvement and adaptation to the latest security threats.

Also, changing from Lead to Lithium does not solve the problem of theft. There is no single solution that will eliminate the problem. Most cases involve a multi-faceted approach, including pre-scoping workshops with the client.

TowerXchange: How do you see the EnerSys® offer to the telecom tower world developing over the next five years?

Henrik Sundh, Director Product Management & Applications, Energy Systems EMEA, EnerSys:

We see greater collaboration between technology suppliers and the operators in future. Our solutions will be far more integrated into the Towercos’ management systems. Together, we strive to innovate new ways of balancing OPEX and CAPEX. This partnership of EnerSys® and Towerco will also accelerate the development of new revenue streams.

Technologies will change over time both on energy generation and storage leading us into a new era of telecom power/energy solutions.

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