Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD
We are accustomed to having contact with the rest of the world at any time through our mobile phones. We can access our emails, make calls or text from almost anywhere in the world to any other place. The areas that do not have good access to at least 4G mobile coverage are at a definite economic disadvantage, and these places include many small rural towns and villages. After the COVID pandemic, working from home has taken off, and a lot of workers wish to live where they want, instead of in proximity to a workplace when they are given the choice. Many of these remote workers want to give up on long commutes and crowded city life, and instead choose to be nearer the countryside. Getting good mobile reception to remote towns and villages could also reverse the trend of younger people moving away to cities for better employment opportunities. The tax revenue from both those groups would benefit communities and give local governments the opportunity to revitalize them. However, there are some areas where it is very difficult or expensive to run the power lines and the other infrastructure required for the cell towers, we need for the communications that could bring those areas back to life.
A new trial is attempting to bring self-powered cell towers to these remote locations. An initial prototype has been installed by Vodafone near Eglwyswrw, Pembrokeshire in Wales for a two-year pilot programme. The cell tower has its own wind turbine and solar panels to generate energy, as well as battery storage. A wind turbine has been developed by Crossflow Energy in Port Talbot especially for the project. Its turbines look and act similarly to a water wheel, and can generate energy, even in low winds. It is also quieter than traditional turbines and more visible to birds and bats. The trial is intended to see if the solar panels and wind turbines can generate enough energy to power the tower and provide 4G communications to the remote village and its surrounding areas. Vodafone has also identified a second site where it hopes to install a self-powered mast before the end of this year.
Initiatives like these are ideal for demonstrating the potential of renewable energy by allowing communications infrastructure to places that were difficult to access previously. As well as powering the cell tower and closing the digital divide between urban and rural areas, the new prototype also takes into account its environment, particularly the safety of the local wildlife. Renewable energy generation is getting cheaper all the time, making projects like these economically viable and improving the lives of the people living in remote areas. Hopefully the trial will turn out to be a success and the people from Eglwyswrw and other rural communities gain access to the opportunities that most of us take for granted.