dtac’s Green Transition Harnesses Sunlight for Mobile Communications

In 2021, dtac announced the goal of reducing by 50 percent its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. One of the key strategies in pursuit of this goal is to achieve energy efficiency through a transition to clean energy.

According to dtac’s data, its provision of network services has accounted for more than 99 percent of its energy consumption. Its network includes tens of thousands of cell sites across Thailand. So, for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, dtac has prioritized its shift towards solar powered cell sites.

dtacblog spoke to Weratuch Witoonchart, Head of Data Analytics, and Chumnan Theamnooch from the Coverage and Infrastructure Planning team, who are spearheading this transition.

Solar Powered Network

Mr. Chumnan revealed that dtac has operated solar-powered cell sites for more than 10 years already but most of these sites were located in areas without electricity. In recent years, dtac’s focus on energy efficiency has grown significantly to pursue environmental goals. Hence, there is renewed interest in renewable energy solutions. To overcome the challenges they pose in terms of investments and engineering, Mr. Chumnan with dtac’s data-analytics team to design the best possible strategy for dtac’s green transition.

“Speaking of engineering, every solar-powered cell site needs a vast open area. An investment into such a site takes a rather long time to break even. In the past, it took about five to seven years. Even with better innovations, it still takes four to five years today. For a long time, we really could not tackle these challenges. But with data analytics, we can see a bigger and clearer picture. We therefore can identify which of our cell sites should become solar-powered first and achieve our environmental goals while managing cost,” Chumnan emphasized.

The Power of Data

Mr. Weratuch said the biggest challenge was the data. Between 50 and 60 percent of the data needed was available. And even what was available ones was scattered across multiple systems. It took about six months to review and recompile the data into a Cell Site Single Source of Truth (CS3T) model.

The project’s data analytics focus on six key topics: landlords, electricity consumption (5-10 megawatt and 10-15 megawatt); land-plot size; electricity-usage method (electricity charges paid directly to electricity authority or to landlords); voltage of signal transmission devices; and land-lease duration. When data in these six dimensions is put together, the persona of each cell site becomes clear.

dtac can then consider both engineering and cost efficiency for every solar-powered cell site it has developed. Each cell site needs at least 50 square meters for solar panels or a solar roof. Areas around the site also should be open without any building blocking sunlight. Importantly, the owner of the chosen land plot must show a firm intention to rent the plot for several year as solar panels are big investments.

“When data from these six aspects are combined, our dashboard presents a much clearer picture. Our conclusion is that more than 2,000 of our cell sites are suitable for solar-panel installations. This enables our shift towards clean energy,” Mr. Weratuch said.

Time to Build

While data analytics provide useful information, this initiative also requires engineering knowledge for its intended leapt towards environmentally friendly energy. Mr. Chumnan, who specializes in the field of engineering and constructions, therefore undeniably plays a vital role in the project. His expertise supports and complements the decision-making process.

According to Mr. Chumnan, the project’s team and partners not just held meetings in search of best solutions but also surveyed actual work sites. Each solar panel is three meters tall and must withstand wind speeds of up to 130 kilometers an hour. It takes about five to seven days to construct a solar-powered cell site. As for maintenance, solar panels are cleaned every six months to maintain efficiency.

While data analytics provide useful information, this initiative also requires engineering knowledge for its intended leapt towards environmentally friendly energy. Mr. Chumnan, who specializes in the field of engineering and constructions, therefore undeniably plays a vital role in the project. His expertise supports and complements the decision-making process.

According to Mr. Chumnan, the project’s team and partners not just held meetings in search of best solutions but also surveyed actual work sites. Each solar panel is three meters tall and must withstand wind speeds of up to 130 kilometers an hour. It takes about five to seven days to construct a solar-powered cell site. As for maintenance, solar panels are cleaned every six months to maintain efficiency.

Mr. Chumnan explained that in 2021, the project had already installed solar panels for more than 25 cell sites in many areas such as Phuket, Surat Thani’s Pha Ngan Island, Phang Nga’s Similan Island, Chiang Mai, and Chanthaburi. In 2022, dtac aims to set up 500 more solar-powered cell sites for its operations. It is also studying a co-investment model for the expansion of solar-powered cell sites through collaboration with partners namely providers of signal-transmission devices and data centers.

“From my lens as an engineer who has worked in the field of solar power for 10 years, I think transition into clean energy is well-worth in terms of investments, social and environmental benefits. Solar-panel price is getting lower while related technologies are getting better. The major turning point has already materialized for the transition towards solar power,” Mr. Chumnan concluded.