Vodafone has switched on the UK’s first live wind- and solar-powered mobile phone mast in Pembrokeshire, Wales, providing 4G coverage to the community of Eglwyswrw.
The specially designed mast, which potentially removes the need for a connection to the national electricity grid, could provide connectivity to ‘not-spots’ in the UK’s most remote and inaccessible locations – helping the industry achieve 95% of UK landmass coverage by 2025.
It will also help Vodafone reduce carbon emissions and support its target of reaching net zero UK operations by 2027.
The ‘self-powering’ mast incorporates a unique Crossflow Energy wind turbine that can generate power even in light winds.
To ensure local people stay connected while the ‘self-powering’ mast is being trialled, Vodafone has retrofitted an existing mast site that is connected to the national electricity grid. The mast will be mainly powered by the green energy generated on site but can be ‘topped up’ by electricity from the grid if required.
In future, for remote sites with no national grid connection, another power source will be required as back-up. Vodafone is exploring a range of potential options.
The mast can be installed without the need to dig trenches and lay electricity cables, making it faster and easier to install and reducing the impact on the local environment.
It is also extremely quiet, making it viable for sensitive sites such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It can also be ‘filtered out’ as a solid object by radar, birds and bats, so it is easily avoided, making it less harmful to wildlife.
Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer and Development Director, Vodafone, said:
“Connectivity is vital to everyone, no matter where you live. This self-powering mobile phone mast, with on-site battery storage, could help us connect places that were previously impossible to reach. It will also help us reduce carbon emissions and minimise our impact on local environments.
“If this trial is a success, we would like to roll out more ‘self-powering’ masts, with a focus on areas with poor or no coverage.”
The trial, in partnership with wind turbine technology specialists Crossflow Energy and mobile infrastructure partner Cornerstone, is at Home Farm in the village of Eglwyswrw.
It will run for two years and data gathered will help Vodafone optimise the technology and determine which sites are most suitable for ‘self-powering’ masts.
Bringing mobile and internet services to rural communities helps boost the local economy, tackle isolation and close the rural digital divide.
To date, building masts in coverage ‘not spots’ without an existing electricity connection has been a significant financial and logistical challenge.
Martin Barnes, CEO, Crossflow Energy, said:
“We are incredibly excited to be partnering with Vodafone on this UK first. Until now, the use of ‘small wind’ turbines in the race to net zero has been limited due to issues of performance, reliability, and planning concerns, such as noise, vibration, and damage to ecology.
“The unique design of our wind turbine addresses all these challenges head on. We believe that one day its use could be as widespread and commonplace as solar panels.”