Viable alternative to curbing air pollution

The beginning of the 21st century marked the start of a major transformation of the Nigerian telecommunications industry. In the year 2000, the industry experienced a great leap when the government of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo issued operating licence to Econet Wireless. The entire Nigerian citizenry had a major relief.

Reaching out to loved ones or business partners over long distances was no more going to be an issue. Among other things, subscribers had hoped as well that over time, the very expensive tariff was going to tilt southwards; data services were going to be cheaply accessible, banking operations and services to customers were going to be seamless. As envisioned, it happened exactly, in fact, expectations were exceeded.

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In no time, after Econet Wireless, Mobile Telecommunication Networks (MTN), Globacom Nigeria and Etisalat got their licences too. The Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) also rolled out a GSM arm called MNet (now defunct). This altogether put the subscribers at advantage. However, all we have benefited in ease of life, we have unfortunately lost largely to poor health.

Between the 2000 and now, the Nigerian topography has been littered with not less than 50,000 on-air Base Transceiver Stations (BTS). This means over 50,000 diesel-powered electricity generators (called DGs in telecommunications parlance) continuously release carbon monoxide into the air space around us. A sense of the degree of damage this cause could be made in thinking of the 150 deaths per 100,000 people attributable to air pollution in Nigeria.

According to the Health Effects Institute (HEI) in a 2018 report on annual State of the Global Air Report (SGAR), air quality in Nigeria is among the deadliest in the world causing very high death rates. Extreme air pollution sources like generator fumes and vehicle emissions were identified as largely responsible. Nigerians are aware of the dangers these telecommunication sites pose, but uncertain of our resolve to end it. It was a case to be likened to a willingness to exchange a few years of our collective living for ease of communication.

The disturbing noise of continuously working generators is another major environmental pollutant. Though the maximum healthy noise level is 60dB of sound, generators at BTS sites often sound louder. With majority of these generators running over 20,000hrs unchanged, the noise levels often exceed 90dB, even more as run hours increase. Today however, the narrative has changed tremendously, with even bigger promises of lesser air pollution and consequently, ridiculously cheap voice and data services provided by these telcos.

It is interesting to know that a search by the telcos for cheaper ways of running business has not only become environmentally-benefiting, but also economically advantageous to the subscribers. The leading telecoms infrastructure companies in Nigeria went into massive rollout of alternative power solutions for their sites   from 2010 till date. This has since seen at least 20,000 sites powered in an unconventional manner. The regular way was to run an Alternating Current Generator (ACDG) nonstop. A 15KVA generator will consume 1,200litres of diesel in a month with an average DC load of 30Ampere and AC load of 15A. The combustion of this volume of diesel will produce about 3216kg of carbon monoxide.

This is too dangerous for humans when we make a sense of it across over 50,000 BTSs. The diesel consumption increases with increasing site’s load.


Segun Akande,