Rethinking cell site power systems

Vertiv’s take on how and why system design is evolving

Read this article to learn:

  • The scope of services and products that Vertiv offer
  • Key considerations often overlooked in the design of power systems
  • How Vertiv see lithium ion stacking up against lead acid batteries
  • The limitations of renewable technologies and where the best use cases are
  • The potential held by connecting telecom power systems to micro-grids
  • Where the telecoms sector can expect to see evolution in power systems

Formerly Emerson Network Power, Vertiv is a leading authority on the design of cell site power systems with experience stemming from working with operators and towercos across the globe. TowerXchange had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Williams, Vertiv’s Vice President of Sales to get the company’s take on how and why they see telecom power systems changing.

TowerXchange: Please can you introduce Vertiv and the scope of the products and services it offers in the telecoms sector

Chris Williams, Vice President, Sales, EMEA, Vertiv:

Vertiv designs, builds and services critical infrastructure that enables vital applications for data centres, communication networks and commercial and industrial facilities. Formerly Emerson Network Power, Vertiv supports today’s growing mobile and cloud computing markets with a portfolio of power, thermal and infrastructure management solutions including the Chloride®, Liebert®, NetSure™ and Trellis™ brands. Sales in fiscal 2016 were $4.4 billion.

Vertiv serves the needs of the major telecom operators and leading tower companies worldwide providing critical infrastructure products and services for deployment in mobile access, fixed line networks and telecom core and data centre facilities. Vertiv offers a complete range of services to help customers improve the operating performance of their critical infrastructure, to deliver capacity expansion and to optimise energy costs for operating their infrastructure. As a truly global company, Vertiv has the capability and organisation to help customers roll out critical infrastructure projects wherever in the world.

TowerXchange: With Vertiv supporting operators and towercos in the design of power systems on sites can you tell us some of the most important considerations to take into account and explain what companies may often overlook?

Chris Williams, Vice President, Sales, EMEA, Vertiv:

The fast answer is the ease of quick deployment of a reliable solution, supported with a comprehensive warranty across the site.

With the emergence of other technologies, such as solar, combined with the traditional breakdown of components, what is often lost is the ability to verify that the solution works “well” as one solution. Once you migrate to thinking about the best solution, you address the issues that are often overlooked – Is there space for the equipment under the array? Have fences been accounted for, such that best practices are applied to shade and landscaping? Has the solution been design from array to load (where a compromise on one component is not passed to another)? How do I isolate any surges, before we enter into the cabinets? Is there local training to get the right start and is there a help desk to call? Et cetera.

Think of the site as a one solution that encompasses planning, power, energy and service.

TowerXchange: We hear a lot of talk about lithium ion batteries at present, what is Vertiv’s take on the technology? Is the cost at a level where it is competitive? What will be the use cases and how extensively will they replace lead acid?

Chris Williams, Vice President, Sales, EMEA, Vertiv:

Vertiv was there when lithium entered the telecom market more than 11 years ago, but lithium had to withdraw and it has re-emerged in some local markets. Participation in this early start illustrated the need to apply some caution, as reliability in the lab and durability in the field are not the same. Vertiv has been a key provider in India, the largest market and proving ground for telecom lithium for the past 4 years. The success of lithium in this very cost sensitive market illustrates that lithium has a role and this role will expand.

What were the market conditions in India that made lithium so attractive, and will this be a factor in Africa? Simply Lithium’s tolerance and response to bad-grid conditions from micro-cycling to recovery speed, make lithium batteries an effective replacement; this has reduced India’s dependence on standby generators. These advantages are also applicable to Africa and initial growth will be pushed as a replacement for lead acid batteries at “troublesome sites”.

Continuing on the challenge of troublesome sites, the change in technology and packaging will substantially reduce theft, and thus finance its own entry into Africa.

There are other gains with lithium that Vertiv sees the benefit of, such as reduced space for small capacities (very small loads) and reduction on floor stress (converged architecture in existing central offices). Lead is the low cost entry solution which has established a reputation over decades for providing reliable service in on and off-grid applications; we foresee “lead” remaining the main contender, however it will slowly lose market share as lithium plays to its strength: size and weight for small capacity environments and recovery in bad-grid environments. If it is a solution to stop theft, the transition to lithium may be a disruptive change over.

Lead is the low cost entry solution and has decades of proof for providing reliable service in on and off-grid applications; thus we foresee “Lead” remaining the main contender, however Lead will slowly lose market share as Lithium plays to its strength: size and weight for small capacity and recovery in bad-grid environments

TowerXchange: We’ve seen solar starting to be installed more widely but there are constraints on the use of the technology, not least the space required for solar arrays. What kind of sites are suitable candidates for solar and how can site design be improved for solar to make more sense?

Chris Williams, Vice President, Sales, EMEA, Vertiv:

The good news is solar is an adaptable source for many applications; it can assist with bad-grid conditions as a supplementary power source to reduce stress on batteries; in on-grid environments it can be used to reduce expensive utility bills typically associated with remote (island) local AC generation; and in remote off-grid sites it can be used as the supporting energy source maintaining the batteries and reducing demand on generators (both in terms of maintenance and diesel fuel usage).  Although solar can be applied to any site, its primary constraint is that it is a low density energy source – as indicated in the above question. Acknowledging the practical limits of space, solar’s best fit is on the network edge in remote locations.

TowerXchange: Do you see opportunities with other types of renewables?

Chris Williams, Vice President, Sales, EMEA, Vertiv:

Other renewable sources do exist and can be used, but these solutions do not have the same supply chain or scale as solar to provide the same cost point. Most of these elements often focus on a consumer market, versus addressing upfront the needs for unattended durable commercial solutions.  It is acknowledged that other renewable solutions such as wind, may be a good alternative in certain locales, but its rollout is very limited as it drives another set of skills for planning, installation, operations and ongoing maintenance.

TowerXchange: Do Vertiv have experience in connecting sites to micro-grids? How big an opportunity do you think there is in doing this, what are some of the challenges in designing and operating such projects?

Chris Williams, Vice President, Sales, EMEA, Vertiv:

Micro-grids and distributed-grids continue to evolve both in terms of expectations and concepts, acting as an emerging answer to a diversified energy market. As such, the purpose, size and financing appears to be in flux, as the world tries to consider how to integrate dynamic telecom energy islands into a larger system, whilst guarding the security of telecom service delivery. Financing of dynamic implementations remains the primary barrier, any implementation increases the burden on executing the project which brings the question, who bears the additional cost to “help the grid”.

Despite this initial negative comment, to date some carriers are stepping up with the most common strategy being the intentional disconnect of site(s) from the grid, sometimes referred to as “Demand-Response”. In this instance carriers disconnect at the request of the utility to reduce grid stress and maintain service to other utility customers. Proof of concepts have been successfully completed, albeit with limited implementation, but plans are in place to expand across a larger network of hundreds of sites.

TowerXchange: Can you give us an idea of innovations in power system design or power components which you foresee playing a role in the future?

Chris Williams, Vice President, Sales, EMEA, Vertiv:

Component or technological innovations will be incremental, whether that is in the improvements in batteries with carbon, inclusion of graphene or the implementation of silicon carbide in power electronics. In order to be effective, any innovation must account for the existing vast infrastructure in place. While there is a natural response to swarm over a new technology, the focus should always be on how to ease the burden on operations.  As networks and services expand and diversify, the need to fit and function as one solution becomes more important. Thus, maybe what we are looking for in the next generation is about intelligent power networks, and ease of unified management.

TowerXchange: What is Vertiv’s vision on how the power requirements of sites will change as we move towards 5G in more developed markets and what role do Vertiv see themselves playing in this?

Chris Williams, Vice President, Sales, EMEA, Vertiv:

The simple answer is there will  be a diverse array of new requirements. We see that with Edge Computing combined with 5G, similar to the demands that can be made of self-driving cars in the city, there will be a push towards converged infrastructure (AC and DC infrastructure).  As these demands are placed on the network, small radios requiring very small amounts of power will start to appear, whilst at the same time there will be growing power demands of consolidated shared services and sites (which will expand and then shrink).  The needs will become more complex, but all of these demands must be met while decreasing the cost and burden to provide and maintain reliable power.

Looking beyond the horizon, we see the opportunities and advancements will migrate away from the mechanics of conversion to networks that manage themselves with oversight – including power.


Vertiv are sponsors of the 5th Annual TowerXchange Meetup Africa & Middle East, being held on 3-4 October at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg. Visit the website for more information

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